AMHERST -- When the inside-outside game of St. Joseph Central High School is clicking, it is a pleasure to watch -- and a bear to defend.
The Crusaders hit six 3-pointers to open the game, then pounded the ball inside to Lavante Wiggins to produce a solid 71-50 win over county rival Lee in the Western Mass. Division III semifinals at the Curry Hicks Cage on Wednesday night.
The Crusaders will meet second-seeded Smith Academy on Saturday at 12:30 back in Amherst in the Division III final.
The sixth-seeded Crusaders did not look like a No. 6 seed on Wednesday. They set a furious offensive pace that the Wildcats were unable to match after the opening four minutes.
Mike Carpenter, Jon Bianchi and Tank Roberson each potted a pair of 3-pointers in the opening stanza. And while Lee's fiery Ken Retzel buried three trifectas of his own in that span, it was not enough.
"What are you going to do?" asked Lee coach Dan Korte rhetorically after the game. "Six for six in threes. We packed our defense in to shut down their inside game, and they responded. But that's not surprising. St. Joe is a very good team. They were better tonight."
As the Wildcats' zone began stretching out to contest the Crusaders' perimeter snipers, Bianchi and Roberson began dumping the ball inside to Wiggins.
He responded, scoring five points in the first period, and then 11 in the half. St. Joseph's led 29-16 after a period, and 39-23 at intermission.
"He was hurt the first few weeks of our season," said St. Joseph's coach Paul Brindle of Wiggins. "He had some football injuries, and he was a little out of shape to start. But he's healed and we've been riding him the last few weeks."
"We didn't want to go home," said Wiggins after the game. "I think I have been playing a little better and we've been playing better defense as a team."
The Wildcats were by no means intimidated by their double-digit deficit. Their best scorer, Jake LePrevost, began finding angles to the basket and either getting to the line or scoring 2-pointers.
After the Crusaders' initial offensive burst, they hit a flat spot in the third quarter, and Lee began to close the margin.
Another 3-pointer by Retzel cut the lead to 49-40 after three quarters, and the Wildcats had a little life.
"Yeah, we got a big lead, and we got a little too complacent, I think," said Bianchi.
But Carpenter and Bianchi dropped in back-to-back 3s to open the fourth quarter, and that pushed the margin to 55-40. Lee kept chipping away, but time was not on their side.
Carpenter led all scorers with 21 points and added 15 rebounds. Wiggins also had a double-double with 18 points and 12 rebounds. Bianchi had a game-high seven assists to go with 13 points while Roberson added 13 points and five assists.
For Lee, LePrevost was stellar, with 18 points and six rebounds. He was 10 for 14 from the free throw line. Retzel added 16 and Heamon Williams led the team with eight rebounds.
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