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Canisius sizzles from downtown in opening win over South

Williamsville South has perhaps one of the best boys basketball talents in the area in Greg Dolan.

Though he has the ability to take over games, it's hard to do that against a team that possesses quality talents and depth like Canisius.

The Crusaders reminded folks of that during a marquee nonleague contest between the two potential title contenders on the first busy Friday night of the 2017-18 season.

Canisius made it rain three-pointers early, often and late, hitting 12 of them total, as the defending Monsignor Martin High School Athletic Association champions seized control from the start in defeating last year's Section VI Class A-1 runner-up, 80-51, in the first round of the annual Tom Keenan Memorial Tournament.

Austin James scored 23 points to lead nine players who recorded at least one basket for the Crusaders (1-0). James drained five three-pointers and also threw down a pair of dunks as he and fellow senior Nick MacDonald (five treys, 17 points) combined to find seemingly nothing but net in fueling Canisius' 27-point first quarter.

The Crusaders scored more points in the opening eight minutes than the Billies (0-1) had during the first half. Canisius led at the break, 47-23.

"We were well-prepared," James said. "We came into the game with the right mindset."

The Crusaders wasted little time attacking the basket, scoring off the opening tip as returning fourth-team All-Western New York pick Jayce Johnson (13 points) tapped it right to James, who buried a jumper from the elbow.

After Dolan, who scored a game-high 25 points, tied it, Canisius took the lead for good. James made a steal and threw down a one-handed jam. That sparked a 14-2 run in which he and MacDonald each hit two three-pointers. James hit four treys in the opening quarter with his last a confident shot from way beyond the arc that made it 24-7.

"Nick MacDonald and Austin … they were decent looks but they were on fire," South coach Gabe Michael said. "That's a really good basketball team when they're shooting like that. … They passed the ball so well that whenever we made a mistake on defense the right man took the shot."

South, which hopes to win its third Section VI title in four seasons, scrapped and pulled within 31-20 early in the second quarter as Mike DiGiulio came off the bench and provided a spark, scoring seven of his eight points in a span of 1 minute, 42 seconds.

Canisius replied by scoring the next 12 points with James and Johnson combining for 10 of them.

One game does not make a season by any stretch, especially in basketball. But the Crusaders showed lots of promise, especially with their willingness to share the basketball as they finished with 17 assists. Johnson had six, while James had 4.

"It was obviously a great way to start the season," Canisius coach Kyle Husband said. "Certainly when you can make that amount of shots, it's going to look pretty good. With that though, I thought we did a tremendous job for this early in the season moving the basketball and finding the open man. It's not like a lot of those shots were highly contested. They were good looks because we made the extra pass early on. But we also know we're not going to shoot like that night in, night out. … We look forward to seeing how much better we can get."

Canisius faces Nazareth of New York City at 3:30 p.m. Saturday for the tournament title. In the consolation game at 2, Williamsville South takes on Aquinas of Section V, which lost to Naz, 56-35.

The clash provides another tough nonleaguer that the Billies hope will prepare them for league games in the always competitive ECIC II.

"Anybody whose good we like to play, that's what we do in our nonconference because the only games that really matter are those 12 conference games and what you do in in the playoffs," Michael said. "Our goal is to get as good as we can going into that."

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