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Resilient Crusaders hang on to defeat host St. Joe's

This season’s edition of the Canisius boys basketball team may be younger than recent ones, but the Crusaders are proving to be a resilient bunch.

They showed it again against the one team that matters most on their schedule, on the road – St. Joe’s.

Receiving double-digit scoring from four different players, Canisius dialed up its defensive intensity at key moments to rally for a 63-60 victory over the Marauders on Saturday afternoon in the Monsignor Martin High School Athletic Association.

Despite the start of a winter storm that made travel a bit harrowing, a sellout crowd of more than 1,000 braved the elements to see a competitive contest in which neither team led by more than eight points at any stretch. They saw junior Dewayne Vass pour in a game-high 22 points for the Crusaders (9-5), the News’ sixth-ranked large school. They also saw senior Joe Jamison score eight of his 12 points during the second half.

They watched St. Joe’s (7-6) come oh, so close to snapping its losing streak against its bitter rivals only to watch Canisius walk off the court with its 16th straight victory in the series. The Crusaders led 63-57 in the closing seconds when Desean Ashley drained a three with 1.9 seconds left. After Canisius missed a free throw with three tenths of a second left, a desperation heave for the tie came up short for a Marauders crew that’s just on the outside looking in as the top points-earner among the others receiving votes in the latest Buffalo News Large Schools poll.

Saturday was the fourth time this season the Crusaders have won when trailing at halftime.

“It’s definitely a resilient group,” Canisius coach Kyle Husband said. “They try not to put their heads down. They keep working and looking forward so I’m certainly proud of them.”

Trailing by one after a three-point play by Greg Poland, the Crusaders donned their hard hats on the defensive end and took the lead for good on a determined drive and finish in the paint by Vass with 5 minutes, 56 seconds left in the third quarter. That sparked a 10-2 run that he ended by making another tough layup. Jamison made a steal that he turned into a layup during the blitz.

A Jamison putback gave Canisius a 53-45 lead early in the fourth quarter, but the Marauders needed just 1:40 to trim that deficit to a point as a pair of Nolan Phillips free throws capped a run that made sure the fans in the house got to watch an edge-of-their-seat-type finish.

Eric Kegler added 14 points for Canisius, while Joe Ciocca had 11. While it took a team effort for the Crusaders to win, the young team did benefit from having two players from last season's team familiar with the rivalry game at the varsity stage in returnees Jamison and Vass.

“Whether it was offense or defense it was definitely those two,” Husband said. “I have tremendous confidence in those two. In an environment like this, St. Joe’s is really playing good basketball, we needed them to make plays. When we needed it most they stepped up and did that.”

Poland finished with 14 points, 13 rebounds and seven blocks for the Marauders, who also had four players score in double figures. Ashley finished with 13 points.

Though both sides downplayed the streak, the game was there for the taking for St. Joe’s. It just escaped the Marauders' grasp.

“We got really sloppy with the basketball down the stretch,” first-year St. Joe's coach Gabe Michael said. “They converted off our mistakes. A couple times we could’ve got stops, they got a second chance. They made championship plays and we didn’t at the end of the day.”

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