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January 23, 2010

 

Defense steps up for Dragons

Basketball

Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Fredonia’s Sean Donahue pressures SUNY Cortland’s Ben Nagle in the first half of Friday’s Corey Gym clash. Nagle grabbed 14 rebounds in the 58-47 Red Dragons victory.

By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Editor

Some tenacious defense is the constant that could carry SUNY Cortland men to a streak of basketball success.
Facing a perilous SUNY Athletic Conference schedule stretch that has the Red Dragons taking to the court five times over a nine-day stretch, the Red Dragons defense certainly did its job in a 58-47 victory over Fredonia on Friday night.
Junior Dusty Marshall responded to his first appearance in the starting line-up by scoring 13 of Cortland’s opening 15 points to put the Corey Gymnasium hosts in front for keeps, a trio of 3-point swishes among that early barrage. He would lead all scorers with 18 points.
Sophomore Brian Manning, whose place Marshall had taken in the starting line-up, scored all 11 of his points in the second half to provide a nice offensive pick-me-up as the Red Dragons improved to 4-3 in conference play and 8-6 overall.
But holding the Blue Devils under 50 points, Fredonia shooting just 37 percent from the floor, was more crucial to this Cortland triumph in the eyes of Coach Tom Spanbauer. That defensive effort is something the Red Dragons hope to continue when Buffalo State visits this afternoon at 4 p.m. and with three league affairs slated for next week.
Sure, this defensive task was made easier by a couple of Fredonia injuries. Top scorer and dangerous 3-point shooter Brad Cooper was injured and unavailable, and starting junior forward Julius Bryant hobbled to the bench in the opening moments with a leg injury and never returned.
With those two double-digit scorers mere spectators, Fredonia struggled for points while joining Cortland with a 4-3 third place SUNYAC record and falling to 6-7 overall.
“I don’t want to take anything away from our guys defensively,” said Spanbauer when it was suggested the defense benefitted from not having to contend with Cooper or Bryant. “I thought we did a good job of executing defensively both in our two-zone and man in the critical middle stretch of the second half.
“Really our lead was built on our defense because we kept getting additional possessions, so that was nice to see,” he added.
THAT CRUCIAL SECOND second half stretch Spanbauer was referring to was an 11-0 run that opened up a 54-35 lead with just under five minutes to play. Back-to-back 3-pointers by Marshall and Manning capped that successful spurt.
“Coach kind of told me to go out there and start shooting, so that’s what I did. Luckily, I was on today,” said Elmira Southside product Manning, who was 5-for-7 from the floor after not taking a shot during his five-minute first half stint.
“Dusty did it in the beginning, at the start of the game, and luckily I was on in the second half,” he added. “Really, our team defense is what did it. In the first half we played outstanding defense, and it all comes from that.”
Center James Kane had 13 points and Greg MacBride 10 added for Fredonia, who did have an early 7-5 lead with Amir Billups hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key. That’s when Marshall drained back-to-back treys, Ron Evans made a pair of free throws and Marshall turned a steal into a lay-up. Cortland was up 15-7 and never trailed again.
The lead was 27-21 at halftime and the closest Fredonia would get in the second half was 34-29 before the gangly 6-foot-3 Manning got warmed up and the Red Dragons pulled away.
After a few games in the starting line-up, Manning didn’t mind coming off the bench to contribute.
“It doesn’t really both me. I trust the coach’s decision and he starts who should be starting,” said Manning. “Statistically, I’ve been doing better coming off the bench, so that’s fine with me. Whatever helps us win. I’m not really looking for anything.”
“That’s what we’ve got in regards of trying to figure out where the best people fit in the rotation,” said Spanbauer. “It’s important to try to get good starts because it gives you energy, but then it’s equally important that you’re bringing people off the bench who are giving you a lift as well, and we had both parts.
THOUGH MARSHALL and Manning were the lone double figure point producers, there were other contributors to this victory.
“Jeremy Smith was a calming influence off the bench at the point guard position,” said Coach Spanbauer, the freshman out of the Bronx with five points. “And Ben Nagle just had an outstanding game. He had 14 rebounds, so his effort was just outstanding. And he did a lot of other intangible things that aren’t showing up on the stat sheet, so he was outstanding.”
Things that did show up on the state sheet for former football player Nagle were a pair of assists and three blocked shots. The senior forward scored six points, too, while senior starting center Paul Oliver added seven points.
Still, the defensive effort stole the show this time.
“We have to be consistent on the defensive side, making sure we’re guarding teams,” said Spanbauer. “The other thing is I’d still like to see us be a little lower on the turnover side of things. We had 17 and I bet seven of them were a combination of just illegal screens and A-to-B passes, fundamental entry pass to the offense.”