ROCHESTER — At first glance, this weekend was a bad one for Niagara Falls. In the big picture, the Wolverines feel it will help them down what they hope is a long postseason road.
In a matchup of two of the top Class AA schools in their respective sections, Niagara Falls fell Sunday at Bishop Kearney, 62-52, to go 0 for 2 in its weekend games here.
Each team took turns taking it to the other, including literally challenging each other at the rim, with Kearney able to overpower Falls in the second half. Six-foot-8 sophomore standout Thomas Bryant led the Kings with 20 points while 6-9 senior and Syracuse recruit Chinoso Obokoh scored eight of his nine points after halftime.
On Saturday, Falls (12-3) fell to another Section V power, losing to Webster Schroeder, 74-72, at the RAP Invitational at East High. If Niagara Falls is able to repeat as Section VI champion, Schroeder and Kearney are two teams that might be waiting in the Far West Regionals.
“Was it a tough weekend? Yeah. Was it a bad weekend? Only by the outcome,” said Falls coach Sal Constantino, whose team has been ranked first in The News large school poll all season but may lose that spot to season-long No. 2 Canisius this week. “I’m hoping we can learn from this. … It just shows that we have to circle the wagons.””
Kearney avenged a 52-47 loss at Niagara Falls in the teams’ season openers at Falls’ Cataract Classic and improved to 7-7 playing what has been an excruciatingly tough schedule. It has lost to powers like Mount Vernon, St. Edward (Ohio), Canisius, Fairport and Webster Schroeder, a game in which Obokoh did not play.
Falls and Kearney played a close, entertaining first half before Kearney pushed ahead in the third. Falls went out to a 14-11 first-quarter lead and the teams were tied at 26 at halftime. Falls senior guard Steffon Caffee had eight of his 12 points, making two three-pointers, in the first half.
In the third quarter, Bryant asserted himself with a powerful move for a three-point play and then a stunning baseline drive. He blew past a defender on the right side before throwing down a two-handed jam to give Kearney a 37-30 lead and prompt a Falls timeout with 4:57 left in the quarter.
Obokoh powered to baskets that helped Kearney push its lead to 45-34 with 2:27 left in the third. Junior Vinzell Watkins (nine points) hit his two three-pointers in the final minutes to get Falls within 48-43 after three quarters.
“I was really happy that we really competed,” said Constantino. “Defensively [Saturday] I wasn’t really happy, and today I thought we really went out and tried to guard. They’re a really talented team, and their size obviously presented a lot of problems. It’s tough with those guys, you really can’t make a mistake, because they’re going to make you pay at the other end.”
Niagara Falls (12-3) resumes its league schedule Tuesday at Kenmore West.