After building a 25-point third-quarter lead, Elmira Notre Dame’s championship hopes nearly slipped away in a barrage of turnovers and Moravia 3-pointers Saturday afternoon at the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena.
With the lead down to three, top-seeded Notre Dame put the ball in the hands of its best player and he delivered. Junior guard Darius Garvin’s layup as the shot clock expired with 1 minute, 2 seconds left returned the lead back to five and the Crusaders escaped with a 65-62 victory in the Section 4 Class C boys basketball final.
“We were just trying to persevere through the end as much as possible,” Garvin said. “Things weren’t really going our way at the end of the game, but that’s when we stick together as a team and try to fight through everything. We were just lucky enough to be able to come out with the win today.”
The win gave the Crusaders their second sectional championship in the last three years. Notre Dame (20-1) will play Section 3 champion Waterville (20-2) in a state quarterfinal at 3:45 p.m. March 8 at Onondaga Community College, with the winner earning a trip to Glens Falls for the final four.
Garvin finished with 20 points, four steals and three assists, with 16 of those points coming in the first half to help the Crusaders build a 36-22 halftime lead.
Four other Notre Dame players scored in double figures. Nate Niles had 12 points and Tom Agan, Jonas McCaig and Derek Marshall scored 10 each. Marshall added six rebounds, Agan had five rebounds and Hunter Thomas had four assists.
After the game, the players soaked head coach Bill Hopkins with water bottles in a jubilant locker room.
“It feels great to even be able to come here and play,” Agan said. “It’s a great atmosphere. Just being able to come out with a win is really a blessing.”
Second-seeded Moravia (19-2) was seeking its second straight sectional championship and fourth in the last five years. Senior center Chandler Benson, the program’s all-time leading scorer, finished his high school career with 22 points. Jared Lyon added 13 points and Brett Denman had 11, including three second-half 3-pointers that spearheaded the comeback.
“I’m proud of our kids for battling back. They found a way to make it a ballgame when it didn’t look like it for a long time,” Moravia coach Todd Mulvaney said. “Just the effort they had in that fourth quarter to have a chance to win says volumes about their character. … And we lost to a very good team. Notre Dame is exceptional.”
The highly anticipated game featured the state’s third-ranked Class C team in Moravia and its No. 4 team in Notre Dame. It took a long time to live up to its billing, with Notre Dame scoring the first 11 points of the second half to build a 47-22 lead before Benson broke the drought with a basket and free throw with 1:45 left in the third quarter.
Denman followed with back-to-back 3-pointers and Chase Walker hit from 3-point range to give the Blue Devils a 12-0 run in a span of 1 minute, 9 seconds.
Moravia made five 3-pointers in the second half after hitting just once in the first 16 minutes. The Devils also caused trouble with their full-court pressure defense, forcing 13 turnovers by the Crusaders in the second half.
“They’re a good basketball team, so we knew they were coming back. Maybe not to that degree,” Hopkins said. “And we kind of helped their cause with some of our turnovers, which is uncharacteristic for us. But in the same breath, they forced some mistakes.”
Said Mulvaney: “They usually handle the ball pretty well and they did the whole first half. I think the momentum swing, us hitting some shots and finally turning up the dial on defense, it was big for us and got us back in the ball game.”
Marshall and McCaig hit 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to slow Moravia, but the Blue Devils kept clawing back and got within 59-56 on a basket by Lyon with 1:40 to play. He was fouled on the play but missed the free throw.
Hopkins tried to settle his team as Moravia made its push.
“Our players were kind of chirping to each other a bit down the stretch,” he said. “I didn’t want to exhaust all my timeouts, but I wanted to get them to just relax. We took some bad shots early in the clock in the last two and a half minutes and that’s not what we do.”
The Crusaders called timeout with 1:20 left and Garvin dribbled down the shot clock before driving through the right side of the lane and banking in a layup with his right hand.
He was named Most Valuable Player of the Interscholastic Athletic Conference South Large School Division for the second time this season and he showed his value in crunch time.
“Darius is our best one-on-one player,” Hopkins said. “He’s able to get the ball to the basket and he’s a great finisher around the glass, he can shoot threes and the whole thing. So he’s the package. We trust him to be able to make plays in that situation.”
Said Garvin: “I knew I just had to make a play for us to be able to get this win. That’s what I was able to do.”
Walker missed two 3-pointers for Moravia in the final minute and McCaig hit two free throws with 26 seconds left for a 63-56 lead. McCaig went 2-for-4 on his next two trips to the line, with the second foul shot giving his team a 65-60 lead with 7.7 seconds left. A layup by Lyon as time ran out provided the final points.
“We work on shooting our free throws every day at the end of practice and we always talk about being in the moment of a championship game and making them at the end,” Agan said. “Being able to come in here and have that opportunity was really a great thing.”