Hello from Canisius College's Koessler Athletic Center for one of the most anticipated showdowns of the season.
Canisius vs. Nichols, same final matchup as last year's, won by Canisius. This is Nichols' fourth straight trip to the Manhattan Cup championship. Seniors Will Regan and Ron Canestro have been part of every final, winning as freshman, losing to St. Joe's as sophomores and falling to Canisius last year.
5:51 p.m. A good crowd is filing in here, as expected. Part of the pregame buzz is the USA tying Canada in the gold medal game. I listened to the tying goal in the car after getting a key parking spot out front just before 5:30.
Also some pregame buzz about North Tonawanda's win and Niagara Falls' loss (that's Clarence's win as well, of course) in Saturday's quarterfinals.
6:07 p.m. Game just tipped off. Seems like a lot of fans are making their way in after watching the hockey game. Interesting note -- the scoreboard here has "CANISIUS" listed as the home team for the college games, of course, but the home team in the game is Nichols.
6:11 p.m. Tied at 2-2 after 2:30.
6:17 p.m. We're tied at 7-7 with 2:33 left in the first after Blair Helton hits all three free throws after being fouled on a three.
6:18 p.m. Canisius calls a timeout off a scramble with 1:46 left in the first. Connor Vandegriff scored off an inside lob to give Nichols a 9-7 lead.
6:23 p.m. At the end of the first quarter, Nichols leads Canisius, 13-9.
Both teams started slow but seemed to find some flow late in the quarter. Nichols got out in transition as it likes to do.
6:30 p.m. Nichols up, 17-10, with 4:57 left after a 1-for-2 trip to the line by Canestro. Both teams in the bonus.
6:34 p.m. Nichols calls its first timeout of the game with a 23-13 lead with 2:23 left in the second quarter. Senior Evan Grenda has hit back-to-back three pointers for the Vikings, a huge contribution from the reserve. He also played some in-your-jersey defense against Helton on the last possession.
6:37 p.m. Nichols calls a timeout with 48.1 seconds left holding a 28-15 lead and Canestro going to the line. The Vikings just got another contribution from a reserve as senior Ramsey Gayles followed a Grenda miss for Nichols' last basket.
6:40 p.m. We are at halftime and Nichols leads Canisius, 32-15.
Nichols is doing a tremendous defensive effort on Helton, who had Canisius first two baskets and those three free throws for his team's first seven points, but hasn't scored since. Part of that defensive effort is coming from guys like Grenda and Dieter Clauss.
The half couldn't have ended better for Nichols. Helton missed a three from the left side as a leaping Grenda contested it, Regan grabbed the rebound and outleted for a fast break, then got the ball back in the lane to let go of a jumper that beat the buzzer for the 17-point halftime lead.
There are a ton of fans here now that weren't here for the tip. That tells you a little bit about how much that gold medal hockey game meant here in Buffalo. The Nichols bleacher behind one basket is nearly full while Canisius' bleacher is less so but still markedly more populated than it was at the start of the game.
6:54 p.m. We're two minutes into the second half and Nichols' lead is 32-17.
6:59 p.m. Nichols calls a timeout after Canestro is stuck on the sideline. The Vikings lead, 42-26, and have been up as many as 19.
7:03 p.m. Nichols lead has reached 20 (46-26) with 1:42 left in the third.
7:07 p.m. At the end of the third quarter, Nichols has a 50-30 lead over Canisius. Another great contribution from the bench as Dieter Clauss tipped in a miss in the final seconds.
7:11 p.m. Nichols calls a timeout with 7:13 left owning a 52-36 lead. Canisius crowd has a lame "refs stop cheating" rally. The refs have called this one close. There have been a series of calls in the back court as Canisius players were guarding Nichols very tightly. In one case there was a jersey pull, so the calls are OK with me. We've seen it all game.
7:17 p.m. Nichols' lead is up to 62-39 with 4:50 left.
7:19 p.m. We have a timeout with 4:17 left in the game. Nichols leads, 62-41, as Regan goes to the line.
7:25 p.m. With 1:59 left in the game, Nichols calls a timeout holding a 67-43 lead.
7:30 p.m. We have a FINAL SCORE: Nichols 73, Canisius 50.
More to come later on. Time for the awards ceremony and a bunch of work for me on my story and a PrepTalkTV episode.
10:10 p.m. We're back. My story is done and my blabbity-blah for the video is done.
Here are the scorebooks.
A tremendous win for Nichols, which used great defense and its transition game to beat Canisius -- just as it did two weeks ago. There were some fast breaks in the third quarter that were just terrific. I wrote in my story about the great contributions Nichols got from its bench. As great a team as Nichols is, its bench is certainly not the deepest -- but Grenda, Clauss and even the one basket by Gayles were a big boost to a starting five that all did its thing.
Regan was certainly worthy of the MVP, Wier's finishing and driving ability -- as well as his threes -- are just too much to handle for many defenders, Canestro did his usual thing with great floor presence, decisions and aggresiveness, MacKinnon handled pressure from Nevins all game and Vandegriff is an outstanding asset on the boards.
The team defense against Helton was outstanding. Several players took turns on him and there was plenty of help when he drove the lane. That forced misses by Helton and misses by other Canisius players which often turned into transition baskets for Nichols.
The officials? As I wrote during the game, they called it somewhat on the tight side, but I don't think it was a factor in the game. One could say that Canisius couldn't play as aggressively as it did in the semifinals against St. Mary's, but this time they played a team that was much stronger with the ball. I chatted about how I thought the game would go, officiating-wise, during this week's live chat.
At 10:43 p.m of the chat I was asked if Canisius had a chance to knock off Nichols:
Keith McShea: Definitely more than a chance. They came out and totally owned the court against St. Mary's (see more in the semifinal blog about that). The thing is, if Canisius tries to get all over Nichols like it did to St. Mary's, Nichols will take care of the ball, and Nichols will push back. Then the officials will set a tone with some calls to let everyone know there is a basketball game to be played, and then we're going to have one heck of a game to watch.
That's what I think happened. Nichols won the game because it is a better team, clearly the best team in Western New York when it is at full strength. I suppose I had to see it to believe it on the Canisius College court because for the last two years, Nichols was favored (although not as much as it was last year) but lost the final here.
Basketball-wise, Nichols was better -- it was better all year. But it goes back to the season preview story about Nichols -- the team, its stars and its coach were going to be judged on one game, and they definitely came through.
taggedBasketball | Canisius | Nichols