When the East High Eagles pushed down McQuaid’s lead to three points Tuesday night, it could have been a oh-oh moment for the Knights.
Two months ago during this high school boys basketball season, it almost certainly would have been. Last month, maybe.
The Knights instead, pulled away from their state-ranked rival to win 70-56 at McQuaid and complete a comeback to win the Rochester City Athletic Conference large school division title.
“We came a long way,” McQuaid forward Isaiah Stewart said. “Earlier in the season, we were still having problems closing out games like these.
“As the season went on, we just started getting better, playing as a unit.”
Stewart, a 6-foot-7 inch freshman, finished with 26 points, 18 rebounds and 6 blocked shots. Like other teams inside and outside the RCAC, the East Eagles had few, if any, answers for the height in McQuaid’s frontcourt. Thomas Jones, a 6-4 sophomore guard who can post up defenders, had 19 points, 9 rebounds and blocked 4 shots. McQuaid junior Cam Wilson, who is 6-9, was a strong defender near the basket.
McQuaid senior shooting guard Brendan Broderick scored a season-high 16 points, including three 3-pointers.
“A lot of times we have mismatches,” McQuaid coach Jack Leasure said. “It’s about taking your time and getting the ball to the guy with the mismatch.”
McQuaid (14-5 overall, 11-2 division record) has won six consecutive games, 11 out of 13.
“Last year, it was really bad (McQuaid was 5-15),” Jones said. “But we got here, we got things together, straightened things up and got a lot better. A lot better.”
The Knights swept both regular-season games with East (17-2, 11-2), the tiebreaker that gives the division title to McQuaid. East is ranked No. 8 among Class AA teams in the state, one slot behind Aquinas. Fairport is No. 15. McQuaid may pull into the top 25 during the next set of rankings.
“It’s not going to be a walkover when you face 6-9, 6-7 and 6-4,” East coach Darrell Barley said. “That’s a college frontcourt.
“Zion (Morrison) couldn’t slash. We have to penetrate and kick the ball out (to shooters).”
Theodore Buckner, a 6-4 senior, was the only Eagle to reach double-digits in points with 17. Brian Alexander and Darrell Barley each had eight, while Morrison had seven.
“We didn’t pay attention to details,” East coach Darrell Barley said. “It could be a blessing in disguise.”
The best moments for East seemed to come when 5-5 point guard Brandon Hunt was on the floor. Defensive pressure by the Eagles went up and turnovers turned into points. It was during a flurry of plays that East turned a 53-43 lead for McQuaid into a three-point advantage with 3:35 remaining. East’s push stopped there.
Stewart dribbled his way to a lay-up that began an 11-3 spurt, including an alley-oop to Jones for another lay-up. A big dunk at the end of a fastbreak was among the six points Stewart scored during McQuaid’s final push.
“Toward the end we came through,” Stewart said.