Why not us?
Niskayuna had that thought in mind when it traveled to Catholic Central Tuesday night to meet the Big 10’s top basketball team in a Section II Class AA opener.
“Part of the makeup of our guys is they don’t quit. It’s something you don’t see on a stat sheet,” said Bryan Mattice, Niskayuna’s first-year coach. “From the beginning of December, all the way through, we lost a lot of nip-and-tuck games. There were so many disappointments, but give credit to the kids.
“They had nothing to lose. They wanted to win, and they thought they could win.”
Niskayuna built a halftime lead, let it slip away in the third quarter and then made enough plays afterward to pull off an upset of major proportion, 59-57.
“It was really cool to watch it and be part of it,” said Mattice. “The kids will remember it for the rest of their lives. It was such a huge win for our program, the school and our community; probably the biggest win since the 1978 [state] championship team made their run.”
Catholic Central was 17-1, ranked No. 12 in the state and a league winner for the first time since 1982. Niskayuna was 4-14 with a six-game losing streak and No. 8 Suburban Council seed heading into the tourney.
The last time Niskayuna faced a No. 1 Big 10 team as a No. 8 in the opening round, in 2012, it lost to Troy by 30 points. In the same scenario in 2007, the Silver Warriors lost to Christian Brothers Academy by 32.
“We had a game plan and the kids executed perfectly,” said Mattice. “We had small goals for every four minutes and for every quarter. At the end, we wanted to be in the game, and find a way. We’d been in that situation a ton of times.”
Niskayuna outscored Catholic Central, 16-13, in the final frame to squeak out its first tournament victory since 2006. Mitchell Dame provided the winning points on two free throws with 20.2 seconds left that made it 59-54.
“Execution was only part of the equation. These kids willed themselves to win,” said Mattice. “In the fourth quarter, they had the lead, then we had the lead. It was about kids gutting it out.”
Aaron Gordon scored 21 points for Niskayuna, and Aiden Byrne, Dame, Tommy Kelly and Patrick O’Brien finished with nine, eight, seven and six, respectively. Anthony Mack topped the Crusaders with 34 to surpass 1,000, and the star sophomore created the final margin on a last-second three.
“We had so many guys who contributed. Everyone played their part,” said Mattice. “It was like the pieces of a puzzle coming together to create the finished product.”
Gordon hit four of his five threes in the first half and delivered 14 points to help Niskayuna open up a 34-22 advantage. The Crusaders followed with a 22-9 third-quarter spurt.
Niskayuna lost eight games by single digits in the regular season, including a 61-60 setback against Bethlehem and a 44-43 setback against Averill Park. There was also a 73-64 loss to Columbia, the Silver Warriors’ quarterfinal opponent Saturday.
“We’ve had a tough year,” said Mattice. “This kind of wipes everything away.”
Streak in jeopardy
With Catholic Central losing, as well as Schenectady, Bishop Maginn, Albany and LaSalle, the Big 10’s streak of Section II large-school basketball championships is in jeopardy.
Christian Brothers Academy is the lone remaining Big 10 team in the Class AA field after beating Ballston Spa, 63-53, in the opening round.
Big 10 teams won the last 13 large-school titles in a run started by Schenectady in 2001 and extended last season when Troy knocked off Green Tech. The streak includes Class A finals from 2001-03 before Class AA was added in 2004.
During the streak, CBA was the area’s most successful team with 10 consecutive title-game appearances from 2003-12 and seven sectional crowns. The Brothers (13-6) meet Guilderland (17-2) in the first of four Class AA quarterfinals Saturday at 2:30 at Hudson Valley Community College.
Colonie was the last non-Big 10 school to win the large-school flag in 2000.
Greenwich junior Alexis Case reached 1,000 points on a layup just before the halftime buzzer in the Witches’ 73-33 Class C sectional win over Schoharie Tuesday night. Case had 16 points by the half, and finished with 26.
Joel Wincowski moved to the top of the all-time Lake George scoring list with a 21-point performance Wednesday in a 70-37 Class C win over Middleburgh. The junior passed Jim Casey, who graduated in 1987 with 1,534 points.