Despite several massive accomplishments over the last three seasons, there was still something they needed to check off their list. The Park Pioneers boast a Class B Manhattan Cup, a state championship, and a Federation championship. They've been the top ranked small school in WNY & NYS, and even held the same honor among local large schools. But the highly heralded team currently ranked #1 in NYS Class A had never defeated big bad Canisius. After invading Delaware Avenue on Tuesday night, the Pioneers can check 'Beat Canisius' off the list.
Noah Hutchins took his turn to shine while the rest of the Pioneers were more than a strong supporting cast, as Park knocked off the host Crusaders for the first time in six tries with a resounding 73-47 victory. It was the first home loss for Cansius since 2014 and the most lopsided MMA loss for the two-time defending CHSAA state champion since 2009.
Following the game, Park coach Michael Battaglia was asked about finally getting the monkey, or in this case the Crusader, off his back.
"For me, every game is on my back - that's just the way I think about it," Battaglia said. "They've been an outstanding program for years. The kids have been playing hard, they’ve been practicing hard, they prepared for this game - we’re just happy to get a win."
Hutchins performance included a game-high 23 points, five boards, four assists, three steals, & two blocks. But it was his timing that made his influence on the game so significant. After a 3-pointer by Austin James had Canisius leading 12-6 with two minutes left in the opening quarter, the magic from Hutchins began.
After sinking a free throw, Hutchins collected a steal that he converted for a score in transition and drew contact along the way, earning a three-point play. A Crusader turnover then resulted in Hutchins bending the rim for a two-handed dunk to tie the game, 12-12. After Canisius' Ryan Bradley & Park's Dan Scott traded treys to push the score to 15-15 late in the frame, Hutchins flipped a buzzer-beating heave from half court that swished through the net to give the Pioneers their first lead of the game, 18-15.
They never looked back from there.
The Pioneers rode the momentum of that shot and scored the first eight points of the second quarter to cap a 20-3 run that had put them in front, 26-15. When Canisius answered back with an 8-2 push to trim Park's lead back to 28-23, Hutchins came through again. With the game clock again dipping under the two minute mark, Hutchins splashed a deep, contested 3-pointer and came right back the next trip down the floor with a perfectly executed euro-step to finish in traffic and avoid a charging call. Hutchins had triggered a 9-2 close to the half, giving the Pioneers a 37-25 advantage. For good measure, Hutchins showed off his spring-loaded vertical jump to swat away a basket at the halftime horn and send his team to the locker room with another spark.
"I thought Noah played the best I've ever seen him play," Canisius coach Kyle Husband said. "He was a terrific player on both ends of the floor."
"Obviously momentum is part of every game, but we can’t let a play like that which is somewhat meaningless affect the next four minutes," Husband said referring to Hutchins half court shot.
Canisius played an even third quarter with the Pioneers, but were unable to make up any ground. Two minutes into the final stanza, things began to unravel for the Crusaders, as a 15-2 run saw six different Pioneers score in a four minute span that put the game well out of reach.
"Park is a very good basketball team and I don’t think we’re at that level yet," Husband said. "I think we're going to continue to work and find ways to hopefully get to that point. I thought we showed a few glimpses today, however, for the majority we let it get away from us."
Scott finished the evening with 15 points, four rebounds, and a pair of dimes. Joe Jones continued to look like WNY's most ferocious post player, tallying 13 points on 6/8 shooting, with 10 boards and seven blocked shots. He also beat the Crusader defense on a pair of baseline drives to throw down big time finishes in the lane.
"This was huge for us," said Hutchins. "We’ve been working so hard. Just coming into the game, we knew we had to come in and play an entire game. My team had my back, without them, I wouldn't have had the game I did."
James and Jayce Johnson each finished with 13 points for Canisus.
Four of the top five large schools in WNY are squaring off on the hardwood this Thursday night. The Crusaders are back in action hosting St. Francis, while Park welcomes Williamsville South in for a nonleague tilt. Both games are scheduled for 6:30 pm tips.
Park 18 - 19 - 12 - 24 = 73
Canisius 15 - 10 - 12 - 10 = 47
Park: Noah Hutchins 23, Dan Scott 15, Joe Jones 11, Brandon Smith 6, Quentin Nnagbo 6, Jaylen Stewart 5, Marques Lowe 5, Julian Eziukwu 2
Canisius: Jayce Johnon 13, Austin James 13, Ryan Bradley 8, Nick MacDonald 3, Brendan Trapper 2, Patrick Weir 2, Connor McCaffery 2