January 20, 2014
Classic comeback for Purple Tigers
Whelan’s 3-pointer conquers Corcoran
SYRACUSE — On the verge of a third straight basketball loss, Zach Whelan and his Cortland High cohorts came up with a memorable comeback in the Pathfinder Bank Zebra Classic finale on Sunday night.
Trailing the Cougars of Corcoran by eight points with just under three minutes left to play at Onondaga Community College’s Allyn Gymnasium, the Purple Tigers came roaring back to pull out a 76-74 victory capped by Whelan swishing the go-ahead 3-point shot with just 5.6 seconds left.
That was the last of Whelan’s 25 points and his sixth trey of the evening, as the Purple Tigers improved to 8-4 with the non-conference escape. The senior guard scored eight of the Purple Tigers’ final 10 points to ignite the rally, with the winners also feasting on three late and costly Corcoran turnovers.
Teddy Phillips added 13 points to the CHS victory, while Quinn Kennedy finished with nine points and a team-leading seven rebounds. Sage Brown and Nick Craig scored eight apiece, all eight of Craig’s points coming from the free throw line.
“I was very pleased with how well our team kept its poise,” Cortland coach Jeremy Milligan said. “We never gave up and made plays down the stretch.
“Zach has been struggling shooting as of late,” he added, Whelan having made only three of his last 19 attempts from 3-point range in Cortland’s two losses last week. “Tonight he changed that around and played with confidence and led the team offensively.”
Marquis Gilbert topped Corcoran (6-6) with 22 points, while DeVaughn Gainey finished with 21. Whelan and Gainey were named the most valuable players for their respective sides in the last of five Zebra Classic games on Sunday’s docket.
Coming off of OHSL Freedom Division losses to Bishop Ludden and Syracuse CBA, Cortland had surged to capture a 41-34 halftime advantage against Corcoran, only to see the Cougars out of Syracuse use a 24-point third quarter to move in front 58-57 heading into the final stanza. Sophomore guard Gilbert had seven points during that Corcoran rally and Romello Baxtron connected on a pair of threes off the bench.
The Corcoran lead grew to 66-57 early in the fourth quarter and the Cougars kept a little breathing room at 74-66 with 3:30 left in the contest. With tough defense which helped for Corcoran into some turnovers, Cortland held Corcoran scoreless from this point on.
Craig hit his final two free throws to pull the Purple Tigers to within 74-73. Phillips grabbed the clutch defensive rebound on the next Corcoran possession and he drove to the basket before dishing the ball off to Whelan in the corner for the winning shot.
“Our team recognized his hot hand and delivered the ball to him. Though we didn’t call a timeout in our final scoring play, all players and coaches knew exactly who we wanted to shoot the final shot,” said Milligan. “I give our players all the credit for waiting until we could deliver the ball to our biggest threat. Zach never thought about the pressure of taking that shot with under 10 seconds, he just catches and shoots without thinking about much. This is what makes him so deadly. I was very happy for Zach, this will be a game he never forgets.”
After a Corcoran timeout following Whelan’s go-ahead shot, CHS seemed to have things wrapped up when the Cougars threw an errant pass out of bounds with 0.7 seconds on the clock.
The Purple Tigers tried a deep in-bounds pass that hit the Allyn Gymnasium ceiling, which gave Corcoran one last chance to get off a shot. After Corcoran and CHS each used a timeout for final scheming, the Cougars got off a 3-point shot following a long crosscourt pass that fell short of the mark with Phillips in the face of the shooter.
A weakness for Cortland much of this season as been foul shooting, but the Purple Tigers changed that in this game. Bolstered by Craig’s 8-for-8 effort, Cortland made 18-of-23 chances from the charity stripe.
“I’m very proud of the way our team came out and competed against a talented Corcoran team,” Milligan said. “If we replicate this energy, intensity, and execution, we will be difficult opponent for any team.”
Cortland will return to OHSL Freedom Division action Friday, hosting Mexico with the JV game tipping off at 5:30 p.m. It will be Mentor Dedication Night for the CHS players.
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