Early in the second quarter of one of the high school basketball season’s biggest games, Canisius sophomore Stafford Trueheart finished a solo fast break by bringing the ball behind his head before finishing with a thunderous, two-handed slam dunk.
You could say that one play pretty much summed up the afternoon for Canisius against rival St. Joe’s – except that Trueheart did it again just before halftime, taking a pass from classmate Howard Washington for another two-handed statement.
The Crusaders, ranked No. 1 in The News large school poll, routed third-ranked St. Joe’s 73-51, Saturday afternoon before a near-capacity crowd of about 2,000 at Canisius College’s Koessler Athletic Center.
Canisius did so with a great start and great balance. The 6-foot-5 Trueheart was one of four double-figure scorers, and his triple-double of 12 points, 13 rebounds and 10 blocks helped lead the way for a Canisius team that took a 20-7 lead after the first quarter and was up, 40-19, at halftime.
“Our guys came out really focused and played hard – if we play hard, we’re pretty good,” said Canisius coach Kyle Husband. “We’ve come a long way in five or six weeks. It’s a young group – even the seniors haven’t played tons of minutes in the past.”
Washington had 13 points and seven assists, senior Josh Huffman contributed 13 points and eight steals off the bench and senior Ryan Richards scored 11. Canisius’ lead rarely dipped below 20 in the second half as it improved to 9-1 and 4-0 in the Monsignor Martin Association.
“It feels great – this whole week, we’ve just been trying to keep the tempo moving, push forward – we knew we didn’t want to make this game close,” said Richards.
Trueheart’s slams nearly bookended the second quarter, with his first coming on Canisius’ first basket of the period and his second giving the Crusaders a 37-17 lead.
“The adrenaline is going, you’ve got the crowd – it just comes and you don’t even think about it,” Trueheart said of the big plays.
Trueheart, Richards and junior TJ Wheatley all also had big blocks on the defensive end in the first half. Trueheart consistently turned away shots throughout the game.
“We play hard at that end, we’re pretty good at that end,” Husband said of his team’s defense, “but having Stafford after the fact to be able to cover up some mistakes is a lot of fun.”
St. Joe’s (6-6, 1-2) was led by senior Justin Hollins (17 points, four three-pointers) and sophomore Justin Jones (10).
In the opening minute of the fourth quarter, great passing (Washington up high to Richards on the baseline to Huffman in the opposite corner) led to a Huffman three-pointer that pushed the Canisius lead to 31 (62-31).
“We wanted to come out and show everybody that we’re the best team in this area,” said Huffman.
Canisius was just that last year, holding the No. 1 ranking with a team that included three senior veterans who are now playing college basketball: Adam Weir, Matt MacDonald and Aaron White.
“We don’t have Adam, Matt and Aaron from last year, who we could rely on for big buckets,” said Husband. “We have seven to nine guys who come in and we need something from everybody, and you saw that today. We need to play a great team game to be really good, and we’re starting to get there.”
The rivals will meet again at Canisius College on Sunday, Feb. 16 – their regular season finale.