Cardinal O’Hara has taken its fair share of beatings over the years from the large school members of the Monsignor Martin High School Athletic Association.
This season, the uber-talented Hawks have made it a point to settle some scores and the Buffalo News’ No. 1 small school checked off another perennial heavyweight off its list.
Senior guard Jermaine Haynes Jr. scored 14 of his game-high 17 points during the second half, as he and Cardinal O’Hara found its collective shooting touch during the final 16 minutes as it rallied to defeat host St. Francis, 67-53.
An overflow crowd of more than 500 attended this contest between ranked teams. They saw the tall, athletic Hawks overcome a 23-21 halftime deficit with a 27-point third quarter against the News’ No. 3 large school.
Haynes’ three-pointer with 3 minutes, 53 seconds left in the third quarter put O’Hara ahead for keeps, 31-30. He’d score several timely baskets the rest of the way for the unbeaten Hawks (13-0), who ended what is believed to be a 10-game losing streak dating back to 2008 against the Red Raiders.
"You look at box scores and the team that usually wins the third quarter usually wins the game," O'Hara coach Tony Pulvirenti said. "We played hard in the first half but we couldn't hit any shots. Second half we were a lot more focused."
To review: Cardinal O’Hara, a Class B-sized school in the Monsignor Martin that expected to contend and received a talent boost with the addition of a couple transfers from the now-defunct Niagara Catholic, has beaten traditional Class A contenders Canisius, Bishop Timon-St. Jude and St. Francis this season. The Hawks earned two wins over the other longtime large school member of the league, St. Joe’s, last season (the two meet Jan. 25 this season).
"I just feel good," Haynes said. "When I first started at Cardinal O'Hara on JV we couldn't get a win. Now I'm just so thankful for my team and how hard we've worked."
The Hawks found their offense during a third quarter in which Haynes scored seven points. After a Justin Hemphill layup tied the game at 23-23, Haynes hit an acrobatic hook shot to give the Hawks the lead. The teams exchanged the lead three times before Haynes’ three-pointer gave them the lead for good, sparking an 11-3 burst over a stretch of 2:30. After a Avion Harris runner, Haynes followed with a putback. Hakim Siner’s trey capped the blitz.
Siner finished with 15 points, while fellow Niagara Catholic transfer Harris had 12 and Hemphill finished with 10.
St. Francis didn’t pack it in, though, as the scrappy Red Raiders, who dropped an 80-79 decision in overtime last week at No. 1 large school Park, stayed within one or two possessions. Justin Poumpey and Lucas Theisen each finished with 13 points for the Red Raiders (9-5).
O’Hara had another pull-away run in it and did just that on the break with Haynes scoring on a layup to spark a 9-2 run that ended with Joseph Turri’s basket giving the Hawks a 57-45 lead with under 3 minutes left.
Cardinal O’Hara played with a little more jump in the first quarter than the Red Raiders but had difficulty with its shooting (from the floor and the free-throw line). Still, a steal and dunk by Hemphill with 6 seconds left in the period gave the Hawks a 15-9 lead.
St. Francis had issues on offense but were tenacious nonetheless on both ends of the court. The reward was a 9-2 run over the final 3:52 with Dorien Ivey’s layup with 28 seconds left giving the Red Raiders their first lead, 23-21.
It wouldn’t be their last but they ran out of gas against a determined O’Hara crew that thrived on defense and owned the glass (50-38 rebounding edge, including 17 offensive boards).
The Hawks return to action Monday at unbeaten large school Lewiston-Porter.
"Now we have a target on our back," Pulvirenti said. "That's the most difficult part right now, to keep guys focused, humble and content."