West Seneca West versus Williamsville South was expected to be an epic Section VI boys basketball championship game. The Class A-1 final did more than live up to that billing, as it was perhaps one of the best high school games ever played in the Buffalo State Sports Arena.
A standing-room only crowd of more than 3,000 witnessed West Seneca West dig deeper than deep to pull out the perfect ending to keep its perfect season intact.
The Indians (23-0) captured their first Section VI championship since 2000 by defeating Williamsville South, 97-95, in four overtimes. Juston Johson scored six of his game-high 38 points in the final 66 seconds to enable West to rally from a four-point deficit and earn a date with Class A-2 champion South Park for the overall Section VI Class A championship at 7:45 p.m. Tuesday at Buffalo State.
For folks who ever wanted to know what it would be like to watch two high school teams play a 48-minute game like the professionals in the NBA, West and South provided the answer.
"That's probably one of the best high school basketball games everyone in this gym has ever seen," said coach Des Randall, a West Seneca West alumnus who added that's the best game he's been a part of. "It doesn't get better than that. Thankfully we came out on top."
"This is crazy," said Johnson, who helped football go 13-0 and win the state title last fall. "I was just happy my team stuck with it and we stayed together. … We just did what our coach told us to do and when we did that it helped us get the win."
What Randall wanted his team to do was to take two charges on Williamsville South star Greg Dolan and execute a press that has led to them blowing past teams all season.
It took a while as Dolan scored 36 points for the Billies, surpassing 2,000 for his career as the fourth-year starter scored 24 of his points after halftime. The Indians, however, drew that second charge against Dolan late in the fourth overtime which turned out to be his fifth and game-disqualifying foul. Though South had the lead, a key weapon in breaking West's press was on the bench in Dolan.
The Billies paid the price shortly after that. Johnson hit a pair of free throws to pull his team within 94-93. Alex Wayland followed with a steal and kicked it to an open Johnson who buried the three with 58.6 seconds left to complete a five-point burst in just under 8 seconds.
After the teams exchanged free throws, including South missing one to tie it at 96-96, it still had a chance to win on its last possession. However, Devin Degree missed a three just off the iron that West rebounded as time expired.
— Jonah Bronstein (@lebronstein) March 4, 2018
The defeat concluded a frustrating ending to this one for Williamsville South as it had possession in the final seconds for the win at the end of the fourth quarter and each overtime period but came up empty. The most frustrating time had to be at the end of the third OT when Dolan made a nice dribble drive to the basket but was too strong on the layup with Cody Sanford missing the putback.
"We had six different shots, I believe, to win it and none of them went in," South coach Gabe Michael said. "Once Greg fouled out, the momentum in the whole building just changed and you could sense that it was their time.
"It was one of the better games I’ve been a part of. Unfortunately you hate coming up short, but I can’t think of a more appropriate way for our seniors to go out."
The Billies, who lost in the final last year after winning two straight Class A titles, had a 64-53 lead late in the third quarter but couldn't deliver the knockout blow. West rallied to take a 69-68 lead with 4:09 left in the fourth on Mike Borton's layup. Sanford followed with a three to give the Billies the lead again. They led 75-73 when Borton tied it with 12 seconds left.
Scores after the first three overtime periods were 79-79, 86-86 and 90-90.
Wayland finished with 22 points, while Borton (11 rebounds) and Nate Ryniec each had 14 for West.
Robert Richards had 20 points for South, while sophomore guard Mike DiGiulio added 15.
With West Seneca West capturing a sectional title in boys basketball, the renaissance year for the two major sports at the school continued as basketball joined football as a sectional champion this year.
"It was all or nothing," said Johnson, who also had 10 rebounds and four assists to go along with his scoring output. "We played with everything we had because we knew it could be our last game. Everybody played their hearts out and we're proud of everybody."
"We just did what our coach told us to do and when we did that it helped us get the win."
— Jonah Bronstein (@lebronstein) March 4, 2018