Down to the Wire

March 11-17, 2004
Down to the Wire
By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
Kinnan’s Late 3-Point Gives Brothers Sectional-Championship Win Over Ludden

With two of the premier players in Central New York squaring off on high-school basketball’s highest stage in the Section III Class AA-2 final, the championship fortunes of Christian Brothers Academy came down to the shooting accuracy of a reserve sophomore guard. With the likes of CBA’s Greg Paulus and Ludden’s Terry Smith dominating the box scores the following morning, the weight of the two schools’ time-honored rivalry fell squarely on the shoulders of Matt Kinnan as he pulled up and drained a 3-pointer to give the Brothers a 64-62 lead with mere moments left.

“We got the ball in bounds on the last play. Coach said if I had the shot take it,” Kinnan said. “I got the ball. I saw the look. I took the shot and it went in and we got the ‘W’.” On the other end of the court with Ludden driving, CBA’s Jeff Brown drew a charge. When David Fine was fouled and hit both of his free throws, it sealed another chapter in the rivalry with No. 2 CBA emerging 66-62 winners over top seed Ludden within the cauldron of a packed Manley Fieldhouse Friday night in Syracuse. “We just said during the time out that we just had to take the best shot,” CBA coach Buddy Wleklinski said. “It really wasn’t much of an issue. We wanted to move the ball until somebody got open and we wanted to get the first look. And then if it doesn’t go in at least we’d have time to foul and get it back. And I’ll tell you, but that was a big shot. I haven’t seen the tape, but that wasn’t necessarily uncontested. I mean, he had a look, but that was a tough shot.” Wleklinski also stressed the importance of Brown stomaching a shoulder on the other end. “That was as big as the 3-pointer,” he said.

CBA on the ropes?

The Gaelic Knights’ championship hopes expanded when Paulus was escorted to the bench following his fifth foul. “When he fouled out, we knew we had the game man and I don’t even know who the kid was who hit the shot,” Ludden’s star point guard Terry Smith said. “But it was a great shot. I’ve got to give him credit. It was a great shot.” But CBA was able to receive command performances not only from Kinnan, but also Fine who took over at the point. Ludden’s Kevin Barrett and Josh Keding connected on the back end of respective trips to the free-throw line to give the Knights a 59-55 lead, but the Brothers bounced right back. After Fine made one of two free throws, Erik Estabrook got a steal on the Knights’ ensuing possession and delivered a pass to him under the basket for an easy lay up. Smith then made another one of two free throws, but Fine hit a 3-point shot from the top of the key to pull CBA to within one point of the lead. Smith hit a baseline jumper to make the score 62-61, but Kinnan nullified Ludden’s lead when his 3 fell. Wleklinski said that his squad did not take the time to consider the implications of losing Paulus, who left the court with a game-high 25 points. Instead, the coaching staff focused on the available personnel.

“As opposed to worrying about who we lost, we were worrying about who was on the floor and we said to David (Fine) now you’ve got to take the ball and he made a couple of big plays. The 3 that he had and then making the free throws down the stretch…I’ll tell you what, this is great,” Wlkelinski beamed, relaying that his team has faced Ludden three times previously in Manley Fieldhouse during tournament play with the Brothers failing to escape their nemesis each time. “We beat them in the postseason before, but never here at Manley. This is a big win. Back-to-back championships for our kids. I couldn’t be any prouder.” In the post game, Wleklinski emphasized the pride he felt for this team, which entered the season with little or no experience even at the varsity level, much less against one of the elite teams in New York State such as Bishop Ludden.

Praise from Ludden

Ludden coach Pat Donnelly, though disappointed with the result, lauded his opponents’ ability to come back against a team that had defeated them 58-55 earlier in the regular season. “The credit goes to CBA I think,” he said. “They had Greg down and they didn’t buckle. Guys had to step up and the credit goes to Dave Fine and Kinnan and (Mike) Anderson who made big plays. We missed free throws, we turned the ball over, and we didn’t get a couple of rebounds and that’s the difference. We get any one of those things to go we might have pulled it out. But we didn’t take advantage of it when Greg went out to lose on a shot like that hurts.” Both teams matched each other in the first quarter. Paulus was unusually quiet, recording just two points, while Smith was the catalyst for the Knights, scoring back-to-back 3’s late in the session to give Ludden an 18-16 lead. Midway through the quarter, Kevin Barrett blocked a shot and Smith picked up the ball as it wiggled free of the melee in the paint. Smith turned and dealt the ball to Barrett on the other end of the court for an easy lay up.

Paulus erupts

In the second quarter, Paulus erupted with 18 points. He scored the first points of the quarter on a 3-point shot. Drawing contact as he pulled up, Paulus converted his free throw for a four-point play that gave CBA a 21-18 lead. He delivered a conventional three-point play later, slashing in and taking a hard foul on his way to the basket. He also drained two 3-pointers, one of which was very deep. In the dying seconds of the half, Paulus took an inbounds pass and charged the length of the court past baffled Ludden players and rolled in a lay-up, giving CBA its biggest lead of the game at 38-29. Despite the relatively comfortable lead his team had, Wleklinski drew on his experience with the CBA/Ludden rivalry to caution his team that anything could happen in the second half. “Any time that you play, you never know what’s going to happen,” the coach said. “It was a nine-point game and we told our kids at halftime that it wasn’t over. And you know something is going to happen and it’s going to end up being close and that’s what happened.”

Knights respond

Then, of course, “anything” did happen as the Knights surged to take the lead going into the fourth quarter. Ludden began to stymie the Brothers’ offensive flow in the third quarter. After a torrid second quarter, Paulus scored zero field goals in the session. The Knights were trailing 42-31 when they ripped off a 14-2 run and took a 45-44 lead into the fourth quarter. Barrett emphasized his basket that put the Knights within one by going above the rim to the joy of Ludden’s green-clad student section. He also scored the lay-up that put Ludden ahead 45-44. Smith had contributed to a number of aspects of the Knights’ game, but it was in the fourth quarter that he became their primary source for scoring. The senior point guard scored 10 points in the quarter, including a 3-pointer. Nevertheless, CBA stiffened its resolve early in the session and did not let the Knights’ take any of the momentum from the third quarter any further. CBA’s renewed momentum carried deep into the fourth, enabling the Brothers to weather the absence of Paulus and come away with the dramatic 66-62 triumph.

Historic finish

Following the game, Wleklinski said that he could not think of a more dramatic finish with higher stakes than Friday night’s victory. He added that such an event was good for the health of basketball in Central New York. “We told our kids just walking in just to enjoy it,” the coach said. “Whether we win or lose, just enjoy the atmosphere because this is something that you’re going to remember for the rest of your life. And now it’s something that they’re going to remember even more in a very positive way.” Paulus led the Brothers with 25 points and Fine scored 23. They were followed by Mike Anderson with 13; Matt Kinnan, three; and Rich Cummings, two. Smith paced the Knights with 23 points, while Keding scored 15; Barrett, 13; Phil Oropallo, 9; and Andy Murray, two. Tuesday night, CBA faced Class A-1 champion Henninger to see who would advance to New York State Public High Schools Athletics Association Class AA Tournament.

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