The defending champions in Class AA have been up and down this season. After a fantastic start to the season that included a win over UPrep in its second game of the season, Niagara Falls to a few lumps in an ultra competitive Niagara Frontier League this season. When the dust settled, there were three teams tied for first place in the league, and the Wolverines weren't one of them. The result was big bad Niagara Falls coming into sectionals as the #5 seed in the Class AA playoffs. Sleeper anyone?
The Wolverines took their act back to Lockport, one of the three teams that shared a league title, a team they had split with in the regular season. Falls left with a 48-45 victory and will soon find themselves in a very familiar place, back at Buff State.
Nine different players scored for the Wolverines, led by a 10-point effort from junior Tazaun Rose, who was the only player to finish in double figures for the victors. Marquise Miller added nine points in the win. Falls relied on multiple contributions and defense to advance to the semifinal round.
"I thought we really shared the ball," Niagara Falls coach Sal Constantino said. "Balance is what leads us."
After leading the entire first half, the Wolverines extended to a nine-point advantage after three quarter on a basket from Tyler Sanders and a 3-pointer by Miller. Syquan Ralands and Rose combined to get Falls to its largest lead on the contest in the opening minute of the final frame. With three minutes left, Niagara Falls led 44-31 and the NFHS Pep Band seemed certain to be entertaining the fans in the Buffalo State Sports Arena in a few days.
But Lockport had other ideas and it quickly became clear how the Lions earned a share of the NFL crown.
"I've never had a Lockport team lay down, so it doesn't surprise me," Constantino said.
Cordel McDowell scored seven of his 12 points over the last three minutes to lead a 14-2 run that brought Lockport within a point, 46-45, with 17 seconds left. Kyle Brown (game-high 13 points) added a three-point play during the surge.
Rose hit a pair of charity tosses with four seconds left to push the Wolverones' lead back to 48-45 and the Lions were unable to get a quality shot off before time expired, sending Falls back to the big stage.
"I though that we didn't handle our emotions well," said Constantino. "We got by 13 and then instead of being patient, we had a couple guys trying to make plays that weren't there."
The win for Niagara Falls sets up a date with Jamestown on Wednesday night. The two teams have combined to win the last nine titles in Class AA.
Niagara Falls 14 - 7 - 13 - 14 = 48
Lockport 6 - 12 - 7 - 20 = 45
Niagara Falls: Tazaun Rose 10, Marquise Miller 9, Josiah Harris 6, Syquan Ralands 6, Charles Lamar 5, Tyler Sanders 4, Jamel Burton 3, Devin Sanders 3, Cortese Myles 2
Lockport: Kyle Brown 16, Cordel McDowell 12, Tavon Chambers 12, Devin Leatherman 3, Malik Brooks 2