Despite splitting the regular season series, it was the No. 3 seed Nichols Vikings who won the most crucial matchup of them all. They will head to the Manhattan Cup Class B Finals over the No. 2 seed Cardinal O’Hara Hawks thanks to a 59-40 victory at Villa Maria Athletic Center.
With the big win, they will take on the No. 1 seed St. Mary’s Lancaster Lancers in the Class B Finals. The Lancers took care of business against No. 4 Archbishop Walsh 62-46 thanks to a 17 point performance from Christian Szablewski.
“We definitely put a solid 32 minutes together,” said Nichols head coach Darren Fenn. “We were focused the whole time.”
It was O’Hara who jumped out to the early 4-0 lead, but an 8-0 was just the response the Vikings were looking for to take the lead thanks in part to a Will Johnson 3. Early on however, it seemed the Hawks were up to the challenge Nichols presented. Later in the first, a 14-3 O’Hara run off the back of two 3’s from Nasir Benton and Jermaine Haynes put them up 20-13 and seemed to put some distance between the two sides. But the Vikings responded, only trailing 20-17 after one.
“Other than the first quarter where we gave them 20, I thought we played outstanding,” said Fenn.
The second quarter showed neither side really getting much going. Both sides turned the ball over frequently and were cold on the offensive end. It wasn’t until a Torree Cheatham 3 ignited some offense for the Hawks and put them up 26-24. But thanks to strong play under the basket by Myles Hervey, which has been a recurring theme all year for the Vikings, Nichols went into the half with a slim 29-28 advantage.
The second half for the Vikings can be described in simply two words: lockdown defense.
“It was our game plan to contain and not let them get out on fast breaks and run,” said Fenn. “That’s what they’re really good at. We didn’t want to send them to the free throw line and we wanted to make them run a half court offense.”
The Vikings came out and swiftly extended their lead to 33-28, but a Brandon Broadnax three point play cut the advantage to just two. After that sequence, it was the Aidan Horan show. He scored seven straight Viking points, as a 3 put them up 40-31. A Myles Hervey post move closed the third with a 44-33 Nichols lead. Broadnax’s and one would be the only field goal for the Hawks in the quarter, as they put up only five.
“Coach really focuses on communication, he wants us always talking in the back,” said Myles Hervey, who led all scorers with 18 points. “It’s really important that we talk, especially with the high-low play because a lot of teams in the MMAA do that.”
The strong Nichols defense didn’t just stop in the third. Their zone seemed almost impenetrable, as nearly every shot the Hawks took was contested. It visibly frustrated O’Hara, as they seemed to go cold in the second half and led to the Vikings cruising to their largest lead of the game at 19 and the finish.
“We stopped playing like a team and made the wrong decisions,” said O’Hara’s Jermaine Haynes after the loss. “We could’ve done better. We had to get back on defense and play harder.” Haynes had 7 points but the Hawks were led by Torree Cheatham with 10.
Heading into the finals against St. Mary’s, Nichols has their work cut out for them if they want to win it all.
“We have to play tough, they’re a tough team,” said Hervey. “I wouldn’t expect anything less from them, they’re a good team.”
The Manhattan Cup Class B Final will take place at the Canisius College Koessler Center on March 1st.
As for Manhattan Cup Class A action, an upset of even bigger proportions took place in the form of the No. 4 Canisius Crusaders defeating the No. 1 Timon Tigers 65-61. The Tigers defeated Canisius both times in their regular season matchups but it’s the Crusaders who won the biggest matchup. A Ryan Bradley steal late in the game was the deciding factor.
The Crusaders were led by Colby Moultrie with 16 points but had five players in double digits. The Tigers had the game’s leading scorer in Juston Johnson with 22 in the loss.
As for one of Westen New York’s more exciting “rivalries” this season, it was the No. 2 seeded Red Raiders of St. Francis who got the job done against No. 3 Park 66-64 in regulation, unlike the first two meetings.
Bo Sireika and Robert Welch led St. Francis with 20 and 18 points respectively. Park’s Noah Hutchins led all scorers with 22.
The Manhattan Cup Class A Final between No. 4 Canisius and No. 2 St. Francis will also take place at the Canisius College Koessler Center on March 1st.
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