The outcome wasn't in doubt, but chance afforded Austin James with an opportunity to put the figurative cherry on top of the sundae for Canisius in the waning seconds of its victory over Park School on Tuesday night.
The Crusaders senior didn't disappoint as the thunderous one-handed jam in transition gave the blue-and-gold fans one more reason to get out of their seats and cheer wildly.
The verdict also gave Western New York scholastic hoops fans a sense of déjà vu because for the second time this season No. 2 has taken down No. 1 in a head-to-head battle on the basketball court. The difference this time: it was top-ranked Park that went down at the hands of defending Manhattan Cup champion Canisius.
James scored 19 of his game-high 28 points during the first half, while classmates Ryan Bradley and Brendan Trapper each posted double-doubles as the second-ranked Crusaders defeated the News' No. 1 large school, 84-60, at Canisius' Bernard J. Kennedy Fieldhouse.
A crowd of more than 1,200 watched as the Crusaders avenged their lone league loss to Park two-and-a-half weeks ago, a defeat that ended Canisius' time in the polls as state and News No. 1.
Unlike that meeting, Canisius did a whole lot of things right Tuesday against a Pioneers team that could've been alone in first place in the rugged Monsignor Martin High School Athletic Association with a win – including a regular-season sweep of the Crusaders.
Instead, it's Canisius (18-2, 9-1), winners of eight straight, who now has sole possession of first in the league followed by Park (15-5, 8-2) and Bishop Timon-St. Jude (15-3, 6-2).
"We got our tails kicked," said first-year Pioneers coach Rich Jacob. "They were patient, they executed, they shot the heck out of the ball and they beat us inside. No one deserves to win when that happens."
Bradley finished with 20 points and 15 rebounds, while Trapper grabbed 12 boards to go with 10 points as those two alone finished with as many rebounds as the Pioneers had as a team. In the last encounter, Park's rebounding fueled its offense leading to second-chance points and baskets in transition.
"We were more prepared," said Bradley of what was different Tuesday compared to Canisius' 77-69 loss at Park on Jan. 20. "We knew what they could do and couldn't and focused on that."
The Crusaders led 16-15 when Bradley's putback to end the first quarter sparked a 16-6 run that enabled them to seize control.
James scored 13 points in the second quarter, including the first five as he followed a short jumper with a traditional three-point play. James and Nick MacDonald (12 points) closed the quarter with back-to-back threes, the latter from roughly 30-feet away, to send Canisius into halftime with a 45-29 lead.
The Crusaders extended their advantage to 54-31 on another trey from MacDonald early in the third, but Park pushed back. Daniel Scott (15 points) and Quentin Nnagbo each had six points in the period as the Pioneers pulled within 57-50. Two technical on Canisius resulted in four straight free throws by Scott during that run.
That's as close as Park got as Trapper replied with a three with 1:35 left in the quarter to end a Canisius scoring drought of 4 minutes.
The loss ended the Pioneers' seven-game winning streak.
"We came in this game thinking it's just another game," James said. "We came out with the right mindset and did what we had to do to win."
Both teams will have to forget about Tuesday's contest quickly.
Park faces Health Sciences, the top-ranked small school which gave Canisius fits earlier this season and recently dropped a five-point decision at Williamsville South, in a game at Daemen College on Thursday. Canisius, meanwhile, has back-to-back road games Thursday and Friday at Aquinas and Timon.