Gut Check

March 2-8, 2006
Gut Check
By Luke Eggleston/ SUN staff writer
SUN photo(s) Paul Finch
Notre Dame Hoops Knocks Off Defending Sectional Champs Mexico

The Notre Dame varsity boys basketball team put its best foot forward last Friday, using hard-nosed defense to oust defending Section 3 Class A champs Mexico from the 2006 edition of the single elimination tournament. Notre Dame’s “best foot” is always its defense, which, in turn, inspired its offense at the other end of the court carrying the Jugglers (18-4), seeded No. 1 in the tournament, to the 58-45 win over the fifth seeded Tigers (9-10).

Directly following the game, coach Mike Durr was in a hurry on his way to scout the Jugglers’ next potential opponent as No. 2-seed Nottingham and third-seeded Whitesboro were playing at Jamesville-DeWitt High School but he did not dismiss the significance of defeating a team of Mexico’s caliber. Last season, the Tigers upset Jamesville-DeWitt in the sectional final and advanced to the New York State Public High Schools Athletic Association Class A Basketball Tournament final four at Glens Falls.

“Mexico’s a good team. They’re defending champs and you’ve got to respect that,” Durr said. Durr was a little disappointed with his team’s defense in the first and third quarters, but could find little to take issue with in the second and fourth.

The Jugglers succumbed to some tournament nerves in the game’s first few minutes, falling behind 5-0 and yielding a 3-ponter from the top of the key triggered by the Tigers’ Erik Francis. On offense, the Jugglers appeared over-anxious, forcing passes into the low post and rushing shots. Over three minutes had passed when Durr called a break to talk things over with his team.

“We were anxious and we weren’t aggressive so I called a time-out and we discussed it,” Durr said. The Jugglers came out of the time out with renewed purpose. Beck Dangler took advantage of an open look from the top of the key and made the Tigers pay with a three. After Mexico’s Chad Nearbin hit a 3-point goal from the right corner, Pete Durr, coach Durr’s son, buried a deep 2 and the Jugglers appeared to have hit their stride. Mexico stretched the lead back to five points when Ben Ariola’s 3-pointer from well beyond the arc made the score 12-7 but Pete Durr gave Notre Dame a little more confidence. On two consecutive possessions, the guard saw exposed avenues in Mexico’s defense, sliding along the right side of the lane for a lay-up and then cutting the Tigers’ lead to one point with a basket off of a baseline drive.

Notre Dame finally took the lead when Mike Jarmak spun around and popped up a lay-in. By this point, Notre Dame’s defense was inhibiting Mexico’s shooters. On several occasions, the Tigers were forced to take off-balance shots with the shot-clock winding down. Kendrick Pollard ignited Notre Dame in the second quarter as the 6-foot-5 junior forward came up with a block and a steal early in the first minute of the session.

Tom Caruso keyed the Jugglers’ offense, powering through contact on a lay-up. Notre Dame’s defensive performance peaked in the second quarter, holding the Tigers to six points. Meanwhile, the Jugglers’ offensive balance enabled them to generate points from all over the court. Pete Durr hit a three from the top of the key and Pollard, Jarmak and Steve Campbell each came up with baskets as Notre Dame seized a 30-20 lead before the halftime intermission.

In the second half, Mexico crept to within five points of the lead. Mexico runs a flex offense and the Tigers’ guards were able to locate forwards cutting along the baseline. Durr chalked up the defensive lapse to a lack of communication and a quick time-out was enough to address the problem. In the fourth quarter, Notre Dame went on a 7-2 mini-run to take a 49-37 lead. With 2:24 remaining, Mexico was forced to foul to stop the clock and the Jugglers’ excellent free-throw shooting enabled them to assume a 55-40 lead. Pete Durr capped off Notre Dame’s scoring from the field with a steal and a lay-up in the game’s final moments. Pete Durr paced the Jugglers with 15 points and Pollard and Jarmack each scored 12. Chad Nearbin led Mexico with 17 points.

With the win, the Jugglers advanced to the Section 3 Class A-1 championship game against Nottingham. The Bulldogs sweated out a 56-54 win over Whitesboro Friday night.

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