By Mike Meiler
Niagara Gazette — For the second straight playoff game, the Niagara Falls boys basketball team will face a familiar opponent when the second-seeded Wolverines play No. 6 Kenmore West in the Section VI Class AA semifinals at 7:45 tonight at Buffalo State.
Niagara Falls beat their Niagara Frontier League rivals by a combined 58 points in two meetings this season, but Friday's 61-50 quarterfinal win over North Tonawanda — an NFL foe that the Falls beat by a combined 92 points in two games this season — gave the Wolverines a first-hand look at how difficult it can be to beat an opponent three times in the same season.
"We've talked about not underestimating our opponents," NF coach Sal Constantino said. "We have kind of the same scenario going into tomorrow's game, with a team we've handled two times in a row, but now you get into a one-game situation and anything can happen."
The Wolverines struggled to score early in the quarterfinals, and at times had trouble defending the Lumberjacks' high-motion offense, which set up well above the free throw line to allow for open cuts to the hoop. Constantino said those issues fed one another at opposite ends of the court.
"That night, offensively, so many things went wrong that it translated to the defensive side," he said. "We wouldn't score, then we were down a little bit and didn't play as hard as we could defensively."
This will also mark the second-straight game the Wolverines play without second-leading scorer Vinzell Watkins, who's out for the rest of the season with a broken bone in his foot.
A short bench is an unwelcome sign for a team that relies on its fast-paced transition game.
"Vinzell out shortens our bench, and it makes things hard," Constantino said. "The court's bigger (at Buff State), and with the way we play, we need to try to keep guys fresh. The other night, Jermaine (Crumpton) cramped up at the end. We've got to be able to keep him fresh."
The Blue Devils upset No. 3 Williamsville North on Friday, 56-53. Point guard Alex Price, who missed the second meeting with the Falls, hit five 3-pointers and finished with 21 points.
The winner of the semifinal game plays the winner of Jamestown/Clarence in the final at 8:15 p.m. Saturday at Buff State.Follow high school sports reporter Mike Meiler on Twitter @mikemeiler for updates on your local teams.