It’s a game Cardinal O’Hara would have lost in past years, coach Tony Pulvirenti says.
Maybe that’s a sign of just how the Hawks have matured, just how much they are in sync.
They won their biggest game of the season without the school's all-time scoring leader, Justin Hemphill, recording a point. Their reward: the New York State Catholic High Schools Athletic Association championship.
Still, that’s not a formula O’Hara wants to try again this weekend, as it will need contributions from everyone if it wants to win its first New York State Federation Tournament of Champions since 1994.
Cardinal O’Hara heads to Glens Falls to face Alliance of Independent Schools champion Lawrence Woodmere Academy of Long Island at 12:30 p.m. Saturday in what’s likely being considered the other Class B semifinal of the Federation Tournament in the Adirondack region.
The game that’s been the talk of the host city and tournament thus far takes place at 3 p.m. Saturday in Cool Insuring Arena with state public schools champion Glens Falls, led by scoring sensation and Syracuse signee Joe Girard III, taking on PSAL champ South Bronx. Semifinal winners meet at 3 p.m. Sunday for the championship.
O’Hara (25-1) reached Saturday’s game by defeating defending state Catholic champion Regis, 45-35, at Fordham on March 9.
It was a game in which Hemphill spent most of the time on the bench because of foul trouble. To his credit, he didn’t foul out and took the floor late to help O’Hara protect the lead.
Hemphill averages 15.1 points, 10.0 rebounds and 5.9 assists per game. He's a big part of the offense whether its as scorer or facilitator.
But going to a game without scoring — for the first time in more than 100 games?
“It’s hard to believe we could win a game without him scoring,” said classmate Jermaine Haynes, who scored 14 of his game-high 18 points during the second half against Regis. “We just kept our heads, and not getting frustrated with each other or giving up when we were down.”
“It was pretty much a struggle the whole game,” said Hemphill, who concedes a couple of the fouls he took were undisciplined. “Throughout the game, my teammates stepped up and took over. … I still wanted to be part of the moment so it was just playing on defense … and doing whatever I could to help the team win.”
Freshman Jimmy Green helped fill the void, playing 15 minutes and recording five rebounds, two points and two blocks. Junior Avion Harris, who came into the state final nursing an injury, battled through a lower-body ailment to score eight points. Hakim Siner added 15 rebounds and 11 points.
“It’s got to make our guys feel good ... that we could win despite the circumstances," Pulvirenti said. "That was a big obstacle to overcome. ... It’s a good sign heading into this game. I tell the guys before every game we need more than five guys to win the game. The bench has to be ready to step up.”
Woodmere (22-4) is led by 6-foot-10 Louisville signee Aidan Igiehon (23.5 ppg, 10.5 rebounds) and 6-4 Marist signee Tyler St. Furcy. Point guard Maurice Butler is the only Woodmere starter standing under 6-4.
“I think our fast-break style on the bigger court helps us,” Pulvirenti said. “If they play more of a half-court, that pace favors them because they have more size. Our focus is to play what we do well and see if they can keep up with it.”
Hemphill's goal for Saturday's semifinal is simple.
“Especially this late in the season, I just have to forget that game," he said. "I have to come out next game ready to play and do whatever I can to help my team win."