February 16, 2011
These Dragons are growing up
The kids are doing just fine.
Or as SUNY Cortland sophomore point guard Jesse Winter puts it, “We’re a new team.”
With the regular season winding down, these youthful Red Dragons certainly seem to be getting the hang of it — if Tuesday night’s 81-59 home court basketball blowout of SUNY Athletic Conference rival Oneonta is any indication.
The impressive Corey Gymnasium romp by this collection of mostly freshmen and sophomores came after knocking off defending conference champion Plattsburgh on the road this past Saturday, when some torrid shooting produced a school-record tying 15 baskets from 3-point distance.
“We said let’s build off what happened in Plattsburgh, and I think we definitely built upon it,” said Cortland coach Tom Spanbauer after his team made 14 of their first 19 shots against Oneonta, including a half-dozen treys, while surging to a 35-14 lead over the opening 12 minutes.
Cortland has now won three of its last four games, the lone stumble coming in overtime at Potsdam after the Red Dragons squandered a late lead in regulation. Cortland is only 6-10 in conference play and 9-14 overall, but very eager to see what it can accomplish in the SUNYAC playoffs.
“I can definitely say that if a team is going to get hot at a certain time of year, it’s certainly the time to get hot right now,” said sparkplug Winter, seventh place Cortland hoping to wrap up one of eight playoff spots while concluding the regular season hosting Geneseo Friday night and Brockport Saturday afternoon.
“We can go as far as we take ourselves. I feel we’re a team that controls our own destiny,” added Winter. “As we showed, we beat Plattsburgh last week and they’re a top team in the conference, so I don’t think anything is stopping us except beating ourselves.”Winter and backcourt buddy Jeremy Smith led the way in avenging an earlier loss to Oneonta, being among five players scoring in double figures for the winners. Winter had 18 points and seven assists, while Smith chipped in with 16 points and three assists.
Both sophomores made 4-of-7 shots from 3-point range, and both had no turnovers. Cortland had just five five turnovers for the game, and four of those arrived after having opening up a 57-29 second half lead.
CORTLAND DISPLAYED its depth by getting 14 points from freshman center Kevin McMahon and 13 from sophomore forward Harrison Hefele off the bench, Hefele also grabbing at team-high six rebounds.
Freshman forward John Connolly added 12 points and five rebounds, while starting center Dan Sternkopf and McMahon helped hold down productive 6-foot-6 Oneonta center Derek Hahn.
Coming off a 23-point and 20-rebound performance in a win over Brockport, earning SUNYAC Player of the Week honors, Hahn has also hurt Cortland in the first meeting when he made 7-of-9 shots including the late clinching lay-up.
Though Hahn had 13 points and 15 rebounds this time around, he made just five of 14 shots.
“Dan’s improvement was really demonstrated in his ability to defend a center who had a 7-for-9 night against him the first time around,” said Spanbauer of the 6-foot-9 Sternkopf, a slender 215-pounder from Washingtonville. “I thought he did a good job of greeting Hahn early, on the catch, gapping him and then anticipating his turn. He went up after him and contested some shots.”
Sternkopf had four blocked shots for the game.
Shooting 63 percent in the first half — including going 6-for-8 from long range — and 55 percent for the game also made this an easy night for Cortland.
Starting with the frisky Connolly scoring the opening five points off a three-point play and a basket in the lane, Cortland could do no wrong. Winter had a trio of 3-pointers, Smith two treys and Hefele a three off the bench to build a 29-12 lead at the midway point that pretty much settled the issue.
“The reason we’re shooting the ball the way we’re shooting it now is the chemistry that we have within the team right now. The guys are getting the ball to guys when they’re open,” said Spanbauer.
“Guys are executing our sets, and in order to execute our sets it takes screeners, it takes cutters and it takes passers,” the coach added. “To the novice eye, the only thing they see is guys making the shot. There are parts to it, and the four parts are in place right now. We hope the fifth part is in place, too, that if we miss the shot we get the rebound.”
“WE’RE HARD TO guard,” said Winter. “We don’t have one shooter or two shooters, we have three, four of rive shooters, so we’re definitely a hard team to scout. On any different night any player on our team can put up a big amount of points or contribute in a certain way, whether it’s rebound or assists.”
Cortland collected 18 assists against Oneonta, though the visitors did have a slight 34-30 rebounding edge including 15 off the offensive glass. Besides Hahn though, Terrence Parker was the only other double figure scoring with 15 points — and most of those came in the late going.
Getting to know each other better has helped Cortland click of late.
“Early in the season I really didn’t know some of the younger guys on the team,” said Winter of the improved team chemistry. “Certain guys I’m starting to get a feel for their game, where they can be dominate in certain spots, where they can attack, opposed to earlier in the season where I didn’t quite know guys’ roles. Now it’s really a different story.”
“We just want to continue playing the way we’ve been playing and hopefully once again we can build on this,” said Spanbauer, looking ahead to Geneseo and Brockport. “We feel we can compete with anyone in the league, but we still have to go out and adjust things and keep improving.”
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