GLENS FALLS — Credit the Canton boys basketball team with a valiant effort in its return to the state final four.
The Golden Bears found themselves seemingly in control in the second half against Section 1 champion Haldane on Friday, but a cold spell late in regulation and beyond proved costly.
Canton built a double-digit lead, only to squander the advantage as Haldane stormed back to prevail, 63-54, in overtime in a Class C state semifinal at Cool Insuring Arena before a crowd that included a strong turnout from both schools.
Matteo Cervone scored a game-high 21 points and Benjamin Bozsik contributed 17 points, including six points in overtime, to spark the Blue Devils (21-4) to the triumph.
Ayomi Odetoyinbo scored 15 points and hauled in eight rebounds for Section 10 champ Canton, which finished its season at 17-7.
“I’m really disappointed,” Odetoyinbo, a 6-foot-8, junior forward said. “I kind of feel like I let my teammates down a little, but we’ll move on.”
“They were tough,” Haldane coach Joseph Virgadamo said of Canton. “I mean you’re playing in a state semi for a reason, they were bodying us up clean and challenging our shots. They were a tough team.”
Canton, which employed its aggressive, pressure defense throughout the game, carried a 39-29 lead into the fourth quarter, but would manage to score only 15 points the rest of the way, including nine in the period.
“It’s tough, we worked so hard all year,” Canton junior point guard Ryan Jones said. “And when their big man (Cervone) fouled out, I thought we were going to push the tempo up and get more buckets, but we’ll be back here next year.”
After Haldane hit a scoring drought in the first half, Canton experienced one of its own in the fourth quarter as it went 3 minutes and 39 seconds with only one basket as the Blue Devils opened the period on a 7-0 spurt to close within three points.
The final minutes featured three lead changes as the Golden Bears led 47-46 on Odetoyinbo’s putback with 1:40 to play, but Haldane’s William Bradley scored on a running jump shot to restore the lead.
Odetoyinbo then made one of two free-throw attempts to send the game into overtime deadlocked at 48 all.
“It headed to overtime and even though we made a good stand at the end of regulation to get it to overtime, it’s a hard game,” Canton coach Troy Lassial said. “The guys played extremely hard and we did what we had to do to try and win and unfortunately sometimes you just come up short.”
Haldane responded by scoring the first seven points of overtime to lead 55-48 with 1:14 left and Canton never fully recovered from the surge.
“They did a good job of tackling the rim, they got me in foul trouble, which really helped them down the line,” Odetoyinbo said.
The Golden Bears got within four points at 57-53 on a conventional three-point play from Jones with 32.1 seconds left, but got no closer.
“They’re pretty big, (Cervone’s) a nice player,” Jones said. “We stopped their momentum throughout the game, it’s just we couldn’t finish it off, they made some great shots down the stretch.”
Vincent Nelson-Fuse added 12 points and Ryan Jones chipped in with 11 points for the Golden Bears, who competed in the state final four for the first time since 2017 when they reached the state championship game.
“It was a hard game,” Lassial said. “We had a 10-point lead and we weren’t shooting well from the foul line, that was a problem, I think it ended up under 50 percent. It’s one of those situations where if you shoot 50 percent from the foul line, you win the game in regulation and we kind of gave them life.”
In all, Canton made only 12 of 27 free-throw attempts, including just nine of 17 following the first half.
Bozsik scored all of his points in the second half to spark the Blue Devils, while Cervone generated also generated 14 points after halftime, including nine in the fourth quarter.
In the first half, Haldane scored the game’s first six points en route to building an 11-3 lead and a 13-5 edge through the opening quarter.
The Blue Devils would go on to lead by as many as 12 points in the second quarter, but Canton would engineer a 13-0 surge to complete the first half.
Jones sparked the run by draining a 3-pointer and Odetoyinbo recorded two blocked shots as well as two baskets, including an empathic dunk, before scoring on a follow-up shot with 1:45 remaining in the half as Canton built its first lead of the game at 19-18 heading into halftime.
“We’ve been to these games where it’s a game of runs and momentum swings,” Virgadamo said. “We just kind of stick together. ... I mean that kid (Odetoyinbo) inside was tough, we were executing our game plan, but he was just altering shots. I thought our shot selection was pretty damn good in the first half, but we went on a drought.”
Later, the Golden Bears closed the third quarter on a 9-2 surge to build their 10-point advantage before the Blue Devils set the pace the rest of the way.
“We started a little slow,” Jones said. “But we picked it back up in the second quarter and then throughout the game we played pretty well, but in the fourth quarter we just let up.”
“I think we just got a little bit tired and needed to keep putting the foot on the gas,” Lassial said. “We knew we had to play fast, so we tried to pressure them pretty good. ... We certainly emptied the tank, that’s for sure.”
Haldane, which is located downstate in Putnam County, and which came into the game ranked No. 4 in the state in Class B, advanced to play Section 6 champion Randolph in the state final at 5:15 Saturday at the same venue.
“They’re winners, they play for each other and we’ve been preaching our chemistry as just a unit and it showed today,” Virgadamo said of his team. “These guys were saying during timeouts and on the court they didn’t want to go home. It was emotional, they didn’t want it to end and they proved that.”
Canton, which was supported from a strong turnout from the community, including a boisterous and energetic student section with some waving yellow towels, was the last boys basketball team from the north country still competing in the postseason.
“Coming here on a big stage like this is pretty awesome,” Jones said. “And that’s incredible, having all those students come down and watch us is just a true passion for the game.”
The team also played in the state tournament for the second consecutive year after winning Section 10’s Class B title last year before losing to eventual state champion Ichabod Crane in a regional game.
The Golden Bears, who started this season with 1-5 record, surged throughout the remainder of the season and claimed Section 10’s Class C crown with a 56-33 win over Tupper Lake on Feb. 24.
After downing Heuvelton, 59-42, to win the section’s overall title, Canton went on to defeat Section 2 champion Chatham, 64-59, in a state quarterfinal last Saturday at SUNY Potsdam.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Odetoyinbo said of Canton’s run this season.
Jones added: “Most of us are pretty sad after this, it’s pretty heartbreaking with the bunch of seniors we have, too. But these young guys who work hard, they want to get back here next year.”
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