CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Buffalo is getting closer to ending its misery against Charleston Catholic, though it didn't happen Thursday night.Junior all-stater Nick George continued his steady play with 17 points and eight rebounds as the defending state champion Irish held off the previously unbeaten Bison to post a 53-46 victory in a match of highly ranked Class A teams."Nick has played well all year,'' said Irish coach Bill McClanahan, "and knowing he is the focus of most teams' defenses when we roll into the gym. I think he's doing a pretty good job of maintaining his composure and not forcing things, and waiting on his opportunities.''It marked the 30th straight time Catholic had beaten Buffalo. The Bison haven't earned a win against their Kanawha Valley rival in nearly 16 years - since March 5, 1997. But it sure didn't stop Buffalo from putting a scare into the Irish Thursday night.When Laythen Good dropped in a 3-pointer from the top of the key with exactly two minutes left, the Bison (9-1) had sliced deficits as high as 13 points down to 47-44.It got a chance to get even closer when Catholic's Garret McCarty missed the front end of a 1-and-1 at the 1:36 mark, but three straight turnovers doomed Buffalo's chances of ending its dry spell against the Irish. The Bison finished the game with 21 turnovers."Missed opportunities,'' said Buffalo coach Chuck Elkins. "We came down a couple times after they'd turned the ball over and never got anything. It was always catch-up."I think the turning point in the game was right at the end of the first half. We're up 23-22 and they score five quick points and go up at halftime. The rest of the game was pretty even.''
Isaiah Robinson and Levi Jordan each netted 11 points for Buffalo, the co-No. 3 team in the state. Dylan Rich grabbed six rebounds and the Bison held a 28-25 edge off the boards despite missing senior forward Jordan Fletcher, who is out with a knee injury.Jordan also had four steals and Robinson three as Buffalo's three-quarter-court pressure often knocked the Irish out of their offensive rhythm and helped forced several of Catholic's 17 turnovers.However, the Irish (6-1), ranked No. 2 in Class A, got some timely contributions from their complementary players.Zach Casto (10 points, four rebounds) hit double figures in scoring for just the third time all season.
Keifer Hovorka had only five points, but they came on back-to-back shots late in the third quarter as a quick 7-0 burst gave Catholic its biggest lead at 41-28.Nelson McKown chipped in a pair of buckets at big moments - one off a nice Casto feed that put the Irish in the lead for good at 24-23 and another to start the fourth quarter and bump the lead back to 12 at 45-33.
"We showed flashes of other players stepping up,'' McClanahan said. "The problem is that we need those players to step up for us on a more-consistent basis, and not just assume that because one of us steps up that the other ones can slack off a little bit.
"We've got five to have guys on the floor stepping up, which would help Nick. It's circular. If Nick's playing steady, then somebody's going to have opportunities to step up. If those guys step up, then somebody's going to have to guard them, so Nick gets his opportunities. So it all fits together like a puzzle - but we're still piecing it together, and things aren't fitting clean yet.''Catholic also improved to 92-5 at home since moving games to its Athletic Complex in the 2004-05 season.McClanahan thinks his team can play sharper than it did Thursday, and doesn't feel like his team took Buffalo lightly despite its recent domination. Catholic won its two regular-season games against the Bison by 28 and 30 points last season."If that's our attitude and we're living off last year,'' McClanahan said, "then that's my fault. This is a different team and a different year - for us and for them. Last year is last year. Tonight's game mattered for this year and mattered for tonight, and Buffalo outplayed us. We have to understand that whatever happened last year is in the past."That's a conversation we've never had in this program. We've got to understand that this year's team has to take responsibility for this year's performance, and we need to start doing it in practice.''Elkins, likewise, wasn't worried about simply narrowing the gap against the Irish. The Bison wants to win, starting now.
"It's not about  in a row,'' Elkins said. "West Virginia got beat by Penn State - what was it? -  times in a row [in football]."It's a good game. Our kids get up for it, and their kids get up for it. I imagine it's one of the better unspoken rivalries around. We'll just keep trying.''Reach Rick Ryan at 304-348-5175 or email@example.com.