By Matt Parrino
The Tonawanda News
Tonawanda News — BUFFALO — Three and a half minutes into Thursday night’s Section VI Class AA semifinal game between Kenmore West and Niagara Falls, Blue Devils center Quinton Campbell picked up his second foul and was forced to the bench.
When he returned in the second quarter he was almost immediately whistled for an offensive foul, but Ken West coach Mike Meetze left his big man in the game. Two minutes later, he picked up number four and didn’t return until the fourth quarter.
With their defensive anchor on the bench for most of the game and up against the No. 2 large school in Western New York, the Blue Devils dug deep and accepted the challenge. Shay Cuadra exploded in the second half, scoring 16 of his team-high 18 points, but it wasn’t enough in the end, as Niagara Falls senior J.J. Wilkins netted a game-high 26 points to lead the Wolverines to a 72-62 win at the Buffalo State Sports Arena.
Meetze was proud of the way his team dealt with adversity after Campbell went out.
“Im so proud of this group, people wrote us off months ago, we had that little slide and it wasn’t looking good at halftime,” he said. “Early in the season they would have packed in their bags, felt sorry for ourselves — (but) they put a scare in the Falls.”
The Blue Devils cut it to five late in the third and Meetze was thrilled with the way they were running their sets and maintaining their composure.
But Wilkins sensed Ken West building some momentum and confidence, so he calmly buried a pair of 3-pointers on back to back possessions to settle his team down and rebuild the Falls’ double-digit lead. The Blue Devils made a few runs down the stretch, but the Falls’ experience helped it hold them off.
“Credit to the Falls — we were hoping that we could contain them a little more,” Meetze said. “Second half, I think we stopped them from going to the paint and then they were just hitting from outside and that’s tough. If the Falls is hitting their outside shots and free throws, they take it to another level, (but) it was still a five point game. I basically play without Q again, and you hope you get a little bit more, but again I’m very proud of how they kept their composure and it was a great game.”
Ken West left nine points at the free throw line, going 6 of 15 for the game. Meetze said that poor free throw shooting has been the team’s Achilles’ heel all season.
“(The Falls) made everything, it is what it is — you got to make free throws, you got to finish,” he said. “We’d like some of those layups back, but I can’t complain. They ran their sets the way they were supposed to, they got open looks, they did the rights things. Tonight we weren’t the better team.”
Cuadra also had seven rebounds and seven assists, playing a complete game for the Blue Devils and picking his team up after Campbell went out. Sharpshooter Alex Price struggled to find operating room from the perimeter, converting only one 3 while dealing with Wilkins’ tough on-ball defense. The junior scored nine points.
Niagara Falls’ Ramir Burton scored 19 points for the Wolverines.
Freshman Terell Ford had another strong game, finishing with 13 points. Late in the fourth quarter he ripped a rebound away from Falls standout Jermaine Crumpton, who finished with 17 points, eliciting a negative reaction from the Wolverines coaching staff.
Ford is a big part of a seemingly bright future for the Blue Devils. Cuadra, Campbell and guard Joe Northrup are graduating, but Price is back for his senior year and Ford seems to get better every time he steps on the floor, Meetze said.
“We’re growing something here and every year has been baby steps. Our three goals were to win the league one year, beat the Falls, and go to Buff State, and that’s three in three years,” Meetze said. “So we got to kick it up a notch and hopefully keep this going.”Contact sports editor Matt Parrino at 693-1000 ext. 4117 and find Tonawanda News sports on Twitter @tonanewssports.