Saratoga uses strong third quarter to take out Shen, clinch top seed in sectionals

CLIFTON PARK — It was Saratoga vs Shenendehowa at its best, and courtesy of an outburst of scoring in the third quarter, it was the Blue Streaks coming out on top for the second time this year, beating the Plainsmen by a final score of 73-66 on Friday night at Shenendehowa High School.

It took until the third quarter for Saratoga to really get going, but it was Matt Larkin who came through huge for the Blue Streaks, hitting four three-pointers in a span of just under two minutes. Before that, Saratoga owned a one-point lead, 32-31. After that barrage, Saratoga now had a nine-point lead, 44-35, that really helped them put the game away in the long run.

“Coach (Matt Usher) was just preaching attack mode all week because Shen’s been known to throw different defenses, so he didn’t want us just walking it up and go through the sets and try to beat them in the half court. He just wanted us to attack,” Larkin said.

As an answer to this, Saratoga used the three all game long, riding 15 of them in total on the night. Larkin finished with six on his way to a team-high 24 points, while Nick Chudy hit four of them and had 17 points on the night, and AJ Lawton had three, accounting for all nine of his points.

“We got guys that can hit shots. Whether it’s Larkin or Chudy or AJ, we move the ball, we get a good look,” Saratoga head coach Matt Usher said.

Shenendehowa head coach Tony Dzikas added, “They’re a hard guard. Retrospect, there’s some things we’d do differently against them if we’re fortunate enough to play them a third time (in sectionals).”

Shenendehowa held a 28-27 lead at the half, much in part due to a stellar first-half performance from junior Abbas Merchant. He had 17 points by intermission and ended up leading his team on offense with 20 points.

After Saratoga went on their run at the beginning of the second half, they held as much as an 11-point lead. Shenendehowa was able to cut their deficit to as little as four points, but Saratoga kept it a multiple possession game throughout the second half, never allowing the Plainsmen the chance to even tie the game up late. This is normal for this team as they have preached their defensive play all season.

“We switched defenses in the second half quite a few times there. Shen looked a little more comfortable in the fourth quarter, so we switched it,” Usher said.

Saratoga earns their 17th straight victory and have now clinched the top seed in sectionals, with a 16-1 league record, and 17-2 overall. They will close out the regular season at home against Shaker on Tuesday. Tip-off for that game is set for 7:30 p.m.

Shenendehowa falls to 12-3 in the league, and 15-4 overall. They too finish up their regular season slate on Tuesday at home against Niskayuna. That game will begin at 7 p.m.

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