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February 20, 2016

Red Dragons happy streak-busters

HoopsBob Ellis/staff photographer
Blair Estarfaa (14), of SUNY Cortland, gets the ball knocked away by Keith Tyson, of Oswego, Friday night at Corey Gym.

By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Editor

The SUNY Cortland men’s basketball team did its part.
In order to have the chance to wind up alone in second place in the final SUNY Athletic Conference standings, and earn an important first round bye for the upcoming playoffs, the Red Dragons had to be proficient home court streak-busters in the final week of the regular season.
The Red Dragons were just that.
In Friday night’s Corey Gymnasium showdown of squads sharing second place in the standings, the Red Dragons snapped Oswego’s six-game winning streak with a 72-61 victory behind seniors JP Reagan and Blair Estarfaa. Forward Reagan had 22 points and six rebounds, while guard Estarfaa scored 17 points to go along with seven rebounds and four assists to celebrate Senior Night.
That success came two evenings after having ended Brockport’s five-game winning streak with a 73-72 victory at Corey Gym, Cortland High alum Reagan with a career-high 28 points in that vital triumph.
“We’re just hitting our stride, and it’s the perfect time to be playing our best ball,” said Estarfaa, as Cortland heads into the playoffs having won seven of its last eight contests. The Red Dragons close out the regular season 12-6 in conference play and 18-7 overall.
Now the Red Dragons get to play the waiting game this afternoon, rooting for regular season champion Plattsburgh to knock off host Geneseo. That would give Cortland the second seed and what head coach Tom Spanbauer calls a “critical” first round bye.
If Geneseo wins, the Knights would pull even with Cortland in second place and get the second seed based on a two-game regular season sweep of the Red Dragons. That would leave Cortland hosting a quarterfinal round game Tuesday back at Corey Gymnasium leading up to the Final Four being hosted by Plattsburgh this coming Friday and Saturday.
“No matter what, we have to go out and win some games next week,” Spanbauer was quick to point out. “If we want to win the conference tournament, it doesn’t matter where or who, we still have to win some games.”
OUTSIDE OF A LOPSIDED loss at Plattsburgh a week ago, Cortland has displayed a winning touch down the stretch of the regular season. Sophomore center Carrel Joseph contributed 11 points and seven rebounds to this latest victory.
“Coach put in a couple of new plays recently and the stuff is just clicking,” said Reagan, who is spending his senior campaign as a Red Dragon having been at RIT the previous three seasons. “Guys are being unselfish and moving the ball and it just makes it easier to play.”
Cortland’s defense also did the job against the Lakers, though Alex Rawa did score 19 points on 7-of-14 shooting while 6-foot-10 center Mykelle Krecko had 14 points, 13 rebounds and blocked a couple of Cortland shots.
Oswego (11-7 SUNYAC, 18-7 overall) arrived to town fresh off two huge wins, beating Geneseo 75-67 this past Tuesday after having pulled off a 90-74 upset win at Plattsburgh last Saturday behind a 38-point Brian Sortino scoring spree.
Sortino was held scoreless in the opening half against Cortland, and finished with only eight points on 3-of-13 shooting.
Things were tied up at 16-16 when a pair of Michael Kelly free throws midway through the first half put Cortland ahead to stay.
A nice little 10-2 Cortland run followed, causing Oswego head coach Jason Leone to ask for a time-out respite down 28-19 with 5:42 left in the half. A crowd-stirring dunk by Reagan after losing a defender with some baseline trickery off the dribble and an Estarfaa lengthy 3-point swish preceded that time-out.
DOWN 37-29 AT halftime, Oswego pulled to within 39-37 on a Keith Tyson’s baseline shot only to have Estarfaa answer with a 3-pointer curling off a screen.
Sortino finally scored on a spinning move in the lane and drew a foul, though he missed the ensuing free throw to leave the Lakers trailing 42-39 with with 16:20 remaining.
Cortland responded with a 12-2 scoring spurt triggered by treys made by Estarfaa and Joseph, and featuring a pair of three-point plays by Reagan after being fouled converting aggressive forays to the rim.
Oswego got no closer than eight points the rest of the way, pulling within 69-61 on a Krecko three-point play after scoring down low with 1:20 to go before Cortland’s James Morales made 1-of-2 free throws and Estarfaa a pair in the final minute to conclude the scoring.
“I think it started with our defense, as always,” said Estarfaa, Oswego shooting just 37 percent for the game against the Red Dragons including connecting on just 6-of-30 shots from 3-point range.
“We hadn’t been playing our best defense, but coming into these last couple of games we’re starting to lock up and that’s making easy shots for us. And JP Reagan is playing lights out, and that’s big for him,” the Buffalo native added.
“THAT’S PLAYOFF DEFENSE, “ said Spanbauer of his squad. “I thought the guys did a nice job when we changed our defenses executing the new defense and it helped keep them at bay.”
Cortland’s ability to keep plays alive through hustle, and being able convert baskets after working the shot clock down, did in Oswego, too.
“One of our goals was to win the intangibles, and we weren’t really sure how many intangible plays would be out there,” noted Spanbauer. “We went after a lot of those loose balls and that gave us some second chance possession which was really, really positive.”

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