By Mike Meiler
Niagara Gazette — BUFFALO — A Section VI showdown between Class AA powers Jamestown and Niagara Falls at Buffalo State has become a bit of a tradition in the last few years, so much so that this year’s Section VI tournament handbook has a picture of NF’s J.J. Wilkins and Jamestown’s Zack Panebianco on the cover.
Basketball fans in Western New York will be treated to another championship meeting of these marquee programs thanks to Niagara Falls’ 72-62 semifinal win over Kenmore West at Buff State on Thursday.
Wilkins scored 26 points to lead all scorers, while Ramir Burton scored 19 and Jermaine Crumpton added 17 for the Falls, which took control midway through the first quarter and kept at least a five-point cushion for the rest of the game.
The Wolverines, already without second-leading scorer Vinzell Watkins, were shorthanded in a different way Thursday night. Head coach Sal Constantino had to miss the game to attend to a family matter, leaving assistant coach Carlos Bradberry as the lead man on the sideline.
“We played in spurts,” Bradberry said. “We were on the verge (of blowing it open), then they would make a play.
“I think we broke down defensively a lot. I think we gambled and I think they game-planned for it.”
The Wolverines opened with Ken West’s 6-foot-7 center Quinton Campbell in their sights. On the Wolverines’ second possession, Burton drove right into Campbell’s body to draw a foul.
Not even halfway through the first quarter, Campbell was on the bench with his second foul as Burton sparked an 8-0 run that helped the Wolverines take a 14-9 lead after the first quarter.
“Our gameplan was to try to get him out of there, and it worked,” Bradberry said. “It worked to an extent, but I think their other guys stepped up in his place. It was really competitive.”
The Wolverines took control of the game in the second. After the teams traded baskets to open the quarter, Wilkins broke loose on a fast break and hit a layup with contact. He converted the and-1, and Ralands took a key charge to give Campbell his third foul. Moments later, Campbell hacked Crumpton on a shot attempt, sending the big man to the bench until the fourth quarter.
Crumpton scored eight points in the latter part of the second quarter, capped off by a two-handed dunk off a nice feed from Wilkins, and the Wolverines took a 35-23 lead into half.
The Blue Devils came back in the third behind an 8-0 run that pulled the score to 45-40 with 2:21 left in the quarter. Bradberry called a timeout, and Wilkins hit back-to-back 3-pointers to push the NF lead back to double digits. The senior guard clinched the game in the fourth, hitting 8 of 11 free throws down the stretch.
“J.J. was huge in the second half,” Bradberry said. “He plays really fast, and at times when he slows the game down as he did in the second half, he becomes a really good player. He sees the court a little bit, he sees what’s going on, and that’s exactly what he did in the second half for us.”
The second-seeded Wolverines will play top-seeded Jamestown at 8:15 p.m. Saturday at Buffalo State for the Class AA title.Follow high school sports reporter Mike Meiler on Twitter @mikemeiler for updates on your local teams.