February 6, 2016

Dragons pull out crucial victory


Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland’s Blair Estarfaa drives to the basket against Buffalo State’s Nico McLean in the first half Friday at Corey Gym.

Sports Editor

After having plenty of second half success by simply driving to the basket, with the game on the line that was the simple SUNY Cortland game plan.
So senior forward JP Reagan was able to draw a foul with 4.4 seconds left to play attacking the rim and then calmly made both ensuing free throws to enable the Red Dragons to pull out a 63-62 win over Buffalo State on Friday night.
Given a reprieve when the visiting Bengals missed twice from the free throw line with 25.9 seconds left to play, the Red Dragons used a time-out six seconds later to give head coach Tom Spanbauer the chance to plot his team’s final possession trailing by a single point in this crucial SUNY Athletic Conference contest.
“That was the play we set up,” said the 6-foot-6 Reagan, who was isolated against a Buffalo State defender before driving the lane and getting hacked on his shot attempt. “We ran it before and I kind of forced a shot and missed it. Coach asked me if I was ready, I said yeah and he said we’re coming back to you. He trusted me and it paid off.”
While evoking thoughts of his playing days at Cortland High, when he was successful in a similar situation in a 2011 game against powerhouse Jamesville-DeWitt, Reagan cleanly swished both free throws to finish off a 13-point outing.
After both teams used time-outs, all Cortland had to withstand was a runner by Buffalo State’s Ryniek Holloway that was off the mark to improve to 7-5 in conference play, 13-6 overall and stay in contention for a post-season playoff spot before a good-sized Corey Gymnasium gathering on President Bitterbaum Appreciation Night.
And a modest two-game losing streak was over, too, as the Red Dragons are now part of a three-team third place logjam in the conference standings.
It marked the second time Reagan has shot down the Bengals, having hit a decisive 3-pointer in overtime to give the Red Dragons an 84-83 win in Buffalo back in December.
In a game that was close throughout, outside of a 3-pointer from the right flank swished by Blair Estarfaa — on a fast break off a Grequan Carter feed — most of Cortland’s second half points came on determined drives to the basket.
“THEY WERE COMING out to our shooters, so that gap going to the basket is going to be wide open. So we all started to look for that and expose that,” said senior Estarfaa, a Buffalo native who finished with a game-high 23 points including a pair of 3-pointers.
Buffalo State’s 6-foot-7 junior center Jordan Chateau was in game-long foul trouble and played just 17 minutes before fouling out. Starting forward Mike Henry also fouled out down the stretch for the visitors.
“That was crucial,” noted Estarfaa. “They have great rim protectors and when we get them out of there early it’s almost free reign at the hoop.”
“Part of our game plan was to drive it at them,” said Coach Spanbauer. “We were utilizing a lot of our entries that put our guys in some one-on-one situations to drive it at them. We did finish a lot of balls, but we also missed a few lay-ups that could have made life a little easier.”
Cortland shot just 33 percent from the floor, made just 4-of-18 shots from beyond the 3-point arc, and still finished off a season sweep of the high-scoring Bengals (6-7 SUNYAC, 12-8 overall). Some 21-of-27 free throw shooting came in especially handy.
Team scoring leader Estarfaa was 7-for-8 from the stripe, Reagan made all four of his free throw attempts and senior point guard TJ Hefele was 4-for-5 during his 11-point showing.
Though explosive Buffalo State forward Lovell Smith had 17 points and 11 rebounds, joined in double figured by Nick McLean with 11 and Henry with 10, the visitors were held well under their 86 points per game scoring average as Cortland was able to control the tempo.
BUFFALO STATE held the biggest first half lead at 24-19 after McLean finished off an old fashioned three-pint play, but back-to-back treys by Reagan and Hefele got Cortland turned around. The Bengals lead was only 30-28 at the break.
After five early second half lead changes, Cortland surged ahead. Four consecutive Estarfaa free throws built a 61-59 lead with 3:37 left to play — but those were the last Cortland points leading up to Reagan’s game-winning free throws.
Smith worked the offensive boards to put Buffalo State up 62-61 with 1:28 left to play, and after Cortland failed to convert at the rim the visitors came up with a big offensive rebound by Henry moments later after a missed 3-pointer. Cortland was forced to foul Kevin Marmolejos, who missed by free throws.
Hefele grabbed a crucial rebound in traffic and the stage was set for Cortland to pull out a much-needed victory.
“It was one of those games that hopefully will inject us with a lot of confidence and a lot of energy now with six games left,” said Spanbauer.
Of course, with Fredonia visiting Corey Gymnasium this afternoon at 4 p.m. Cortland can think back to last weekend. After coming up with an emotional Friday night victory over Oneonta, the Red Dragons were beaten the following day by a New Paltz team sitting next-to-last in the conference standings.
Spanbauer expects his team has learned prior to facing Fredonia, a team Cortland nipped 75-71 back in December.
“I would say, heading into tomorrow, the head coach shouldn’t have to say one thing about coming prepared,” the coach said. “And I anticipate our kids will be ready. It’s the same scenario, and a team (in Fredonia) that’s playing a lot better.”
DRAGON TALES: This was a night to laud school president Erik Bitterbaum, with students receiving t-shirts to celebrate his devotion to the athletic program and students. Representatives from other Cortland teams presented Bitterbaum with sports memorabilia at halftime of the men’s contest.... Spanbauer pleased with how Red Dragon reserves helped out, including Jerell DeCaille coming up with a pair of rebounds while making a first half appearance. The sophomore had only appeared in six games previously.... Buffalo State held a 47-40 rebounding edge, getting 14 off the offensive glass. Though held scoreless, starting Cortland center Carrel Joseph did lead Cortland with nine rebounds and blocked three shots.

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