GLENS FALLS, N.Y. — Seton Catholic star guard Kaelin Thomas let a deep three-point shot fly. It snapped the net as the buzzer on the third quarter sounded and the Saints had Friends Academy in a tough spot Saturday in what had been a nip-and-tuck NYSPHSAA Class B boys basketball semifinal. Seton Catholic had its biggest lead of the game — seven points — and all the momentum.
Pressure moments like that can cause a team to tighten up. Not the Quakers, for whom poise has been a hallmark all season. Friends kept its cool and then slowly dismantled the Saints in the fourth quarter for a 56-50 victory at Cool Insuring Arena. The Quakers outscored the Saints 21-9 in the final eight minutes.
Guard Malachi Polson had 10 of his 15 points and 6-8 center CJ Williams added five of his 18 points in the fourth quarter to carry the Quakers (23-2) past Section IV’s Seton Catholic and into Sunday’s 3 p.m. state public school championship game against Ichabod Crane.
"That’s why CJ and I love playing together," Polson said. "When the going gets tough, you’ve got Shaq and Kobe."
"Our poise under pressure really starts with CJ and it's not just because they have someone that size to rely on," Friends coach Matt Johnsen said. "He has a high basketball IQ and he never rattles. He’s always calm and so we can play smart."
The Quakers are going to a state title game for the third time. They won the championship in Class C in 2011 and lost it in Class C in 2007.
Williams was 7-for-11 shooting and had 12 rebounds and five blocks and Polson also was 7-for-11 shooting. Gabe Ferencz added 10 points and four assists for Friends Academy. The Quakers shot 49% from the floor for the game and made all 11 of their free throws.
Thomas had 23 points, eight rebounds and three assists and for the Saints (20-3).
"The teams that get this far are the really good teams, so we were prepared for a close game," Williams said. "When I was younger, I had a coach tell me to remember that it’s a basketball game and there’s no point in getting nervous when it’s close. I take that to heart."
Polson had six points in the first three minutes of the final period as Friends drew close, it pulled into the first of three fourth-quarter ties on Logan Mott’s three-pointer from the corner with 3:56 and went ahead for good when Polson’s pull-up jumper with 1:36 to play made the score 52-50.
"Malachi is a natural leader — he was in the AD’s office in September asking if he could be allowed to come in at 7 a.m. and shoot in our gym," Johnsen said. "I am so proud of him. He wanted this really badly and, when he was tested the most, it all came out."
Beginning with Polson’s go-ahead jumper, the Quakers scored on all of their final four possessions while the Saints went 1-for-4 from the floor.
"We knew we had talent, but we really [united] when we hit the stage of the playoffs," Ferencz said. "We’re a team that plays unselfish. We are all always rooting for our teammates to succeed."