February 12, 2013
Happy finale for Filzen
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
Groton head coach John Filzen takes a timeout with his team during Monday’s game with Marathon, his final game after 28 seasons directing the Indians’ program.
MARATHON — It was a memorable night in Interscholastic Athletic Conference North Small School Division boys’ basketball Monday.
While Marathon Central was honoring three senior players at McDonald Gymnasium and prepping for sectional play, the visitors from Groton were playing a final game that had an extra special meaning — being the last contest for Indians’ head coach John Filzen.
Coach Filzen agreed to stay on for one final season for his seniors, and his team struggled through a 7-for-21 shooting effort in the first half in this game rescheduled from last Friday’s snow-out. His crew came together in the second half, however, hitting 11-of-21 shots and rallying for a 61-55 victory to send the 28-year veteran out with one final victory.
The Indians close out the season at 5-11 in league and overall play. The Olympians limp into a Wednesday night non-league clash at Oneonta before beginning sectional play at 6-10, 6-11 overall. Tip-off time Wednesday is 5 p.m.
Leading the Groton rally from the 35-26 halftime deficit was senior Damian Young with his double-double of 15 points and 16 rebounds.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game after losing to them the last time we play,” Young said. “We just wanted to get this last one for coach. He is such a great guy. He has done so much for our community. He deserved one more win.
“He brought most of us up as sophomores,” he continued. “We wanted to do so much better for him this season. Things just happened and it came down to working hard for him at the end. Coach Filzen is just a great guy.”
“WE JUST WEREN’T making open shots in the first half,” Filzen said. “I felt that was the biggest difference. The kids made the adjustments tonight when we switched defenses as well. That was something we have struggled with this season, but tonight, they got it right. They really responded.
“Damian has been our best player the last two weeks,” he added. “His been strong inside with two hands on every rebound. He’s kept a great attitude and been very unselfish. He made some clutch free throws and he handled the ball to have break their pressure. Damian was right after the game. He had a great game, but it really was a team effort tonight.”
Marathon jumped out to a 10-2 lead in the first quarter and senior Kody Barry (11 points) and Isaiah Brooks each knocked down a 3-pointers before seniors Dan Wickham and Jeff Contri scored inside buckets.
Groton closed out the quarter with a 10-6 edge to trail 16-12 at the end of the quarter. Donnie Evener hit two treys in that stretch with Taj McKnight and Young working the paint.
Zach Brandstadt opened the second quarter with a 3-pointer for the Olympians. It wasn’t until his second and third treys of the quarter that Marathon could breathe a little easier with a 31-21 cushion with 3:23 left in the half.
The Indians tried to cut the deficit, but trailed by nine points at the intermission. Marathon hit 14-of-35 shots in the first half. Groton struggled hitting just 7-of-21 attempts.
THE SECOND HALF had a totally different look. Groton hit its first four shots in the third quarter, starting with a steal and lay-in by McKnight. Young was fouled driving to the basket. He made the shot and the free throw. McKnight drained his only 3-pointer a minute later and the Indians trailed 35-34.
After Marathon missed a fifth straight shot, Mitchell Stewart completed a Groton fastbreak with a lay-up as the Indians took a 36-35 lead. Marathon coach Jim Holland called a time-out in hopes of switching the momentum.
The Olympians still struggled. Evener buried a 3-pointer for a 39-35 Groton advantage before Cody Morrison scored on a lay-up for Marathon.
Young got an offensive putback, but Barry drained a 3-pointer with 2:14 left in the quarter to knot the score at 41-41. Contri scored inside to put the Olympians back on top 43-41, but the Indians inside play delivered with 33 seconds left in the quarter. Zach Ossit grabbed a rebound on the defensive end, drove the length of the floor and scored on a driving lay-up. Ossit was fouled on the play and sank the free throw for a 44-43 Groton lead. The Indians shot 7-for-12 from the field in the quarter while the Olympians made just 3-of-16 shots.
Groton continued to hold a hot hand in the opening stages of the fourth quarter. Ossit hit two 3-pointers and Evener connected once as the Indians lead grew to 53-43 with 5:21 to play.
Contri hit a jumper to end a five-minute scoring drought when Contri again scored inside with 5:05 to play. Dan Lincoln added a free throw as the Olympians closed to within 53-46 with 4:36 to go.
NEITHER SIDE SCORED for the next two minutes before Contri drove inside and scored to cut the Groton advantage to 53-48. The Indians turned the ball over and Barry buried a 3-pointer and the Olympians trailed 53-51 with 1:44 to go.
Ossit hit a 3-pointer for the Indians and Brandstadt countered with a driving lay-in with 51 seconds left as Groton clung to a 56-53 lead.
Marathon called time-out after the bucket. Filzen told his team, “This is your moment.”
The Olympians needed to foul, but they chose the wrong guy on this night. Young hit both ends of a one-and-one for a 58-53 lead. Brandstadt was allowed to drive the lane for an easy two and Young was again fouled after the inbounds pass with 30 seconds to go. Young coolly sank both shots of the one-and-one for a 60-55 cushion.
McKnight stole the ball from Marathon with 24 seconds to go and was fouled immediately. McKnight made one-for-two tosses and that would be the ball game.
McKnight and Evener each finished their final high school game with 15 points for Groton. Ossit netted 12 points as Groton made four-of-nine shots from the fields in the fourth quarter and 11-of-21 second-half shots.
Marathon shot just nine times in the fourth quarter, making five of them, but were just eight-for-25 in the half. Contri led the Olympians with 14 points and six rebounds, Brandstadt added 13 points to the Olympians attack.
“WE JUST SETTLED for chucking threes,” a frustrated Jim Holland said of his Olympians’ second-half struggles. “ We just threw shots up. We stopped going to Jeff (Contri) inside. We stopped moving the ball around. It was simply I am going to drive to the basket.
“It was simply a case for Groton wanting the game more than us,” he added. We would have thought they would want one last win at home. John’s kids played hard for him in one last game. Their intensity killed us.”
With his final game in the books, what are Filzen’s plans now?
“I’ll probably drive my wife crazy,” he chuckled. “I’ll find something to do, I’ll stay active because I am an active person.”
One of Filzen’s friends is SUNY Cortland men’s basketball coach Tom Spanbauer, who made the trip to Marathon for the finale. Asked if there could be some time helping Spanbauer be on the horizon for the Red Dragon alumnus, Filzen said: “I’m not good enough to be on that staff. Those guys are exceptional, but I’ll still go watch their games.”
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