NIAGARA FALLS – The blink-of-an-eye offense was at it again for Cardinal O’Hara and that’s a good thing.
It served as an effective repellent for whenever Section V’s U-Prep got within striking position of the Hawks. The play also served as O’Hara’s most effective on a Saturday in which the Buffalo News’ top-ranked small school looked a little off but found a way to extend the second-longest-winning streak in the state to 18 with a 72-66 victory over the Griffins.
Justin Hemphill recorded 19 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists; Hakim Siner had 12 points, including a momentum-swinging three, to go with 19 rebounds and seven assists; and Avion Harris added 17 points, eight rebounds and four assists for the unbeaten Hawks (18-0).
If one blinked, one likely missed the quick long pass from the backcourt to a streaking O’Hara player down court for an easy layup. It’s not the official name of the play but it’s effective way to seize control.
It’s an effective way to clinch a win, too.
Hemphill’s final basket, a layup off a long pass, with under 10 seconds left officially ended the comeback hopes of a fast U-Prep team coach by former Niagara University star Demond Stewart that had trimmed an 18-point fourth-quarter deficit down to four with 12 seconds left.
“We had our moments when we looked unstoppable ... but took our foot off the pedal,” O’Hara coach Tony Pulvirenti said. “We have to be more of a killer and put teams away. ... Good win. Good competitive nonleague opponent.”
“It was definitely a tough game,” Hemphill said. “This is our first official day back since the storm happened. ... Coming here and being focused is something we prepared for earlier in the season for times like this.”
Like most of the schools in the region, O’Hara was closed multiple days during the Blizzard of 2019. Teams can’t practice on snow days. An informal team meeting served as the closest activity resembling a workout Friday.
Both teams pushed the pace throughout during the third of five games of the Battle of Border at Niagara Falls High School’s Wolvarena to the point where maybe the break-neck pace hindered the scoring abilities of both.
It’s the second half where O’Hara took enough control to pull away enough until the cruise got a little rocky.
Siner’s three with 3:33 left in the third sparked a 20-8 run in which the Hawks seemingly flew to the basket for layup after layup. Hemphill had eight of those points.
Kaysean Ross scored eight of his team-high 15 points in the fourth quarter for U-Prep (5-9). He had six points during the final 2:37 but the Hawks do what they tend to do in close ones this season. They find a way to win even when they might appear vulnerable.
"We just know how to come together as a team and play smart when things get tough," Hemphill said. "Sometimes things might fall apart but we just make sure we always have our heads on straight and stay focused.”