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Canisius and Park triumph to set up another No. 1 versus No. 2 showdown for Manhattan Cup

For those hoping to see No. 1 take on No. 2 one more time this boys basketball season, but with a championship on the line, you got your wish.

Park versus Canisius is in the books with the winner of Tuesday night's clash claiming the Manhattan Cup.

The Buffalo News' top two large school teams advanced to the championship round of the Monsignor Martin High School Athletic Association tournament by cruising to victories over ranked teams that gave them some trouble during the regular season.

The Crusaders flexed their might throughout and earned the right to play for another championship by crushing St. Francis, 79-56, Friday night in the first of two Manhattan Cup Class A semifinal contests at the Canisius College Koessler Athletic Center.

Ryan Bradley scored nine of his game-high 21 points during the opening eight minutes, while fellow senior Austin James finished with 19 points and eight assists, as Canisius' depth and athleticism – its trademarks throughout the season – proved to be too much for the eighth-ranked Red Raiders to handle before an estimated 1,400 fans.

The Crusaders (23-2), the three-time defending champions, will face the only team in the state to beat them during the season in Park (20-5).

The second-ranked Pioneers dialed up the intensity during a third quarter in which it held Bishop Timon-St. Jude without a field goal to earn a 67-57 decision over the News' fifth-ranked large school.

The Manhattan Cup Class A final is at 7:45 p.m. Tuesday at the Koessler Center.

"We're excited for the opportunity," first-year Park coach Rich Jacob said. "It should be a great game."

"We have to play better than we did tonight and we have to work harder than we did all week to have a chance at getting another one," Crusaders coach Kyle Husband said.

That may be true, but Canisius still looked better than pretty good against a St. Francis (14-13) team that just last week pushed the Crusaders to double overtime.

Canisius led 7-0 just 1 minute into the clash, with Bradley throwing down a two-handed dunk off a nice feed from James to jump-start the Monsignor Martin regular-season champions. Nick MacDonald followed with a three and then a coast-to-coast layup by Jayce Johnson after a steal prompted St. Francis to take a timeout. It blunted the Crusaders' momentum momentarily as the Red Raiders scored the next five points, but it was all Canisius after that.

James sparked a 16-3 run over the final 5 minutes, 49 seconds of the quarter hitting a pullup jumper. Bradley had seven points during the burst, including three free throws after being fouled on a shot from beyond the arc. Johnson had four points.

The Crusaders sprinkled in starters and reserves in the second quarter, but the lead grew to 28-10 after a layup and three by Brendan Trapper. Bradley and then MacDonald followed with treys of their own to increase the lead. Trapper had 11 of his 13 points in the second quarter as Canisius led at halftime, 45-18.

"We played with better pace and better energy," said Bradley of the difference between Friday and last week's double overtime contest between the teams. "We had a week to work out and work out our game. … We were just more focused."

"I thought we had tremendous focus and energy all week," Husband said. "It was one of the best full weeks of practice we put in maybe all year. Maybe that double overtime game was good for us."

Johnson finished with 10 points, 10 rebounds and five assists, while MacDonald also had 10 points for the winners. Justin Poumpey led the Red Raiders with 16 points.

While Park and Timon split (19-6) regular-season meetings, the rubber match played out similarly to the second meeting in which the Pioneers seized control of a close game at halftime with a sensational third quarter. Park's ability to rebound on offense and pressure on defense fueled a 17-2 period. The Pioneers came within 1.7 seconds of pitching a shutout as a foul on a missed three-pointer enabled the Tigers to avoid a scoreless period.

"We put our pressing team in, that caused some mistakes and we converted," Jacob said. "That opened things for us and we were able to sustain. That was a key quarter for us."

Dan Scott scored seven of his 18 points in the third for Park, while Brandon Smith had four of his 24 in the frame for the Pioneers. Park led 53-32 heading into the final quarter.

"We didn't execute the way I like but it happens," Timon coach Jason Rowe said. "It's a learning experience for all of us."

Noah Hutchins thrived in the facilitator role, finishing with nine assists for Park, while Julian Eziukwu grabbed 10 rebounds.

The Tigers' Julian Cunningham took game-scoring honors (25 points) as the junior now has 1,001 points for his career.

Park bolted to an early lead but Timon battled back. It was the theme of the first half that featured several ties and lead changes.

Smith gave the Pioneers the lead for good with a minute left in the first half, draining the first of back-to-back threes to break a 30-30 tie.

This is Park's third title-game appearance in four years.

The Pioneers won in Class B en route to winning the Federation title as overall state champion in 2015. They lost in the Class A final in overtime by a basket to Canisius in 2016.

"It means a lot (reaching the final)," said Smith, the only senior on Park. "I'm just trying to make the most of it."

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