Feb 23, 2014 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Connor Evans and Ronnie Williams may not have started with the Cicero-North Syracuse boys basketball team, but the fact that they are there now is a big reason why the Northstars are making its way to the Carrier Dome to play for the Section III Class AA championship.
Evans, earning more than half of his 20 points in the fourth quarter, and Williams, controlling the paint and scoring most of his 18 points in the second half, led the way as C-NS put together a superb performance to oust top seed Fayetteville-Manlius 69-63 in Saturday night’s AA semifinal at SRC Arena.
To many, F-M was a clear favorite for the title. After all, it was 17-2, had won nine games in a row (all by margins of 17 or more points), and featured, in senior guard John Schurman, the school’s all-time leading scorer.
Yet the Northstars were not scared one bit of facing the Hornets. That’s because, when these two sides had met Jan. 7, F-M prevailed 58-51, but C-NS did a superb job on the defensive end, wasting it by missing all kinds of short-range shots and turning the ball over 25 times.
Head coach John Haas said that his team knew that, if it could cut down the turnovers and make those inside conversions, it had a great chance to get the Hornets the second time around. And that’s exactly what happened.
C-NS didn’t flinch when Schurman hit back-to-back 3-pointers late in the first quarter to put his team in front 15-10. Instead, it simply protected the paint and forced F-M outside, and when those shots didn’t fall, the Northstars pounced.
Williams, the transfer from Pulaski, began establishing himself with a three-point play late in the second quarter, which helped C-NS seize a 28-27 halftime lead as fellow forward Nick Antonello’s eight first-half points also played a key role.
Another big moment came late in the third quarter. C-NS led, 40-34, when F-M reeled off seven straight points to take a 41-40 lead. Haas called a time-out, and immediately after Williams converted an inside lay-up and Brian DeMonte sank a 3-pointer right before the period ended.
That set the stage for C-NS’s decisive 11-0 run early in the fourth quarter, and the spark was Evans, who to that point had suffered through inconsistency, something that Haas attributed to early nerves.
“Connor was forcing things early,” said Haas. “He plays a lot better when he’s relaxed.”
Evans was very relaxed when he struck for back-to-back 3-pointers that erased the Hornets’ 46-45 lead, and Williams followed with consecutive inside baskets, the latter of them a three-point play, and just like that C-NS was up 56-46, never to trail again.
F-M didn’t go away, battling to the final seconds, but it never got closer than a five-point margin again as Evans and Troy McIntyre sank the free throws in the final minute that sealed the Northstars’ win.
In the Dome next Saturday night, C-NS will face no. 2 seed Utica Proctor for the sectional title. The Northstars did beat the Raiders 53-48 at the Peppino’s Invitational on Dec. 6, but that was nearly three months ago, and Evans missed that game with a concussion.
Far more important is just how much Proctor has improved since that early-season clash, capped by its impressive 67-57 conquest of defending champion Henninger in the other AA semifinal.
Proctor fans surely remember how, in 2010, C-NS stunned them 61-60 for the sectional title at Utica Auditorium on Anthony DelCoro’s banked-in 3-pointer at the buzzer. Four years later, these two sides again meet with a championship on the line.
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