Josh Nicholas and St. Anthony’s had everything thrown at them Saturday, and despite a loss in the Catholic league state semifinals, they fought until literally the last half-second.
Overcoming constant double teams and the length of a team that had three 6-foot-7 players, Nicholas scored 23 points for the Friars in a 51-50 loss to Buffalo Canisius at St. John the Baptist.
After breaking a tie at 47 on a jump shot with 30 seconds left, Canisius extended its lead to 51-47 at the free throw line with under 10 seconds left. Jevron Burke hit a three on St. Anthony’s ensuing possession, but only 0.5 seconds remained, and a long Canisius inbounds pass ended the game.
“Their length was going to be a problem,” Friars coach Sal Lagano said of Canisius (25-2). “We don’t see that kind of length in our league, so (Josh) had to adjust. It was not easy, and I was impressed with how he adjusted to the style.”
“It was pretty tough. I’m just proud of us for playing hard,” Nicholas said. “The double teams don’t really fluster me. My teammates were giving me some great screens. Our bigs aren’t scared of anyone, they were battling, playing their hearts out.”
Nicholas, who scored 21 points in St. Anthony’s win over Kellenberg in the NSCHSAA league title game Tuesday, picked up where he left off on Saturday, going 4-for-6 from the field to score 10 points in the first quarter.
The senior was held scoreless in the second quarter, but a strong effort from the Friars’ supporting cast, including John Harewood, Mike Mariconda, James Walsh, Aidan Conk and James Pryor, helped St. Anthony’s take a 25-18 lead into the half. Harewood capped an 8-0 run to end the second quarter with a buzzer-beating jumper.
Nicholas picked things back up with a seven-point third quarter, including a pull-up three with five seconds left in the period that gave the Friars a 35-30 lead.
He hit another three on St. Anthony’s first possession of the fourth quarter, but Canisius responded with a 13-4 run that gave it a 45-42 lead with 1:57 left in the game.
With momentum seemingly on Canisius’ side, Nicholas hit a deep three from the top of the key to tie the game with 1:40 left, and after Canisius answered with a two-point bucket, a nifty bounce pass from Nicholas set up a James Pryor layup with 40 seconds left.
Canisius broke the tie again after Stafford Truehart hit a jumper from the elbow with 30 seconds left, and after Nicholas could not convert on a pair of free throws, Canisius iced the game at the free throw line.
Despite the imperfect ending, Lagano said afterwards that it was a pleasure to coach Nicholas and his fellow seniors, and Nicholas spoke of the opportunity to play with them.
“Throughout all my years at St. Anthony’s, this was my favorite group,” Nicholas said. “I just love these guys.”