Niagara Falls remains a class above WNY basketball foes

BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Having played an arduous independent schedule this season to fortify itself for the state playoffs, Niagara Falls’ boys basketball team had more than two weeks to get ready for its sectional final opponent.

The Wolverines look primed for a postseason run after overwhelming Lancaster 73-43 on Friday night at Buffalo State Sports Arena. Niagara Falls’ 16th sectional title in 24 seasons is its first in the New York’s newly-formed Class AAA.

“It feels good, but we know we got more games to come,” said junior guard Nick Estelle, who led the Wolverines with 15 points.

“It’s always good to win a sectional championship,” said Niagara Falls coach Carlos Bradberry, who won a state title playing for LaSalle in 1993, and was an assistant for the Niagara Falls team that won the Federation championship in 2005.

“I’m happy,” Bradberry said, “but I think we were in a spot last year where we celebrated a little too much off this game. This year, we have much bigger goals. I told these dudes, we forget about this as soon as we leave the building.”

With only two local teams in Class AAA, the finalists were idle for the first two weeks of sectional play. That gave Niagara Falls ample time to focus its defensive game plan for Lancaster’s Jordan Alexander, among the section’s leading scorers averaging more than 27 per game, and co-star Channing Francis, a midseason transfer from Nichols.

Double-teaming Alexander as soon as he crossed half court, the Wolverines held him to a season-low 11 points. Francis scored 8, and it was freshman Ryan Hartwig who led the Legends (14-6), scoring 10 of his 12 points in the fourth quarter after the outcome was long decided.

“The Jordan Rules,” was how Bradberry described the defensive plan. “Jordan is that good. He struggled tonight, but he’s a much better player than what he showed tonight. And Channing too. We said one of the other guys were going to have to beat us.”

Niagara Falls scored the game’s first 10 points and opened the second quarter with an 18-point run that built its lead to 34-8.

“It was really good to punch them in the face first and not fall back,” Estelle said. “Once we did that, their team moral kind of went down.”

Continuing an annual tradition, Niagara Falls rose to the occasion at Buff State, the big floor magnifying the Wolverines’ speed, and the big stage amplifying their competitive drive.

“I look forward to it every year,” Estelle said. “All the fans from both teams come out. There are a lot of fans talking trash on both sides. And that’s fun. And we like to compete. We like to play at the highest level. It’s a great atmosphere if you love basketball.”

Leaving the Niagara Frontier League to paly an independent schedule that include showcase events in and out of state prepared Niagara Falls for the postseason challenge, Bradberry said.

“It put us against teams that really brought the best out of us,” the coach said. “We learned over the course of the season that we have to bring our A game every night.”

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