Mar 08, 2014 Phil Blackwell Uncategorized
Less than an inch of space separated the Westhill boys basketball team from having to endure a second overtime in Saturday’s Class B regional final against Norwich at Binghamton University’s Events Center.
But Zan Stewart’s possible tying 3-pointer rattled in and out, and the grateful -and relieved – Warriors held on to beat the Purple Tornado 56-53 to earn a return trip to the state final four.
Westhill will face state no. 2-ranked Ogdensburg Free Academy (Section X) Friday night at 8:30 at Glens Falls Civic Center in the state Class B semifinal, with the winner advancing to the championship game against Olean (Section VI) or Woodlands (Section I) the following night at 9 p.m.
Just getting there required another big effort from junior guard Jordan Roland, who overcame long stretches without a basket to score 18 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter and overtime, including a critical 3-pointer on the baseline with a minute left in the extra period
“We just had to make plays and keep our composure,” said Roland. “We knew that we were the better team.”
Westhill and Norwich both carried undefeated marks into the game – the Warriors at 22-0, the Purple Tornado at 20-0. They also shared a history, having met in the same regional round a year ago at SRC Arena, Westhill nearly squandering a double-digit lead before hanging on to win 59-58.
Here, no one would get close to a double-digit advantage. With a tight man-to-man defense, the Purple Tornado centered its efforts on denying the ball to both Roland and Tyler Reynolds, and neither could convert a field goal in a tightly-played first-quarter.
Norwich had its own slow start, but thanks to back-to-back 3-pointers from Michael Sutton in the last minute of the period, it grabbed a 14-10 lead and was getting just the pace it wanted against a Westhill side that wanted to go faster.
Though Roland and Reynolds did get on the board early in the second quarter and each of them finished the half with six points, baskets remained a rare commodity on both sides.
Westhill got helped by Norwich missing both close-up shots and free throws. Still, Sutton broke through the defensive stalemate with 14 first-half points. His runner in the waning moments of the second quarter again inched the Purple Tornado in front, 24-22, going into the break.
Instead of getting back into its usual rhythm, Westhill fell into a long drought in the third quarter, the whole team going more than four minutes without a basket.
Norwich again finished the period strong, as Carlos Ithier and Matt Burke hit on consecutive baskets to extend the Purple Tornado’s lead to 34-29 with one quarter left. Yet the fact that it wasn’t a larger margin in the midst of the Westhill struggles would prove quite important.
Kept off the board in that third period, just as he was in the first quarter, Roland began the fourth by unleashing a trademark outburst, hitting on back-to-back 3-pointers and a drive through the lane to help Westhill tie it, 37-37, setting the stage for the tense conclusion.
After an exchange of baskets, Westhill tied it again, 43-43, on Roland’s driving lay-up with 1:43 left. Then both sides missed chance to go in front in the last minute of regulation.
Twice, Roland saw go-ahead jumpers roll off the rim, and in between those chances, Norwich’s Storm Cook missed the front end of a one-and-one free-throw chance with 30 seconds left.
So they would play an extra four minutes. Clinging to a 47-46 lead midway through the OT period, Westhill got big 3-pointers from Reynolds (who finished with 13 points) and Roland to stretch the margin to 53-49, but still it wasn’t over.
Norwich whittled the margin down to 54-53 and fouled Ryan Roland with 10.3 seconds left. The sophomore calmly sank both free throws, extending the margin back to three.
But only when Stewart’s wide-open tying shot from the top of the key rattled out could the Warriors escape – and think of another visit to Glens Falls, where it won state championships in 1997 and 2010.
Aside from Roland and Reynolds, Jeff Lobello, with six points, and William Billy, with five points, paced Westhill’s attack. Sutton led all scorers with 28 points, but no other Norwich player scored in double figures.