Niagara Falls competed. The Wolverines had leads. They battled as if they desperately wanted to extend their boys basketball season another week.
It just wasn't in the cards for the team with more underclassmen than seniors.
Niagara Falls' season reached the end of the road in the quarterfinal round of the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association Tournament for the third year in row. Section V champion McQuaid did the little things needed to win at this time of the season just a little bit better than the Wolverines and earned a hard fought 65-57 win in the Class AA Far West Regional.
Jermaine Taggart scored a game-high 25 points, including four daggers from three-point range, but more importantly secured a pair of offensive rebounds that blunted Niagara Falls' (19-5) comeback hopes before an estimated 3,000 at Buffalo State Sports Arena.
Anthony Iglesia added 16 points and five boards for McQuaid (17-8), the Rochester-area private school which won its first sectional title in 15 years and advanced to the state semifinals for the first time since winning it all in 2003.
Eighth-grader Willie Lightfoot led Niagara Falls with 23 points but unlike an earlier season meeting between these teams when the Wolverines had a fine shooting day in a win – they struggled from the floor against a Knights crew that has now won 13 of its last 14 games.
"When you look at everything we've done from the spring to the summer it stings because it's over," Falls coach Sal Constantino said.
Shooting woes hurt the Wolverines as they finished 20 for 60, including just 2 for 15 from three-point range. Still, they had a chance in a game that featured 11 lead changes, although none after Taggart's trey with 2:08 left in the second quarter erased a 23-22 Falls lead.
What did in Falls were the crucial mistakes at key times, including the inability to secure a key rebound to prevent the Knights from extending possessions when it needed a second-half stop. The Wolverines also lost the handle on the ball far too many times in the third quarter, opening the door for McQuaid to turn a slim 30-26 halftime lead into 49-35 advantage eight minutes later.
The Knights scored the first five points of the quarter off turnovers – an Iglesia steal and layup and then a Connor Zamiara basket. Late in the quarter, Taggart grabbed a rebound off a missed free throw and found Iglesia for a three.
"I think it's just the excitement getting to the kids," Constantino said. "We had that first two or three possessions where it was like hot potato. We were throwing the ball everywhere. We were trying to get it out of our hands. We didn't have a lot of composure, but to our credit I thought the kids gathered themselves in the fourth quarter and played really well."
So well that Falls did make McQuaid sweat. Senior Tazaun Rose scored nine of his 12 points in the fourth. Classmate Syquan Ralands' steal at half-court and one-handed jam in transition pulled the Wolverines with 51-48 with 3:27 left. Falls failed to get a stop to give itself a possession in which it could vie for a tie.
While the loss is Falls' third straight in the regional round, a glimmer of hope can be found in the fact the Wolverines didn't get blown out as they did the past two seasons. Though they graduate four, the future should be in good hands with Lightfoot and fellow eighth-grader Roddy Gayle returning after having fine first seasons for the blue and gold.
"I think the future is bright," Constantino said. "I feel bad for the four seniors. They put in a lot of time. … But for the young guys coming back we just have to keep working at it. We've got a little taste of this."
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