February 11, 2009
Dragons in thick of things
Oneonta dumped from 1st place, 72-64
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland’s Will Coston (31) converts on a first half fast break against SUNY Oneonta’s Maurice Lane (5) Tuesday night. Coston scored 15 points in 72-64 Red Dragons victory.
Knocking visiting Oneonta out of first place was just one enjoyable aspect of this latest bit of basketball success achieved by SUNY Cortland men.
Keeping their own first place ambitions alive and well was something else the Red Dragons could savor after Tuesday night’s 72-64 Corey Gymnasium triumph, pulled out when Cortland went on a 20-10 run over the final seven minutes of play to break open a tightly contested battle.
“We knew we were one of the top teams in the league. Now we’re just showing it to everyone,” said sophomore guard Ron Evans, the southpaw from New Hartford who came off the bench to score 12 points while making a bunch of big plays down the stretch.
Cortland has captured seven of its last eight SUNY Athletic Conference contests and is within sniffing distance of first place.
Oneonta and Oswego started the day sharing the top spot in the standings, and were both knocked off. Geneseo handled host Oswego with surprising 91-61 ease to move into first place alone at 9-3. Oswego and Oneonta have matching 9-4 marks, while the Red Dragons and Buffalo State — whose Bengals entertain Cortland this Friday night — are right in the the thick of things at 8-4 as the final two weeks of the regular season are underway.
“We’re trying to fly under the radar,” said grinning Cortland coach Tom Spanbauer after getting five players in double figures and collecting 17 assists as a team to avenge a December loss in Oneonta. “Our guys have had the belief all year they could get it together and win a league championship. We may have started a bit too late for that, but we want to be playing our best basketball in the final two weeks in February and we seem to be headed in that direction.”
Junior guard Will Coston had 15 points and six assists in leading the Red Dragons (11-10 overall) in this victory, though it was his defensive presence that featured five steals that really created Oneonta (14-8) headaches.
“Always, always,” said Coston of putting in the effort on the defensive end. “Defense is a big thing. It keeps us going. Even if you’re not shooting well, defense is going to keep you in games.”
That’s why the quick-footed Coston was not too concerned that the final four games on the Cortland schedule, starting with Friday’s trip to Buffalo State, are all on the road. “We play defense everywhere, so we’ll be all right,” he said.
CORTLAND WASN’T too shabby on the offensive end against Oneonta either, especially shooting 50 percent from the floor in the second half. The Red Dragons even made their free throws, going 5-for-6 from the line in the final minute to protect the lead. Turning the ball over just four times in the second half was also crucial.
On a night when team scoring leader Carson Niehoff struggled with his shot, going 1-for-14 from the floor with a lone 3-pointer, other Red Dragons stepped up including some impeccable inside passwork from Cortland big men.
Evans, guard Juan Miolan and forward Paul Oliver all finished with 12 points, while 6-foot-6 Mike Lewis added 10 points — eight of those coming in the opening minutes. Oliver had eight rebounds, Lewis seven rebounds and three assists and 6-foot-8 sophomore Chris Milke came off the bench to score six points and block three shots — a couple of key baskets helping out in the late going.
Oneonta was just as balanced, coming a point shy of having all five starters in double figures. Guard Maurice Lane had 17 points including a thunderous second half fast break dunk off a Cortland turnover. Center Brian Beckford and smooth forward Michael Grimes had 11 points and eight rebounds apiece, guard Shane Gillette tossed in 10 points and forward Ryan Morin added nine in a losing effort.
The visitors trailed 10-4, 18-9 and 20-14 in the early moments, but this game was tied at 28-28 at the break when Cortland’s Miolan and Oneonta’s Gillette traded 3-pointers over the final minute.
The second half was up for grabs, with Oneonta going on an 8-0 run including the Lane dunk to go up 49-45 and cause Spanbauer to call for a timeout with 10:36 left to play. Cortland recovered, though the visitors were still up 54-52 with just over five minutes to play when Morin swished a short shot.
That’s when Cortland took over, starting with a Oliver three-point play in the paint off a Niehoff assist that gave Cortland a 55-54 lead. The Red Dragons would never trail again, as reserves Evans and Milke played prominent roles.
MILKE BLOCKED a shot, Evans drained a trey and Cortland led 58-54, though 6-foot-5 Oneonta big man Beckford answered with his own 3-point shot with just under five minutes to play.
Evans turned a midcourt steal into the fast break pass that set-up a Coston three-point play with 3:31 left, though Lane drove to the basket to get Oneonta within 61-59 with just over three minutes to play.
That’s when Evans hit a pull-up jumper along the baseline at 2:42, Milke forced Beckford into a travel, Milke scored off a pass from a driving Evans at 1:57 and Milke crashed the offensive boards for a third straight unanswered Cortland basket with 1:03 left to play.
That burst provided a 67-59 lead which Cortland protected from the free throw line, Coston and Evans hitting four straight freebies and Niehoff making the front end of another 1-and-1 to help close the show.
“We’re doing all the little things and it makes a big difference,” said Evans of how Cortland has turned things around of late. Getting contributions from so many different players has also been crucial, too.
“We wanted to make sure everyone who came into the basketball game contributed something, and that’s what happened,” said Spanbauer, Cortland’s bench out-scoring Oneonta’s 18-6.
Cortland 72, Oneonta 64
Oneonta (14-8) 64: Gillette 3-5 2-2 10, Lane 8-15 0-0 17, Grimes 5-10 0-0 11, Beckford 4-14 2-6 11, Morin 4-8 1-1 9, Walsh 0 0-0 00, Hooks 1-2 0-0 3, Talbot 0-2 3-4 3, Fitzgerald 0-2 0-0 0. Team totals: 25-58 8-14 64
Cortland (11-10) 72: Coston 6-10 3-3 15, Lewis 5-7 0-2 10, Miolan 5-11 0-0 12, Niehoff 1-14 2-4 5, Oliver 4-8 4-5 12, Evans 3-5 4-4 12, B. Manning 0-2 0-0 0, Milke 3-4 0-0 6. Team totals: 27-61 13-18 72
SUNY Oneonta 28 36 — 64
SUNY Cortland 28 44 — 72
3-point goals: Oneonta (6-14)- Gillette 2-2, Lane 1-4, Grimes 1-2, Beckford 1-4, Hooks 1-2. Cortland (5-12)- Coston 0-1, Miolan 2-3, Niehoff 1-4, Evans 2-2, B. Manning 0-2
Rebounds: Oneonta 37 (Grimes 8, Beckford 8), Cortland 32 (Oliver 8, Lewis 7). Assists: Cortland 17 (Coston 6), Oneonta 13 (Gillette 4, Lane 4). Team fouls: Oneonta 15, Cortland 11
Officials: Donohue, Palumb, Bowers
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