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January 19, 2013

 

Dragons surge by first-place Knights

BasketballBob Ellis/staff photographer
Garen Spendjian (right) of SUNY Cortland battles Connor Fedge of SUNY Geneseo for a loose ball under the Cortland basket Friday night.

By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Editor

After these two conference contenders battled through an intense opening half that that featured nine lead changes, no one expected a mere nine minutes into the second stanza that SUNY Cortland men would be sitting on a 17-point lead.
But that is what transpired on Friday evening at Corey Gymnasium, where senior guards Jeremy Smith and Jesse Winter triggering an early second half surge that carried the host Red Dragons to an eventual 79-73 victory over SUNY Athletic Conference basketball leader Geneseo.
“We just had to set the tone,” said Smith, who scored the opening second half basket and then assisted on a Kevin McMahon lay-up off a Geneseo turnover that began this crucial siege for the vengeful hosts. “We didn’t feel like we played as good as we could in the first half, so we wanted to come out and put it on them.”
Held scoreless in the first half, Winter warmed up with a corner 3-pointer, a converted drive down the lane and a swished top of the key trey before feeding McMahon for another lay-up during Cortland’s early second half success.
So when Dan Sternkopf — the 6-foot-9 senior center who contributed five blocked shots on the defensive end including back-to-back second half rejections — tipped in a missed Winter shot, Cortland’s narrow 29-26 halftime lead had swelled to 45-32 in a four and a half minute blink of an eye.
“It was like we forgot how to play defense,” said Geneseo coach Steve Minton of those early second half moments that did in his club.
“Winter is awfully good, and he got going. They got a couple of quick buckets right there and that just gave them the momentum,” Minton added. “Basketball is an ebb and flow game, and they were flowing pretty good there for a while. We got in a flow at the end, but it was too little, too late.”
After having lost at Geneseo 70-66 back in early December, this bit of Cortland revenge has the SUNYAC first place chase up for grabs. While Geneseo is now 6-2 in conference play, Cortland, Oswego, and Plattsburgh are all a half-game back with 5-2 league marks. Oswego visits Geneseo this evening, while Cortland has a similar 8 p.m. date tonight in Brockport.
“The conference is as deep as I’ve ever seen it,” marveled Minton.
SMITH FINISHED WITH a game-high 23 points as Cortland (11-3 overall) won its third straight outing, while Winter’s 17 second half points featured 9-of-10 made free throws. Junior forward McMahon had 16 points on 7-of-9 shooting from the floor and grabbed a team-high four rebounds.
Back-up guard Lamard Herron had a 3-pointer from the corner and McMahon a three-point play working the offensive boards during that early second half Cortland success, too. When Smith knocked down Cortland’s fourth 3-pointer of the half, the Red Dragons had their largest lead at 56-39 with 11:23 left to play.
Geneseo (10-5) battled back, led by sophomore forward Gordon Lyons who had 17 points and 12 rebounds.The Knights pulled to within six points on five different occasions down the stretch, but got no closer.
Guard Connor Fedge scored 15 points and came up with four steals, forward Ryan Riefenhauser added 11 points before fouling out and forward Jordan Jones had 10 points in a losing cause.
Geneseo was also just 1-for-13 from 3-point range before Andy Drescher out of Syracuse’s Christian Brothers Academy and James McKenna hit treys in the final seconds.
“We made a couple of huge baskets when it was crucial execution time, so we did do that,” said Cortland coach Tom Spanbauer, the Red Dragons making 8-of-10 free throws over the final 1:11 to prevent a Geneseo comeback. “We would have made life a little bit easier if we made some critical (defensive) stops on top of the buckets we made, but we just started traded baskets with them.”
THE TEAMS TRADED baskets throughout the first half, where Geneseo led 10-7 early and Cortland 24-20 later on. The Knights were up 26-24 on a Lyons lay-up with 3:30 left in the half and would not score again in the stanza. A 3-pointer by Harrison Hefele and a Smith backdoor cut converting Garen Spendjian pass into a basket created Cortland’s 29-26 halftime lead.
At halftime, Spanbauer stressed wanting fewer Geneseo lay-ups and continued aggression on offense — and that’s what he got. “We just said lets keep being aggressive and attack, and they came out obviously with some confidence and that jump-started us for the half,” he said.
“At halftime (Coach Spanbauer) just stressed the intangibles, because in the first half we didn’t play as well as we could and they were getting all the 50-50 balls, and we had to work at it,” said Smith “I wanted to come out and provide a spark for our team, because we needed that.”
With his big second half, Winter now has 1,313 career points over his four seasons at Cortland – becoming only the sixth player school history to surpass that 1,300-point milestone.

 

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