Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- They took it all.

They took the unbeaten season, took the region dominance, took the No. 1 ranking in the state poll. They took all those bragging rights that had haunted them for a month, and took back the game they lost.

Westover took all that and more Friday night.

Stole it right from Monroe, the team that had been undefeated, the first Tornado team in history to get ranked No. 1 in the state -- a team with dreams of a perfect season.

And Westover made it look easy.

Just look at that 77-63 final.

Sure, there were some added free throws in the final seconds after back-to-back flagrant fouls turned this classic showdown sour -- and a bit ugly.

But this was Westover's night. The night, the game, and the city bragging rights all headed back to Northwest Albany with the Patriots, who did it all even without Onochie Ochie for most of the game.

There was so much made of Ochie's dramatic -- and somewhat inspiring return --- from injury, but the truth is Westover made the move of the night, the one that pushed Monroe off its own court with Ochie on the bench.

Ochie was sitting there with two fouls when Malcolm Sapp and Anthony Ball simply took over the game. Sapp drilled three 3s and Ball did everything else as Westover -- which trailed, 15-14 after the first eight minutes -- ripped off a 25-14 run to grab a 39-29 lead. The Pats never trailed again. Sapp and Ball combined to score 18 of those points.

"I was just feeling it,'' said Sapp, who drilled a total of five 3s for the night to finish with 21 points. "I got into that rhythm and just felt like I couldn't miss -- felt like I could hit a million of them.''

Sapp didn't feel that way in the first game, when he made just two baskets all night and finished with eight points.

But when he is hot ... well, there there's a expression for that around Westover.

"That was Sapp being Sapp,'' said Ball, who also finished with 21 points.

Westover's guards -- Ball and Shevren Keaton -- were just too quick for Monroe and not only dictated the frenetic pace of the game, but all but put it away for the Patriots. Keaton finished with 11 points and the Keaton-Ball larceny act produced 10 steals. The two guards also combined to grab nine rebounds.

"Ball and Keaton came to play,'' Westover coach Dallis Smith said. "I think they fed off each other. I said at the beginning of the year I thought our guard play would win us some ball games.''

Call it a new beginning for Westover (19-3), which lost all three of its games this year with Ochie out of the lineup.

Monroe won the first meeting, 61-58, in the Boston Garden, where Westover's legacy had been born and still lives -- a home court wrapped in tradition and draped in state title banners,

If anyone thought it was packed in the first meeting on Jan. 8 at Westover, where droves of fans stood elbow-to-elbow, think again. Monroe's gym seats about 850, and the place was bulging from every seam Friday night.

It's impossible to measure the Ochie Factor, because his return to the court gave Westover not only the physical presence of a 6-foot-6 smooth as satin star who can float home soft jumpers and steal the crowd with thunder dunks, but also the sheer and raw emotion he brought to this game. No one wanted to play in the rematch more than Ochie, who never got a chance in the first meeting. He fell on the court, hit his head and passed out with 5:57 left in the first quarter. Ochie had to be carried from the gym and rushed to the hospital, where he was released later that night. Ochie sat out more than three weeks, returned Tuesday and was more than ready to write his own comeback story Friday.

He started writing early. Ochie flew out of the locker room and scored four points, grabbed four rebounds and blocked a shot in the first five minutes of the game as Westover raced to a 7-0 lead. But he picked up two quick fouls, and sat out the entire second quarter, and was hit with a third foul in the opening minute of the second half.

"It was emotional,'' said Ochie, who finished with eight points, five rebounds and three blocks. "When I made that first basket, it meant a lot to me. It made me feel like I was back, back in the groove, back contributing to my team."

Then everyone else took over for Westover.

The Pats needed every man they could get to stop Monroe's Robert Arnold, who scored 24 to lead the Tornadoes in the first game. He was even better Friday, scoring 27 points, grabbing 15 rebounds and blocking three shots, while Brandon Blakely was the only other Tornado in double figures, scoring 10 points -- all in the first half Arnold staged one final run in the fourth quarter. Monroe was down, 60-46, after three, as Arnold bagged eight points and grabbed three rebounds and blocked a shot in a 13-2 run and closed the gap to 62-59 with an and-one play with 3:33 left in the game.

But then came Ball and Keaton and that unrelenting Westover pressure. Monroe turned the ball over four times in the next 90 seconds, and by that time Keaton and Ball had combined for three steals and six points, and Chris Wheeler had dropped in a pair of free throws to lift Westover to a 69-59 edge with 1:42 left.

It was over.

"They just out-played us,'' said Monroe coach Marquis Davis, who was furious with his team's effort. "We just didn't play worth a damn.''

Herald No. 1 Monroe is now 20-1, and will surely drop in the state poll, but there is no time to worry about rankings. The Tornadoes meet Herald No. 2 Terrell County tonight back at the Monroe gym in a rematch of a game Monroe won, 41-37, last month.

Everyone called the Westover-Monroe rematch Round 2, and for good reason. They could meet again for the region title and even in the state title game.

"This was a big win, but for us it is just a step to where we want to be,'' Keaton said. "We want to get back to that state title game.''