Jamestown Comes Up Short
Slow Start Dooms Red Raiders In Semifinal Loss To Niagara Falls
BUFFALO — Standing just off the court at the Buffalo State Sports Arena early Thursday evening, Jamestown coach Ben Drake took a deep breath and exhaled ever so slowly.
“Man,” he said, “we were just a few plays away.”
And a few minutes from a monumental win.
But top-seeded Niagara Falls, which once led by 19 points in the second quarter, cranked up its defense just enough down the stretch, forced some empty possessions and converted enough free throws to stave off the upset and escape with a 48-39 victory over the fourth-seeded Red Raiders.
The Wolverines (18-4) will now move into the sectional final, which will be held at 3:30 p.m. Saturday, back at Buffalo State, against Williamsville North, a 65-64 overtime winner over Orchard Park in the other semifinal.
The Red Raiders end their season, 11-11.
“I thought we played Jamestown basketball tonight,” Drake said. “We did the things that have given us success at Buffalo State. Our half-court defense was really good tonight.”
It just took a tad too long to get started.
In fact, Niagara Falls connected on six 3-pointers in the first nine minutes, which ballooned their lead to 29-10, and the Red Raiders were on the verge of getting blown out. But they never lost their composure, finished the first half on a 9-2 run, courtesy of 4 points from Marcus Rojas, a 3-pointer by Matt Hill and a runner by Elijah Rojas, and ended up trailing, 31-19, at the break.
“I was really happy with how hard we played,” Drake said. “It would have been easy in the first half to pack it in and accept the fact they were better, but these guys have such great mental toughness.”
Even when the turnovers marred the start of the third quarter — Niagara Falls used a trey by eighth-grader Willie Lightfoot (16 points) and a layup by Marquise Miller to push its lead to 36-21 at the 3:37 mark — Jamestown closed the period on a 6-1 run, courtesy of a drive and a jumper by Elijah Rojas and a layup by Marcus Rojas, to pull within 37-27.
After eighth-grader Roddy Gayle (12 points) scored with just under 6.5 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, the Wolverines managed just one more field goal the rest of the game, and the Red Raiders made their move. Hill drilled another trey, Shaheem Freeney scored twice from in close and Kameron Grant converted a pair of free throws. Suddenly, Jamestown had cut the deficit to 39-36 with 4:06 remaining.
“They were out of sync for two and a half quarters,” Drake said of the Wolverines. “We did a good job containing them, and also on the boards.”
But the Red Raiders managed just three points the rest of the way, Miller converted a traditional three-point play with just under two minutes remaining and the Wolverines connected on four free throws in the final 30 seconds to survive to play in Saturday’s final.
“I thought we were in good position a lot, but we didn’t come to the ball at times,” Drake said of his team’s 20 turnovers. “But we don’t see that (trapping defense) during the year. You do the best you can to prepare for it, but until you’re actually out there, it’s a different game.”
Jamestown will lose three seniors to graduation — Hill, Marcus Rojas and Henry Malarkey.
“They were a good group to coach,” Drake said. “They worked real hard for us. The seniors showed great leadership through the year, even when we went though a tough stretch. I’m really proud of those guys.”
NOTES: Hill and Marcus Rojas led the Red Raiders with 11 points apiece. … Elijah Rojas chipped in 8 points and five assists. … Freeney grabbed eight rebounds. … Both teams shot 16 of 39 from the field, but Niagara Falls was 7 of 16 from the arc, while Jamestown was 3 of 10. … The Red Raiders held a 25-20 rebounding edge, but were guilty of 20 turnovers compared to 16 for the Wolverines.
Hill 4 0 11, ERojas 4 0 8, Grant 0 3 3, Moore 0 0 0, Malarkey 0 0 0, MRojas 5 1 11, Freeney 3 0 6 Totals 16 4 39.
NIAGARA FALLS (48)
Harris 1 0 3, Rose 2 2 7, Dubois 1 0 2, Miller 2 1 5, Ralands 1 0 2, Montgomery 0 1 1, Lightfoot 5 3 16, Gale 4 2 12. Totals 16 9 48.
3-point goals–Hill 3, Harris, Rose, Lightfoot 3, Gale 2.
Jamestown 6 13 8 12 — 39
Niagara Falls 16 15 6 11 — 48