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In a battle of the top-ranked teams from Buffalo and Rochester, a suffocating fourth quarter gave Canisius one of its biggest wins of the season.

Canisius won the final quarter, 20-11, to break open what had been a tight, competitive game and beat Rochester power Aquinas, 65-51, Tuesday evening before an estimated 500 in the Crusaders’ Bernard J. Kennedy Fieldhouse.

Sophomores Howard Washington and Stafford Trueheart each scored 17 points for Canisius (15-2), which has been ranked first in The News large school poll all season and is No. 3 in the New York State Sportswriters Association Class A poll.

“It feels great, especially the way we played that second half,” said Canisius coach Kyle Husband. “We dug in, made the plays when we needed to, played really tough on the defensive end and did the little things.”

Aquinas (11-3), which is the top-ranked team from Section V (Rochester area) in the largest classification in the state, Class AA, suffered just its third loss of the season. The Lil’ Irish have scored wins over News No. 1 small school Olean as well as top 10 large schools Bishop Timon-St. Jude and St. Joe’s. One of its previous losses came to Buffalo’s East High, a top three small school all season.

“All week in practice we’ve been saying this is one of our biggest nonleague games – we knew we had to win,” said Washington, part of a team that is undefeated against local opponents. “We lost to another Rochester team, Bishop Kearney, a couple of weeks ago, so this is good to get revenge almost.”

Canisius and Aquinas played a first half reminiscent of the schools’ football battle, in which eventual Class AA state champion Aquinas beat Canisius, 3-0, in Week Two: Possessions were highly valued, the competition was fiercely intense and a tremendous amount of skill was on display.

Canisius had a 17-13 lead after one quarter and the teams were tied at 28 at halftime. The Crusaders started to gain some traction with a 17-12 third quarter that put it up, 45-40.

Its defense helped drive the lead to double digits.

Trueheart, a 6-5 forward who had another standout game with 14 rebounds and five assists, had one of his eight blocks cleanly in the post early in the fourth. Junior TJ Wheatley’s defense helped cause a steal that would lead to an acrobatic finish on a drive by junior Josh Huffman (11 points) and a 49-42 lead.

A Washington layup off of another good defensive stand by Canisius pushed its lead to 55-44, prompting an Aquinas timeout with 3:56 left.

The Little Irish came within seven before Canisius had a great press-break in which Huffman passed ahead to junior LaTerrance Reed, who found Washington, who set up Trueheart for a basket underneath while he was fouled. His three-point play put Canisius up, 58-48, with 2:57 to play.

“We always knew Aquinas was going to be a good game,” said Trueheart. “We just knew we had to close. We knew we had to fight and close the game out.”

Senior Ryan Richards, who like Huffman and Wheatley was a pivotal player on the football team, had 11 points.

Aquinas was led by junior Patrick McLamore’s 12 points, part of a collaborative effort by a deep, dangerous Little Irish squad. Nine players saw action in the first half and eight players scored, including senior guard Navaar Poole with nine, sophomore guard Earnest Edwards with eight and senior guard George Graham with seven.

email: kmcshea@buffnews.com