Southwestern Comes Up Short In B2 Semifinals
BUFFALO — The upstart No. 10 Southwestern Trojans were certainly able to make things interesting on Monday night inside the Sports Arena at Buffalo State College, but a potent combination of inside post play and outside shooting was enough to carry No. 3 John F. Kennedy through to a 66-60 Section VI Class B2 semifinal victory.
Southwestern entered the contest with a game plan to try and shut down the hot-shooting Nick Baker, but unfortunately the senior guard was able to succeed even with hands in his face, and the Bears also found plenty of offensive production inside when choosing to work the ball to Jake Braniecki.
After the Trojans took a 28-26 lead into halftime, JFK was able to all but put things away with a huge swing in the third, outscoring the visitors 20-7 on the back of three treys from Mitchell Fischer.
No matter where Southwestern’s defense was able to clamp down, the Bears were able to look at other options — and they all worked.
“I just told them, it’s a tough loss but anything can happen,” Southwestern coach Aaron Emley said. “You have a bad quarter — and we did in the third quarter — and they had a great quarter in the third quarter and that happens. I thought that they fought and battled back. We went down by a lot and I was proud of the way that they finished.”
Aided by a friendly crowd, JFK exited the locker room after two quarters of play and immediately had Baker finish off a quick 2 on a drive before dishing one of his six assists to Fischer for a 3 after drawing defensive pressure. The junior guard then hit another long-range make on the next possession while Southwestern was unable to jump-start its offense on the other end.
After Baker nailed another trey from the corner he drew pressure once more, but opted to dish to Fischer for another open bucket to give JFK the lead at 40-31.
From there Braniecki was able to complete a three-point play after being fouled on a drive, before taking advantage of a feed by Fischer on the next possession to stretch the lead once more.
“When you go against a team that has a good inside-outside game like that it really stretches your defense and we’re a zone defense team,” Emley said. “I wasn’t going to change that look just for the last game because we have been playing so well. So we just try to adjust a couple of things and they were able to find the weak spots and take advantage of it.”
Baker would finish with a well-rounded night that included 19 points on five 3s to go with nine rebounds and four steals while Braniecki had 26 points in addition to nine rebounds and four assists.
While the third quarter put JFK squarely in the driver’s seat, the Trojans did their level best to keep pace in the final eight minutes of play thanks to an incredible four 3s from Mayson Mathews. The junior was able to bank in a long-range shot to make it 57-41 in favor of the Bears before hitting another on his next possession. Those makes were followed by a third yet again from Mathews, while Mitch Pascarella was also able to catch fire from beyond the arc with a make to pull Southwestern to within nine points with 2:45 to play.
Back-to-back buckets by Alex Card kept hope alive, but at that point the Trojans were forced to institute a full-court press which allowed Braniecki to find a seem in the defense and rush down the court for a slam that put JFK back up at 65-57. From there the margin was too great and time too short for Southwestern to continue the comeback, even as Mathews would finish with 22 points on six 3s to go along with 16 rebounds.
“We wanted to press out and just know where (Baker) is,” Emley said. “I didn’t want to go to far away from our 2-3 (zone) because they have the two bigs inside, (Jordan Snyder) and (Braniecki). We just made a concerted effort, a team effort to know where Baker was on the perimeter and try press out on him when he is on your side.”
Snyder would finish with 10 points in the paint to complement Braniecki’s play.
JFK clearly had experience dealing with lockdown defensive pressure, and never looked flustered when its star shooter was unavailable on the perimeter. In a microcosm of the evening, Baker took a pass with seconds ticking down in the first quarter, then dishing the ball back outside with no open look. The senior then called for the ball back from even deeper spot and buried a trey from the corner with no time to spare to put his team up at 13-10. The Bears will now look to claim their B2 title against No. 4 Health Sciences, which was able to upset No. 1 Middle Early College, 62-42, in the first semifinal.
While some may have been surprised that the Trojans were able to make it all the way to a semifinal with just a No. 10 seed, Southwestern’s postseason success was not a surprise to its players and coaching staff.
“I know that it was hard for them because we expected to be here when nobody else maybe did at the beginning of the season,” Emley said.
NOTES: Card would finish with 16 points, five steals and six assists. … Pascarella had 11 points for Southwestern while Cooper Pannes added 8 points and seven rebounds.
Baker 7 0 19, Fischer 4 0 11, Snyder 5 0 10, Manzella 0 0 0, Braniecki 10 6 26. Totals 36 6 66.
Card 6 4 16, Pascarella 4 1 11, Munir 0 1 1, Mathews 8 0 22, Pannes 3 2 8, Vezina 0 0 0. Totals 22 8 60.
3-point goals–Card 2, Mathews 6, Pascarella 2, Baker 5, Fischer 3.
JFK 13 13 20 20 — 66
Southwestern 10 18 7 25 — 60