It’s never easy to knock off a defending champion.
Allegany-Limestone learned that lesson again on Tuesday night at the Buffalo State Sports Arena. The Gators came up just short of beating Olean for the Class B title in boys basketball.
The Huskies repeated their championship with a 36-35 win.
The game came down to one shot. Covi James hit a 3-pointer with about two seconds left to lift Olean to an intense, hard-fought win.
“My teammates played to the buzzer, to the very end,” James said. “They got me the shot, and I hit it. It’s the long hours before and after practice, repetition – so when it comes down to the moment, it was like it was already in.”
“To be honest with you, we had a play in,” coach Tim Kolasinski said. “I saw that our guard Kamdyn (McClain) had the baseline, and I hoped he’d draw a blocking foul and he’d go to the line and give us a chance to tie. Great vision – he kicks it out to Covi, and he hits the game-winner. It was very much like a game-winner in our second game of the year.”
Before James' huge basket, there was plenty of drama to go with individual heroics and missed opportunities in the preceding 31 minutes and 58 seconds.
This figured to be a good game. The two rivals – who met in last season’s Class B final and are only a few miles away from each other – had each won on its home court during the regular season.
And that’s the way things played out. Points were hard to come by in the first half, as the Gators had a 9-8 lead at the end of the first period. After Olean scored to take its final lead until the last two seconds, Allegany-Limestone scored six straight points to go ahead by five.
The Gators were up, 18-14, at the half. The Huskies didn’t shoot the ball particularly well in the opening 16 minutes, and when they missed it seemed as if a Gator – usually Casey Curran – was always there to grab a rebound.
Kolasinski tried a change of approach for the start of the second half, but it didn’t work as planned.
“We thought we did a nice job defensively in the first half, and we held them to 18,” he said.
“Unfortunately, we only scored 14. We tried to make a switch in the third quarter to a zone that we had used earlier this year. They were prepared for it, and we got down.”
Allegany-Limestone led by 10 points, 33-23, with just a quarter to go. The Gators scored only one basket, a drive by Ben Giardini, in the first 3:45 of the fourth quarter. Still, the Gators had a nine-point lead with a little more than four minutes left.
“We knew we had to lock it up to pull through, and that’s what we did,” James said.
Then Olean got its offense in gear. Jason Brooks scored on a drive, McClain hit a 3-pointer from the next ZIP code, and McClain added a hoop on a drive. Suddenly, the Huskies trailed by only two, 35-33, with 2:42 left.
And those were the last points of the game until James’ game-winning shot.
The Gators had some chances and made some good defensive plays along the way, but couldn’t finish of Olean. They paid the price when James came through.
Perhaps that previous championship experience proved crucial down the stretch.
“We tell our guys all the time that the blueprint for success has been laid,” Kolasinski said.
“That doesn’t guarantee success. What makes us special in Olean is that we try to have a program instead of a team. It’s not just year to year. We had kids here who have graduated, but they take interest in the kids below them. That makes it special.”
James led Olean with 11 points. Giardini and Curran had the same number for Allegany-Limestone.
The Huskies advanced to the Far West Regional on Saturday against a team from Section V.
But first, there is some business on Wednesday night.
“The funny thing is, we will have an off-day tomorrow,” Kolasinski said. “Our off-day is our winter sports banquet. Then we’ll prepare for whoever comes out of Section V.”