BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — Strength in numbers and championship experience led the ambush for the Amherst Tigers roaring back on the path to the state tournament in boys basketball.

Amherst repeated as Section VI Class A champions Tuesday night at Buffalo State Sports Arena, rallying for 55-44 win against McKinley in the crossover qualifier for Far West Regionals. State semifinalists a year ago and one of the top-ranked contenders in Western New York, the Tigers endured injuries and illness throughout the year, using 16 different starting lineups, and the post season run has been without their leading scorer from the regular season.

“We have a very large roster,” coach Chris Kensy said. “Every single day, guys are working on the exact same skills. And it’s the next guy up. So if someone has an off day, or is in foul trouble, they’re ready to go. They are prepped and battle-tested. They all have confidence in each other.”

In the final boys basketball game in a local gym this season, it was two sophomores stepping up to extend Amherst’s season. “The young boys got the job done,” senior captain Nick Moore said.

Antonio Andrews, the tallest Tiger at 6-foot-4 who had been out sick in the first two playoff wins, scored a career-high 17 points and earned the team’s blue collar hat award for his interior play.

Elijah Dixson wore the big play belt after doubling his previous personal-best with 16 points, making all four of his foul shots down the stretch after sinking four 3-pointers, including one at the halftime buzzer that ignited Amherst’s comeback from an early 27-16 deficit.

In the locker room at halftime, the Amherst players gave the coaches an encouraging message, vowing to be more physical and committed to defensive principles in the second half.

“You guys hit the nail on the head,” Kensy told his team. “If we take care of those things, the only team who can beat us are the Tigers.”

Amherst also employed “a little special defense we’ve been working on for three weeks that we haven’t used yet,” Kensy said, and the tactic led to 17-4 swing in the quarter.

“Defense does win championships,” Moore said. “Even though it’s an offensive game nowadays, we showed it’s still going to get the job done.”

Moore, a fourth-year starter, scored four points, 12 below his average, and his lowest output of the season. As a junior, Moore scored double-figures in every game but the crossover final, when he also had four points. As was the case on that off-shooting night, Moore again found ways to help the Tigers with his floor game and defense.

“He is the heart and soul of Amherst basketball,” Kensy said. “I can’t say enough good things about him. Even when the shots weren’t falling, he’s making a difference. And the big thing is, he doesn’t let things bother him. People know if you limit Nick Moore, you can limit the Tigers. But he had confidence in his teammates, made the right pass, and guys hit shots.”

The crossover win against McKinley came 10 years after the two teams met in the same round following Amherst’s first of five sectional titles under Kensy, and with McKinley on its way to winning a state title. Tuesday night was the first sectional playoff game between the programs since that 2013 matchup.

“Coach (Zaire) Dorsey is a very close friend of mine, and I have a tremendous amount of respect for the program he runs and what he gets his kids to do,” Kensy said. “Ten years later, it’s definitely a better feeling than we had back then. Our effort was there, but I’m just happy we made a few more plays in this game.”

Amherst (21-3), ranked 17th in the state in Class A, will now meet the Section V champion at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Gates Chili High School.


Jonah Bronstein joined the News 4 roster in 2022 as a digital sports reporter. Read more of his work here.