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Falcons’ defense shuts down Renaissance in hoop semifinal

  • Will Halloran of Smith Academy, left, celebrates his shot from beyond half court that scored at the buzzer in the third quarter Wednesday against  Renaissance with teammates Keith Natale, center, and David Longstreeth Wednesday at Curry Hicks Cage. <br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Will Halloran of Smith Academy, left, celebrates his shot from beyond half court that scored at the buzzer in the third quarter Wednesday against Renaissance with teammates Keith Natale, center, and David Longstreeth Wednesday at Curry Hicks Cage.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Keith Natale of Smith Academy shoots against Devonte Marshall of Renaissance Wednesday at Curry Hicks Cage.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Keith Natale of Smith Academy shoots against Devonte Marshall of Renaissance Wednesday at Curry Hicks Cage.
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  • Will Halloran of Smith Academy, right, shoots against Patrick Straughter of Renaissance Wednesday at Curry Hicks Cage. David Longstreeth looks on, background.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Will Halloran of Smith Academy, right, shoots against Patrick Straughter of Renaissance Wednesday at Curry Hicks Cage. David Longstreeth looks on, background.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • David Longstreeth of Smith Academy, left, begins a pass while defended by Patrick Straughter of Renaissance Wednesday at Curry Hicks Cage.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    David Longstreeth of Smith Academy, left, begins a pass while defended by Patrick Straughter of Renaissance Wednesday at Curry Hicks Cage.
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  • Seaver Rickert of Smith Academy, top, drives to the basket against Patrick Straughter of Renaissance Wednesday at Curry Hicks Cage.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Seaver Rickert of Smith Academy, top, drives to the basket against Patrick Straughter of Renaissance Wednesday at Curry Hicks Cage.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Will Halloran of Smith Academy watches his shot from beyond half court that scored at the buzzer in the third quarter against Renaissance Wednesday at Curry Hicks Cage.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Will Halloran of Smith Academy watches his shot from beyond half court that scored at the buzzer in the third quarter against Renaissance Wednesday at Curry Hicks Cage.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Mat Sulda of Smith Academy, front, runs to a long pass on a breakaway ahead of Patrick Straughter of Renaissance Wednesday at Curry Hicks Cage.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Mat Sulda of Smith Academy, front, runs to a long pass on a breakaway ahead of Patrick Straughter of Renaissance Wednesday at Curry Hicks Cage.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Derek McMahon of Smith Academy, right, shoots against Devonte Marshall of Renaissance, left, Wednesday at Curry Hicks Cage.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Derek McMahon of Smith Academy, right, shoots against Devonte Marshall of Renaissance, left, Wednesday at Curry Hicks Cage.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Mat Sulda of Smith Academy drives to the basket on a breakaway against Renaissance Wednesday at Curry Hicks Cage.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Mat Sulda of Smith Academy drives to the basket on a breakaway against Renaissance Wednesday at Curry Hicks Cage.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Mat Sulda of Smith Academy, right, draws a foul from John Togba of Renaissance Wednesday at Curry Hicks Cage.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS

    Mat Sulda of Smith Academy, right, draws a foul from John Togba of Renaissance Wednesday at Curry Hicks Cage.
    JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Smith Academy players Derek McMahon, left, David Longstreeth, third from left, and others celebrate their win against Renaissance Wednesday at Curry Hicks Cage. JERREY ROBERTS

    Smith Academy players Derek McMahon, left, David Longstreeth, third from left, and others celebrate their win against Renaissance Wednesday at Curry Hicks Cage. JERREY ROBERTS Purchase photo reprints »

  • Will Halloran of Smith Academy, left, celebrates his shot from beyond half court that scored at the buzzer in the third quarter Wednesday against  Renaissance with teammates Keith Natale, center, and David Longstreeth Wednesday at Curry Hicks Cage. <br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Keith Natale of Smith Academy shoots against Devonte Marshall of Renaissance Wednesday at Curry Hicks Cage.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Will Halloran of Smith Academy, right, shoots against Patrick Straughter of Renaissance Wednesday at Curry Hicks Cage. David Longstreeth looks on, background.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • David Longstreeth of Smith Academy, left, begins a pass while defended by Patrick Straughter of Renaissance Wednesday at Curry Hicks Cage.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Seaver Rickert of Smith Academy, top, drives to the basket against Patrick Straughter of Renaissance Wednesday at Curry Hicks Cage.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Will Halloran of Smith Academy watches his shot from beyond half court that scored at the buzzer in the third quarter against Renaissance Wednesday at Curry Hicks Cage.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Mat Sulda of Smith Academy, front, runs to a long pass on a breakaway ahead of Patrick Straughter of Renaissance Wednesday at Curry Hicks Cage.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Derek McMahon of Smith Academy, right, shoots against Devonte Marshall of Renaissance, left, Wednesday at Curry Hicks Cage.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Mat Sulda of Smith Academy drives to the basket on a breakaway against Renaissance Wednesday at Curry Hicks Cage.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Mat Sulda of Smith Academy, right, draws a foul from John Togba of Renaissance Wednesday at Curry Hicks Cage.<br/>JERREY ROBERTS
  • Smith Academy players Derek McMahon, left, David Longstreeth, third from left, and others celebrate their win against Renaissance Wednesday at Curry Hicks Cage. JERREY ROBERTS

AMHERST — The Smith Academy boys basketball sat in its 2-3 zone for 32 minutes Wednesday night.

Renaissance spent the same amount of time attempting to figure it out. Its problem was the clock ran out.

The Falcons rode their defense to a 57-45 victory in the Western Massachusetts Division 3 Tournament semifinal round at Curry Hicks Cage.

The zone was especially effective in the fourth quarter, when Smith held the Phoenix to five field goals, including two in the final six minutes.

“A lot of defense is hard work,” Falcons coach Matt Zerneri said. “I’ve never had a group of guys that work as hard as they do. They’re unselfish, they work hard. They’re eager. They want to play and they want to win. They know our offense feeds off our defense.”

The fourth-seeded Falcons (20-3) return to the final for the first time in 20 years. They will face No. 6 St. Joseph (14-8) at 12:30 p.m. Saturday at the Cage. St. Joseph beat Lee 71-50 in the other semifinal Wednesday.

Smith Academy’s last western Massachusetts title came in 1993, and this is also the 30th anniversary of the program’s second title. The Falcons have won six sectional titles.

“It’s a great feeling. It was a tough win but we got it,” Smith senior Mat Sulda said. “We’re back to the finals and it’s awesome.”

The Falcons have made a tremendous turnaround with their defense. The program ranked 22nd out of 26 Division 3 teams during Sulda’s freshman year. The offense, meanwhile, ranked fifth.

This year, Smith Academy boasts the No. 1-ranked defense in Division 3 and its offense is ranked fourth. Renaissance had the top-ranked offense at 73.6 points per game. St. Joseph is No. 2 at 69.8.

Defense “is a result of hard work and we’re finally playing together,” Sulda said. “The past two years I feel like our team chemistry is way better than it has been and I think that correlates to our defense. We work hard on the defense end and that’s how our offense comes.”

With point guard Derek McMahon and Sulda sitting at the top of the zone, the defense made it difficult for top-seeded Renaissance (19-3) to feed its post. The Phoenix scored 18 of their 21 first-half points in the paint. The Falcons clamped down in the second half and limited Renaissance to 14 points in the paint.

“Derek is long. Derek has long arms and when he gets his hands up and is active he tips a lot of balls and it creates a lot of turnovers,” Zerneri said. “And we’re really quick. Even if we’re in the wrong position we can recover quick enough to tip balls and make plays.”

Two 3-pointers by Sulda and one from McMahon in the second quarter helped the Falcons take a 21-13 lead. Smith maintained the advantage until early in the fourth, when Renaissance closed to within 42-39. The Falcons called timeout and regrouped.

Keith Natale scored inside to start an 8-2 run for Smith. Seaver Rickert sandwiched two baskets inside around a Sulda and McMahon textbook two-on-one fast break which resulted in a Sulda layup to give the Falcons a 50-41 lead with 4 minutes, 18 seconds left.

“Last year we came to the Cage and we were excited just to be here. We were content to be here,” said McMahon, whose team lost to St. Joseph in the semifinal round last season. “This year, we took it in but tonight we played basketball and did what we had to do to get the ‘W.’ ”

The Phoenix cut the deficit to seven with just under three minutes left, but Smith went 6 for 8 from the line to seal the win.

Sulda finished with 18 points, while McMahon had 16 points, six assists and four steals. Rickert had 10 rebounds.

Mike Moran can be reached at mmoran@gazettenet.com. Follow on Twitter @mikemoranDHG.

Division 3

Smith Academy 57, Renaissance 45

Falcons (20-3)

Smiarowski 0-0-0, McMahon 7-0-16, Rickert 2-2-6, Longstreeth 1-0-2, Natale 2-3-7, Sulda 7-1-18, Halloran 3-0-8, Liebenow 0-0-0. Totals 22-6-57

Phoenix (19-3)

Johnson 4-0-11, Gonzalez 2-0-4, Rauls 2-0-4, Marshall 3-0-6, Straughter 5-0-10, Togba 5-0-10. Totals: 21-0-45

Smith Academy 10 18 14 15—57

Renaissance 11 10 14 10—45

3-pointers: Smith Academy 7 (Sulda 3, McMahon 2, Halloran 2); Renaissance 3 (Johnson 3)

Related

Sixth man Will Halloran sparks Smith Academy with half-court swish

Thursday, March 7, 2013

AMHERST — As the Smith Academy boys basketball team’s sixth man, junior Will Halloran knows a thing or two about providing a spark for his team off the bench. It just doesn’t normally come in the form of a 55-foot buzzer-beating swish like the one he hit at the end of the third quarter of the Western Massachusetts Division 3 …

Legacy Comments1

Yes this is the 30th anniversity of Smith's 2nd Title they beat St. Joseph that year. Hopefully history will re-peat itself this year in the finals. Godd luck Smith. Class of 83.

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