SYRACUSE — The Madison Blue Devils came out slowly … and rival McGraw was there to pounce.
The fourth-seeded Eagles trailed for a mere 14 seconds in stunning top-seeded Madison 54-53 to win the Section 3 Class D title Sunday at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse.
Maurice Peterson scored 15 points, while Tournament Most Valuable Player Dakota Stauber had 13 as the Eagles jumped out to a big early lead and held off a furious rally by Madison to claim its first-ever sectional title. Making the victory even sweeter was the fact the Eagles were blown out 71-41 by Madison in last season’s final, lost both regular season matchups this season, and hadn’t defeated their Central Counties League rival since 2014.
“The whole season we’ve had the thought process of coming back and playing Madison in the final,” said McGraw forward Chris Pickert, who scored seven and accounted for the winning point. “I haven’t beaten them in my basketball career and winning the title is the greatest feeling ever.”
McGraw (18-4) advanced to play Section 10’s Harrisville in a regional final at 1 p.m. Saturday March 10 at SRC Arena. Harrisville knocked off Madison in last year’s regional final.
Spencer Haviland scored 13 of his 17 points in the second half for the 2017 Class D champs. The Blue Devils’ all-time leading scorer, Sam Matteson, closed out his decorated career with 14 points and 15 rebounds, while Alex Cotter had 13 points and 12 rebounds for Madison (20-4).
“We won sectionals last year and as a senior I wanted to come back and say I’m a two-time sectional champ,” Matteson said. “To lose, especially at the Dome, is tough.”
The Blue Devils, who trailed by as much as 16 in the first half, steadily cut into McGraw’s lead. Their defensive pressure and some unforced turnovers by the Eagles, helped the Blue Devils’ cause. After rough starts, Colton Stone and Haviland began heating up as Madison cut a 12-point deficit at the half to just six after three quarters.
Trailing 49-44, the Blue Devils scored six straight points and took its first lead of the game on Haviland’s three-pointer from the top of the key with 1:47 remaining.
That lead lasted just 14 seconds as McGraw beat Madison’s pressure down the floor and regained the advantage on a lay-in by Chase Curtis. After a defensive stop, McGraw extended its advantage to 54-50 on a conventional three-point play by Pickert with 1:06 left.
Haviland answered with a wing three-pointer to close it to 54-53 with 57.2 remaining. The Blue Devils had two chances to take the lead, but after Cotter kicked out a Matteson miss, Haviland’s deep three-pointer was rebounded by Stauber, who was fouled with 2.4 remaining.
Stauber missed the free throw, but all the Blue Devils could manage was a full-court heave by Ethan Snyder, which fell short and sent the Eagles and their faithful fans into a wild celebration.
“McGraw came out and got the tough boards and loose balls in the first half,” Madison head coach Dan Mitchell said. “They outhustled us and we had trouble executing our offense. They had a game plan (defensively) and executed it,” Mitchell said. “Their defense was tough and they came in and wanted it more than us in the first half. We wanted it in the second half but dug a hole.”
Knocking off the defending champs was keyed by a masterful defensive effort by McGraw, which held Madison’s star trio of Matteson, Haviland and Stone to 40 total points — 13 under their combined average. Leading the defensive charge was Pickert, who held Matteson to 7-of-24 shooting from the field.
“It’s a big job,” Pickert said of guarding Matteson. “He’s a great player. I face-guarded him all game and tried to make him shoot over me.”
McGraw head coach Matthew Martins regularly looks to Pickert to guard the opponents’ best offensive player.
“He’s our defensive specialist,” Martins said. “During sectionals he’s held the other team’s top player down. He did a great job defensively today on Sam.”
Joining in on the defensive effort was Stauber and Maurice Peterson, who kept Haviland and Stone without a field goal until 34 seconds remained in the first half. Haviland and Stone were held to just one-for-10 from the field in the opening half, allowing McGraw to hold a 36-24 advantage at the break.
“We knew exactly who we had to guard and we stuck to that all game,” Stauber said. “They have three top players and we tried to make their other players make baskets. We kept our composure no matter what they threw at us and were able to get the win.”
With the McGraw defensive game plan working to near perfection, it was an unlikely source keeping Madison within striking distance as Cotter, an undersized forward/center was scrappy under the basket, recording five offensive rebounds and scoring a team-high 10 points in the first half.
“He was incredible in the first half,” Mitchell said of Cotter. “He played the game of his life. We needed it and he was our spark on the offensive end.”
Cotter, who entered the game averaging just 2.4 points per game, finished with eight offensive rebounds that led to a 5-for-7 performance from the line. Despite the career game, Cotter would trade all his points and rebounds for a victory.
“It’s just tough right now to think of all the things we could’ve done to win it,” Cotter said. “We came out really slow and made it a lot harder on us. We just couldn’t come back all the way.”
Section 3 Class D Final
McGraw 54, Madison 53
McGraw 17 19 9 9-54
Madison 12 12 15 14-53
McGraw (18-3): Maurice Peterson 6-0 15; Dakota Stauber 4-3 13; Chase Curtis 4-1 9; Chris Pickert 2-3 7; Kevin Shorts 2-1 6; Tyler Card 0-2 2; Evan Ignatowski 1-0 2. Totals: 19-10-54. 3-Pointers: 6 (Peterson 3, Stauber 2, Shorts).
Madison (20-4): Spencer Haviland 6-2 17; Sam Matteson 7-0 14; Alex Cotter 4-5 13; Colton Stone 3-2 9. Totals: 20-9-53. 3-Pointers: 4 (Stone 2, Haviland 2).