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January 18, 2016

Dragons can’t upend 1st place Plattsburgh

HOOPSJoe McIntyre/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland’s JP Reagan, left, shoots over SUNY Plattsburgh’s Ian Howard in the first half Saturday at Corey Gym
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By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Editor

With a chance to hand visiting Plattsburgh its first conference loss, the SUNY Cortland men’s basketball team may have been a bit too antsy.
The over-anxious Red Dragons misfired on their first 10 shots attempted in Saturday afternoon’s SUNY Athletic Conference clash of contenders, fell behind by double digits a mere five minutes into the game and never got closer than three points the rest of the way before dropping a 75-68 decision to the league leaders.
“We rushed everything,” said head coach Tom Spanbauer of the Red Dragons’ shooting woes, which including missing 34 of the 39 shots they launched from beyond the 3-point arc. That led to a setback that left Span’s squad 4-2 in conference play and 10-3 overall.
“But credit Plattsburgh. They did force us to go a little bit deeper into our offense and we weren’t necessarily as patient as we needed to be,” added Spanbauer. “We took a lot of ill-advised shots, but we also got a lot of good ones that we rushed which was probably an indication of their defense getting there quickly.”
Edward Correa scored 16 points, Xavier Thomas finished with 14 points and burly back-up big man Jonathan Patron added 13 points and nine rebounds in this wire-to-wire Cardinals victory. The Corey Gymnasium visitors shot 57 percent from the floor while grabbing a 41-30 halftime lead before improving to 6-0 atop the SUNYAC standings and 11-2 overall.
“We’re 11-2 and 6-0, and if somebody told me at the start of the season if you would take that I’d say where do I sign,” said pleased Plattsburgh coach Tom Curle after posting a seventh consecutive victory. “We still have a lot of young players who make mistakes, but we have enough leadership from our seniors that it’s a wash.”
CORTLAND’S MAJOR contributors came off the bench.
Senior JP Reagan scored 11 of his team-high 16 points in the opening half, including banking home Cortland’s first basket after a scoreless opening stretch of five minutes and three seconds. The 6-foot-6 senior out of Cortland High was the main reason why Cortland was within 41-30 at halftime, hitting 5-of-8 shots over those opening 20 minutes including a pair of 3-pointers.
Sophomore back-up forward Dre Hampton scored nine of his 12 points in the second half for Cortland, and came up big when the Cardinals opened up a 63-49 lead with a spurt of nine unanswered points with just over eight minutes to play.
The 6-foot-4 Bronx native had a put-back basket, a seemingly impossible tip-in of a missed TJ Hefele free throw and finished off an old fashion 3-point play to get that Cortland response started. When Reagan swished a pair of free throws, Cortland was within 63-58 with its own 9-0 spurt.
“It’s never easy when you play Cortland. They’ve got no quit in them. They’re always going to play tough and they’re always going to give us a battle,” said Plattsburgh’s Curle of Cortland’s second half revival.
Cortland had opened the stanza getting back-to-back 3-pointers from center Carrel Joseph and team scoring leader Blair Estarfaa. But only once in the second half did the Red Dragons have possession of the ball with a chance to tie — and the Red Dragons had two chances after Grequan Carter finished off a drive to get the hosts within 49-46.
ESTARFAA WAS UNABLE to land a 3-pointer and a fast break opportunity for two points was erased when point guard Shayne Martinez was called for an offensive foul — a call that still had Spanbauer shaking his head long afterwards.
Plattsburgh’s Correa responded with a 3-pointer and the closest Cortland would get the rest of the way was with 67-63 when Hampton finished off a fast break. From there, the Cardinals made 9-of-12 free throws over the final 1:03 to prevent any late Cortland comeback.
Joseph and Estarfaa each finished with 11 points for the Red Dragons, though Estarfaa — who came into the weekend having made 45 percent of his treys — was only 1-of-12 from beyond the arc and 4-of-19 shooting for the game. Senior guard Hefele had a solid seven-point, four-rebound and two-assists showing in his 10 minutes off the bench.
“They’re a real physical team, and I don’t think we had our best effort tonight in all aspects of the game,” said Spanbauer, as Cortland dropped two of three games for the week. “I don’t think we played as hard as we needed to, but we weren’t scoring so I think that affected our defensive intensity,”
The Red Dragons were slated to visit Geneseo this coming Tuesday night to break a third place tie, but that outing is now postponed due to the stabbing deaths of two student-athletes there this weekend.
SO NOW EVERYONE is chasing after the Cardinals, though this regular season still goes on three weeks into February.
“We’re a long, long, long way from that,” said Curle of capturing the top seed for the playoffs, though encouraged by recent road wins at second place Oneonta, Oswego and Cortland.
“It’s easy to get there, it’s hard to stay,” he said of being in first place. “So there’s a lot of basketball left.”

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