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Josh Nicholas’ big fourth quarter lifts St. Anthony’s into semifinals

St. Anthony's guard Josh Nicholas dribbles the ball

St. Anthony's guard Josh Nicholas dribbles the ball up court ahead of St. John the Baptist guard Keanu Brewster in a boys basketball quarterfinal playoff game on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2016. Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

St. Anthony’s wasn’t out of the game early in the fourth quarter, but the Friars were a little out of sync on offense. The solution turned out to be simple.

“Sometimes, you just give your best player a chance to make plays,” St. Anthony’s coach Sal Lagano said.

That meant putting the ball in the hands of senior guard Josh Nicholas, who turned a three-point deficit into a three-point lead with a conventional three-point play followed by a three-pointer from the wing. The Friars were off and running.

Nicholas scored 11 of his 27 points in a 29-point fourth quarter as host No. 4 St. Anthony’s pulled away from No. 5 St. John the Baptist, 69-57, in a Nassau-Suffolk CHSAA quarterfinal Thursday night.

“It feels great that Coach gives me more leeway to play my game than he gives some of the other players,” said Nicholas, who made several crucial baskets that helped the Friars (18-6) advance to Sunday’s semifinal against No. 1 Chaminade at 2:45 p.m. at LIU Post.

“We ran some plays for him and set some screens,” Lagano said.

Nicholas had help. James Pryor registered a double-double with 10 points and a game-altering 18 rebounds. James Lyons grabbed 12 rebounds and Chris Paniccia came off the bench to score 12 points on four three-pointers. Keanu Brewster led St. John the Baptist (12-12) with 18 points and Brandon Hayes added 11.

Nicholas helped expand a 26-24 halftime advantage with six straight points to start the second half, including a three-point play on a runner in the lane, as the Friars took a 34-27 lead. But the Cougars went on a 15-3 run, sparked by two layups in transition by Jason Feliz, and grabbed a 42-37 advantage with 51 seconds left in the third quarter.

It was Nicholas, again, who rescued the Friars. He sank a long three from the wing with 33 seconds left in the third to stop the Cougars’ run. Early in the fourth quarter he found Paniccia alone at the top of the key for a three-pointer that put St. Anthony’s ahead 47-44.

The Cougars scored the next six points and led, for the last time, 50-47, with 5:30 left. That’s when Lagano gave Nicholas the keys and told him to drive the offense. He responded by grabbing an offensive rebound, spinning away from the defense for the layup, drawing a foul and completing the three-point play.

On St. Anthony’s next possession, good things again came in threes, this time a long trey from the wing for a 53-50 lead. Downtown was also Nicholas’s destination in the final minute, as his top-of-the-key three with 59 seconds left produced a 63-57 lead. He added a layup on the break after Pryor’s steal as St. Anthony’s finished on a 9-0 to make the final score a bit deceiving.

“We were able to attack the basket more in the second half,” Nicholas said. “My forwards were beasts in the paint and got me the ball.”

Nicholas was in beast mode as well.

Holy Trinity 63, St. Mary’s 48: Tyler Small had 19 points to lead No. 3 Holy Trinity over No. 6 St. Mary’s in a CHSAA quarterfinal. Thornton Scott added 16 points. Holy Trinity (16-8) plays No. 2 Kellenberg Sunday at 4:30 at LIU Post.

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