HENRIETTA – The Niagara Falls Wolverines appeared to have the Victor boys basketball team right where they wanted them entering the fourth quarter of Saturday’s Class AA boys basketball Far West Regional.
And then they didn’t.
Niagara Falls, which trailed by a dozen points with 4:30 remaining in the third quarter, used a 12-2 run to seize the momentum and enter the final quarter down by just two points. However, the Blue Devils opened the fourth with a 14-3 spurt and held on for a 66-59 victory at Rush-Henrietta to earn their first state semifinal berth.
“We wanted to be within four or six at the start of the fourth and we were there," Niagara Falls coach Carlos Bradberry said. "Then, they switched to a zone and it gave us some problems.”
So did sophomore guard Griffen Hopkins.
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Hopkins scored 11 of his game-high 21 points in the fourth, including seven in the first 2:38 as the Blue Devils (21-2) regained control. Junior forward Nick Leonard reignited Victor late in the game, scoring seven of his 15 points in the final 3:31 to make sure Niagara Falls could pull no closer than six points.
Junior guard Omarian Ralands connected on three 3-pointers in the fourth and led Niagara Falls (21-3) with 16 points. The Wolverines scored 18 points in the fourth, all from long range as junior Ephraim Strong added two treys and James Robinson one.
Similar to its Section VI championship win over Jamestown, Niagara Falls rallied in the second half but the Wolverines' inability to convert some shots they normally make hindered the comeback attempt.
“I thought that we probably left 10 or 12 points off the board,” Bradberry said. “We missed a lot of shots that we usually make.”
Robinson picked up two early fouls and was limited to just two points as Victor took a 34-24 lead into halftime.
The Blue Devils weathered an early surge by Niagara Falls in the third quarter and extended their advantage to 41-29 before Robinson scored seven straight points to bring his team back. Ralands added three points in the run and freshman Daryl Smith evened the game at 41 with 1:11 to play in the third.
Cam Ryan’s basket gave Victor a 43-41 edge entering the fourth and set the stage for Hopkins.
Robinson added 12 points and Strong scored 11 for the Wolverines, who saw their 10-game winning streak snapped.
Niagara Falls, which last won a state title in 2005, was seeking its 13th trip to the semifinals.
“A lot of people, except for the coaches and players in that locker room, didn’t think that we would be here,” Bradberry said. “We weren’t picked to get out of Buffalo, but I knew that we were better than that. We fell a little short tonight, but we have a lot to be proud of.”
The Blue Devils will play either Section VIII's Baldwin or Section XI's Brentwood in the state semifinals at 2:45 p.m. Friday at Cool Insuring Arena in Glens Falls.