By Jim Hague
Special to The Buffalo News
NEW YORK – The Cardinal O'Hara boys basketball team spent seven hours on a bus from Buffalo to the Bronx on what senior Jermaine Haynes Jr. termed “a business trip.”
“It was a business trip because we had to come here and take care of business,” Haynes said.
O'Hara eventually did, winning the New York Catholic High School Athletic Association Class B championship, 45-35, against Regis of New York on Saturday at Fordham University for its first boys basketball state title since 1994.
But halfway through the game, O’Hara found itself struggling, trailing 18-13.
“For some reason, we’re used to starting off slow,” Haynes said. “We’ve faced a lot of adversity all year. We just had to keep our heads up and not let someone else tell us what to do.”
With the victory, O'Hara (25-1) equaled the program record for wins and total points (2,132) in a season. Both records were held by the previous state championship team.
The Hawks advance to the state Federation Class B semifinals against Lawrence Woodmere Academy in two weeks in Glens Falls.
Haynes seemed to ignite the Hawks by draining a huge 3-pointer to start the second half, and he had 14 of his game-high 18 after halftime.
“Every time I hit a three, my teammates get excited,” Haynes said. “It boosts our confidence.”
O’Hara coach Tony Pulvirenti had a good idea that his team would rebound in the second half.
“We just had to eliminate our mistakes,” Pulvirenti said. “We kept our guys mentally sane. We knew it was going to be more of a mental game than physical. We had to drive seven hours to play on a foreign court, so it took a while. But once we cut down on our mistakes, we were fine.”
The Hawks also received 11 points and 15 rebounds from senior forward Haakim Siner.
“Our seniors really stepped up,” Pulvirenti said. “They were really focused. Haakim is one of the best rebounders in the area. Every one of his rebounds was big.”
Pulvirenti realized that Haynes’ three to start the third quarter was huge. The shot keyed an 8-0 run that enabled the Hawks to gain their first lead of the game at 21-20.
“It definitely helped him,” Pulvirenti said. “Once we saw one of his 3-pointers go in, it felt good to us and those three points felt like 10 the way the game was going.”
The Hawks took the lead for good in the fourth quarter on five consecutive points from Haynes, who nailed another 3-pointer to push the Hawks’ lead to a comfortable 35-28 with 4:17 remaining.
Haynes then scored four points in the final 1:10 to seal the deal. Siner also made four free throws in the closing seconds.
“We executed our game plan in the fourth quarter,” said Pulvirenti, who saw his team outscore the Raiders, 17-7, over the final eight minutes.
Junior forward Avion Harris added eight points for the winners. William Eastwick paced Regis (20-6) with 12 points.