Irish pressure subdues Buffalo
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Buffalo knew the colossal challenge it faced in Wednesday's Class A quarterfinal game. Leading up to the state tournament, the Bison lost just four games, with three of them coming at the hands of Charleston Catholic by an average of 15 points.
So, with the Bison and the Fighting Irish tied at 26 midway through the third quarter Wednesday, it seemed as though Buffalo might finally clip the thorn that has been in its side all year.
That is, until Catholic turned up the heat.
The No. 3-seeded Irish ended the third quarter on a 13-2 run and never relinquished the lead for a 61-48 win over No. 6 Buffalo in the opening game of the 100th boys state tournament.
Catholic (23-3) will play in the semifinals at 9:30 a.m. Friday against No. 7 Wheeling Central, which upset No. 2 Magnolia 58-35 Wednesday. The Irish and Maroon Knights (14-12) met earlier this season and the Irish walked away with a 62-42 win.
After playing mostly half-court man-to-man defense during the first half, Catholic dialed up the pressure. At the start of the third quarter, the Irish started in a full-court 2-2-1 press but it was easily broken and resulted in an Isaiah Robinson layup. After backing off for a couple of possessions, Catholic reverted back into the full-court press and it paid dividends.
"We wanted to play conservative in the first half, which we did," said Irish coach Bill McClanahan. "We just played half-court man. In the third quarter we felt a little bit of an energy surge so we started picking up in a full-court press. When we were able to do that, the tempo changed. We got some easy baskets and forced them into some turnovers. That was the big change in the game when we were able to go full-court pressure at the right time, get some turnovers and get some baskets."
The Irish scored nine points off turnovers during the third quarter, getting uncontested layups by David Godwin, Zach Casto and Nick George. During the 13-2 run, Godwin accounted for four points, George and Casto scored a basket apiece and Garret McCarty scored five points.
Casto led the Irish with 17 points and 10 rebounds, Godwin added 16 points, McCarty had 16 points and eight assists and George finished with 10 points and 10 boards.
Buffalo coach Chuck Elkins agreed that the third quarter run was the deciding factor.
"This is the fourth time this year that we have played them tough," Elkins said. "We knew going in that if we weren't ahead late in the game then they were going to spread it out. That's their game plan. We were down enough that when they went spread we couldn't catch up. I think the third quarter killed us. We had some unforced errors and took some quick shots.
"I have to take my hat off to Charleston Catholic. They beat us four times and we have lost five games. Looking back on the season, we are one throw-in basket [a 63-61 buzzer-beating loss to St. Mary's] from a four-loss season, and all four losses would have been to Charleston Catholic."
At the end of the third quarter, the Irish led 39-28. The closest the Bison would get the rest of the way was eight points down.
After shooting a dismal 30 percent (9 for 30) shooting performance in the first half, Catholic led by just 19-17. McClanahan said better shot selection in the second half also played a major factor in the win.
"We discussed that [poor shooting] at halftime," McClanahan said. "We shot as many 3-pointers in the first half [1 for 11] as we usually do for a game. Our shot selection needed to be better. We needed to quit settling for 3s and attack the basket or take mid-range jumpers."
The rims weren't as generous for the Bison, particularly their 3-point specialist and second leading-scorer Laythen Good, who came in averaging 15.1 points. Good scored just four Wednesday while shooting 1 for 10 from the field and 1 for 6 on 3-pointers.
"I don't know if it was a difference [playing in the Civic Center]," Good said. "I just wasn't making my shots. Maybe it was an off day but I just didn't have it today."
Levi Jordan led the Bison with 14 points and seven rebounds, while Robinson and Aaron Lewis contributed 10 points apiece.