Big second half pushes Notre Dame past Watkins Glen, into Class C final
SOUTHPORT, N.Y. - Watkins Glen started strong.
But Notre Dame finished stronger.
The Crusaders out scored their IAC rivals 34-21 in the second half as they pulled away for the 63-46 win in Section IV, Class C semi-final boys' basketball action Tuesday.
The victory punches Notre Dame's ticket to the title game for the second time in three years.
Darius Garvin had 21 points to lead the Crusaders, including a perfect 4-for-4 from the free throw line in the fourth quarter to help ice the game.
"It feels great," Garvin said about being back in the title game. "I was able to have the opportunity to go as a freshman, it was a great experience. I'm going back with a little bit more experience of what to expect and it should be a fun time."
The Senecas ended Notre Dame's season last year in the semi-finals up their place.
Watkins Glen led 12-8 halfway through the opening quarter but it was all Notre Dame from that point on.
"I thought tonight we shot the ball very well," Notre Dame coach Bill Hopkins said.
The Crusaders hit nine threes in the game out of their 19 baskets.
"We've earned our right to play at home to be at home because of our record and schedule," explained Hopkins. "You always hope that the practices and the time we spend on our shooting is going to benefit us in this type of game and tonight it did. We shot the ball very well and we were able to get the basket. I think we're a very good transition team."
The game was marked with physical, and sometimes heated, play. The type of playoff game when two conference rivals battle it out to see who stays alive.
The teams traded three pointers to start the game, with the Crusaders going up 6-3. After taking an 8-3 lead on the two Tom Agan freebies Colin Gates of Watkins Glen went to work.
He scored six straight points to put the Senecas up 9-8 while teammate Luke Flahive hit his second three of the quarter to give Watkins Glen a 12-8 lead.
That's when Notre Dame jump started their rally, beginning with a fastbreak that started with Hunter Thomas and ended with a Thomas alley-oop to Garvin.
"Me and Hunter of good coordination together in transition," Garvin remarked. "I knew it was coming."
That ended Watkins' first quarter push.
"It definitely helped," Garvin said. "It gave us energy on both ends of the floor."
Cutting the lead to 12-10 Agan finished off the quarter with a drive and foul shot to give Notre Dame a 13-12 lead.
In the second quarter the teams traded threes again with the Crusaders taking a 19-15 lead. A jumper by Joe Palumbo cut it to 19-17 but Notre Dame's hot shooting continued.
They hit three threes in a row - Garvin, Agan and Jonas McCaig - to push their advantage to 28-17. The Crusaders pushed the lead to 31-22 on a Garvin jumper but a buzzer beating three by Palumbo cut the deficit to a manageable 31-25 at the half.
Notre Dame then came out even stronger in the third, going on a 11-3 run as four different Crusaders scored. Gates stopped the bleeding with a bucket but it would be his last. Plagued by foul trouble from the second quarter on, he fouled out after that bucket.
Thomas hit a pair of freebies to make it 44-30 Notre Dame but Palumbo followed with a lay-up of his own. The two teams traded baskets again but Nate Niles cut whatever momentum Watkins Glen had, hitting a buzzer beater of his own, a jumper in the lane, to give Notre Dame a 48-34 lead going into the final frame.
Garvin then looked to take over for the Crusaders, converting a drive to make it 50-34. He then got a steal and looked to put the game out of reach with a big dunk but was fouled hard as he went to the basket by Palumbo.
Garvin took exception to the hard nature of the foul and was called for a technical foul. He hit his two freebies and went to the bench.
After those freebies Watkins went on a mini-run, cutting the 52-34 lead to 54-40, climaxed by a Flahive three.
Garvin came back in and Notre Dame responded, going on a 9-6 run to end the game, all on free throws to secure the win.
Agan and Thomas had 11 each for the Crusaders while Niles chipped in with nine. McCaig scored six with Marshall adding nine.
Flahive had 21 to lead Watkins while Gates scored 11. Palumbo netted nine while Keith Rekczis netted five.
Notre Dame will now face defending sectional champion Moravia in the title game Saturday at the Arena with a 3:15 p.m. start.
Moravia beat Newfield 50-39 behind 16 points from Chandler Benson and 15 points from Brett Denman.
This is the showdown everybody in Notre Dame has been looking forward to.
"We've focused every opponent we've been playing but our eyes have always been on Moravia," Hopkins said. "Because of their record and the fact that they have Chandler Benson. Anytime you throw somebody who is 6-7 in Class C it certainly is an advantage."
The Crusaders don't have anybody in their line-up to match him but they believe they can make him work for his.
"Is he going to score, yeah, but I hope he doesn't score 30," Hopkins said. "Do what we can do to minimize his touches and try to get him to uncomfortable spots as best we can. Try to go at him in multiple ways."
They do have a guard like Garvin, who is equally hard to defend.
"We put the ball in his hands and he can make plays off the dribble," said Hopkins. "He's got eyes, he can see people. We spot up in space, I think we're hard to defend."
Compared to the sectional title team two years ago, Hopkins sees little in common.
"We're a different team," he said. "I think this team is more athletic."
The last team centered around Shane Manning, Matt Davis, Colin White and Brian Brown.
"Shane is one tough kid," said Hopkins. "We had a lot of different people, Tom Agan started on that squad as a sophomore. This team here is more athletic and more capable of making plays off the dribble. We relied a lot on Shane and Matt to make plays for us that year. Matt was a very good passer and this club is just different."
Coming off a physical contest like this one does a good job getting Notre Dame ready for a team like Moravia.
"When the game is physical that kind of works on you," Hopkins said. "It concerns me a little big. We've got our share of big guys, we've got our share of tough guys but I think our athleticism shines whether were playing fast or slow. I'm looking forward to Saturday."