BUFFALO, W.Va. - The Barn proved hostile, but not too inhospitable for visiting Charleston Catholic as the defending Class A state champion made itself at home at Buffalo's home gym in an 83-59 victory Tuesday night.Buffalo packed the gym with plenty of fans and home-court atmosphere, though it couldn't derail Catholic's focused and determined squad. After a close first quarter, the Irish pulled away in a battle of top-10 Class A teams working hard toward the looming State Tournament."If we're going to be successful in March, we have to understand what this atmosphere brings and how you have to play through it, with it and in it," said Catholic Coach Bill McClanahan, whose team handed Buffalo its first home loss of the season.The second-ranked Irish struggled with the No. 8 Bison at first, but it didn't take long for Catholic to find its groove to silence the Buffalo faithful.Catholic led by eight entering the second quarter, but that advantage increased to 17 by halftime as the Irish felt a little more comfortable."Once we started to see things click, it becomes a lot easier to start flowing with it and going with it," Irish junior Nick George said. "We started making threes and looking for the open man. We started getting easier shots, and then on defense we were able to get the help-side quicker and do everything a little harder."It was a huge game and we were able to see that and try to match their intensity, and we were able to really push forward."Though the Irish (16-2) held a comfortable halftime lead, Catholic made its big push against Buffalo (15-3) to start the second half. The Irish began the third quarter on a 10-0 run led by eight points from senior Zach Casto.
Casto made his first nine field-goal attempts on the night and finished with a career-high 29 points, but made sure to credit his teammates for his success."I couldn't do anything out there if it were not for my teammates," he said. "They put the ball in the tough situations where it was easy for me to make a bucket."Irish guard Garret McCarty provided many key passes to Casto and others throughout the night to finish with seven assists, as well as 17 points. George also benefited from the team's unselfish play to total 19 points and nine rebounds.George, a 6-4 forward, made the most of his frame and ball-handling skills to shoot from outside, drive the lane and take advantage of the interior.
Like Casto, George said his play was a result of his teammates' ability to also create and draw attention."It really helps that on any given point on the court, whomever coach puts on the court, they're all good players one through five," he said, "so it really opens up the court for me and it opens up the court for everyone else."Buffalo Coach Chuck Elkins said it was difficult for the Bison to match Catholic's many offensive threats.
"They shot the lights out," he said. "That's all I can say."The Irish converted 61 percent of shots from the field and the team's ability to score kept the Bison from employing their game plan."They just weren't missing," Elkins said. "We didn't have opportunities to score in transition, which is what we do."Catholic continued to push its advantage throughout the second half and led by as many 34.Through it all, Buffalo's Levi Jordan refused to quit. Jordan scored 17 points in the second half to finish with 25 points, including seven 3-point baskets. Despite Jordan's best effort, the Irish proved too much for Buffalo.While it certainly appeared the Irish are running without issue, Casto said there's still room to go.
"Now, our team is playing at almost its highest level, but it's still not at its peak yet," he said.With that mindset and confidence, Catholic should be well prepared for any atmosphere, including the State Tournament.Charleston Catholic returns to action to play Tug Valley at the Charleston Civic Center 7:30 p.m. today. Buffalo next plays at Wahama 7:30 p.m. Friday.