SYRACUSE — Notre Dame has been the dominant team in Class A all season.
During Sunday’s Class A final at the Carrier Dome the top-seeded Jugglers proved it once again as senior guard Dante Griffin came out sizzling and finished with a career-high 35 points to lead Notre Dame to an 81-65 victory over Bishop Grimes.
Treijen Garrett scored 13 points and Jaylen Warmack had 11 for the Jugglers, who hit 13-of-24 three pointers in earning the program’s 13th sectional title and first since 2006. Notre Dame (20-3) advances to play Section 10’s Malone (Franklin Academy) at 7:45 p.m. Wednesday at SUNY Potsdam in the first round of the New York State Boys Basketball Tournament.
“After I hit the first shot I felt like everything else was going to go in,” said Griffin, the tournament’s most valuable player. “Playing on this court feels better than any court. I knew it was going to be a big day. It feels amazing … honestly even better than I thought it would. This is basically what I’ve been dreaming of my entire life. I’m just excited to have a big win and a big game on a big stage like this.”
T.J. Bradford led Grimes with 17 points, while Tong Mading and David Mo had 16 and 15, respectively for the Cobras (13-10).
Notre Dame never trailed as Griffin came out on fire, hitting three 3-pointers in the opening 1:50 to stake the Jugglers to an early 9-3 advantage. Griffin wasn’t finished, closing out the quarter with 15 points as the Jugglers held a five-point lead at 18-13.
“The basket got big for him,” Bishop Grimes head coach Bob McKenney said. “He played an unbelievable game. … That’s the kind of game that gets you recruited.”
Notre Dame faced some adversity early in the second as Griffin picked up his third foul with 6:42 remaining in the half. His teammates came through as role player Sam Bianco and usual suspects Garrett and Warmack helped the Jugglers explode for 23 points in the second to extend the lead to 17 at the break.
After going scoreless in the first quarter, Warmack scored seven points in the second. Garrett, who made the all-tournament team, also had seven points, while Bianco, a reserve guard, hit two big 3-pointers to hold off any momentum the Cobras attempted to build.
“It pumped us up,” Warmack said of Griffin’s hot start. “He hit three 3’s early. … It brought us energy and made us play better.”
In all, the Jugglers hit nine 3-pointers in the opening half on 13 attempts and made 13 of 22 field goals.
“We shot the ball very well early,” Notre Dame head coach Ryan Goux said. “We talked about penetrating and kicking out early and we hit shots. Dante was hot early and I’m proud of him. He was on the big stage and he stepped up and performed. Our bench has performed extremely well this year. We have guys coming off our bench that are better than some other teams’ starters.”
Grimes stayed close by dominating the boards, especially on the offensive end where they held a whopping 27-4 advantage. In all, the Cobras outrebounded Notre Dame 51-30, but couldn’t convert enough to move any closer than 11 in the second half.
“We were 27 of 74,” McKenney said. “We had to shoot it better. Notre Dame has a great team. They were the best team coming in and they held their spot. I give all the credit to Notre Dame. They were the frontrunner and they deserved it.”
The Jugglers opened the third with a 14-5 run, and pushed its lead to 55-29 on Griffin’s fifth 3-pointer of the game with 4:14 remaining in the quarter. After Bianco’s third 3-pointer of the game extended the advantage to a whopping 28 points (61-33) with 2:01 left in the third, Warmack left the game with a minor injury and the Cobras struck with a 14-0 run to cut the deficit in half.
Helping fuel the run was Grimes’ dominance on the offensive glass as Mo and Mading accounted for eight of the 14 points on put-backs.
Needing to fight off Grimes’ final charge, Griffin stopped the run with a tough driving finish through contact. After that hoop, Notre Dame re-established full control and took a 70-51 lead midway through the fourth on four straight points by Griffin, who scored 11 in the final quarter.
“I had to make sure that something like the last game didn’t happen,” Griffin said of seeing a 20-point lead nearly evaporate in Notre Dame’s 51-48 home win against Grimes on Jan. 20.
This isn’t the end for the Jugglers, who have their sights set on a bigger prize. However, winning the sectional title this season has been one of the major goals for the Jugglers, who were the top seed last season but were knocked off by rival Whitesboro in the quarterfinals.
This season the Jugglers haven’t lost to a Class A team. Their only defeats have come to Class AA competition (twice to Rome Free Academy and once to Bishop Ludden). The Jugglers also avenged last season’s quarterfinal loss by defeating Whitesboro three times this season, including ousting the Warriors 59-45 in the semifinals.
To claim the title, Notre Dame also had to go through the Cobras for a third time. The battle-tested Jugglers did that with relative ease in claiming their sixth straight victory and 15th win in their past 16 games.
“After last year’s tough loss, this year’s schedule we played bigger and better teams from across the state to prepare us for this kind of run,” Goux said.
Warmack was stoic after the victory. The junior guard is eight points short of joining the 1,000-point club, but has put the team’s next practice and next challenge in the forefront of his mind.
“We just have to work hard, prepare and come out and play as a team,” Warmack said. “We’re focused on the next game.”
Section 3 Class A Final
Notre Dame 81, Bishop Grimes 65
Bishop Grimes 13 11 18 23–65
Notre Dame 18 23 20 20–81
Bishop Grimes (13-10): T.J. Bradford 7-1 17; Tong Mading 7-2 16; David Mo 5-3 15; Skyler Gashi 3-0 6; Gop Arop 2-0 4; Nick Davis 1-0 3; Nate Gay 1-0 2; Jack Gutchess 1-0 2. Totals: 27-6-65. 3-Pointers: 5 (Mo 2, Bradford 2, Davis).
Notre Dame (20-3): Dante Griffin 11-8 35; Treijen Garrett 4-2 13; Jaylen Warmack 3-5 11; Sam Bianco 3-0 9; Nick Courto 2-2 6; Derrick Lindsey 1-0 3; Matt Quinn 1-0 3; Douglas Smallwood 0-1 1. Totals: 25-18-81. 3-Pointers: 13 (Griffin 5, Garrett 3, Bianco 3, Lindsey, Quinn).
All-Tournament Team: Treijen Garrett (ND); David Mo (BG), T.J. Bradford (BG), Takuya LaClair (J-D); Tommy Morreale (Wboro).
Most Valuable Player: Dante Griffin (ND).