February 23, 2011
Dragons' playoff mettle gets tested
Women rally to bump off Buffalo State
Not that SUNY Cortland women ever wanted to find out how they would respond to a pressure situation like this.
But with their post-season basketball existence in jeopardy Tuesday night on their Corey Gymnasium home floor, the Red Dragons’ resolve was certainly tested while trailing spunky Buffalo State heading into crunch time in this SUNY Athletic Conference playoff quarterfinal round challenge.
That the defending conference champions were able to pull out a 66-57 victory over the Bengals — clutch 3-point shots by the junior backcourt duo of Brittany Cohen and Molly Byrne looming large — was certainly a positive to carry into the conference’s Final Four being hosted by regular season champion Geneseo on Friday and Saturday.
“Even though we get down we can crawl right back,” said Cohen, the point guard who helped save the day with 20 points and eight assists. “Defensively, we just made it a point to lock down their top scorers so we could get steals and get out and run and score. We just picked it up.”
What had been a 16-point first half Cortland lead turned into a six-point deficit midway through the second stanza, and the Red Dragons still trailed by two points with 2:48 left to play before stepping up when it counted most.
Buffalo State senior center Dee Layne flipped in a basket after latching onto one of the 26, yes 26, offensive rebounds collected by the aggressive visitors and then made one of two free throws moments later to give her Bengals that 55-53 lead at that 2:48 juncture.
That’s when Cohen found shooting room at the top of the key behind a pick and swished a 3-pointer to put Cortland in front for keeps with 2:28 remaining. “I saw her go under (the screen), so I felt like I should take it,” she said of that crucial connection.
Just over a minute later, Cohen was driving the lane before finding an open Byrne in the corner for another clutch trey. Junior Micki Volpini added two more free throws after securing a defensive rebound with 55.2 seconds left and Cortland had reeled off eight unanswered points at the most critical of times to earn a trip to the semifinals.
With all four top seeds victorious last night, Friday’s semifinal match-ups will have third-seed New Paltz (16-10) taking on second-seed Oneonta (20-6) at 6 p.m. followed by fourth-seed Cortland (19-6) facing top-seeded host Geneseo (23-3) at 8 p.m. A champion will be crowned at 4 o’clock Saturday afternoon.
“FIRST OFF, IT WAS a great game. It was a great tournament game and Buffalo State played really well in the second half,” said Cortland coach Jeannette Mosher, who got 15 points from junior center Megan Maycumber and 14 clutch points from senior forward Jennifer Patten to stay alive. Maycumber also had career highs of 12 rebounds and eight blocked shots to nearly achieve a statistical triple-double.
“Thank goodness we made some shots and got some defensive stops of our own. There were just times when we were playing defense for 90 seconds,” added Mosher, Buffalo State’s offensive rebounding prowess making Cortland’s defense work harder. “It was just a great game and I’m glad we came out on top.”
Sophomore Buffalo State forward Staci McElroy out of Saratoga Springs provided a game-long Cortland headache with 26 points and eight rebounds. Sarah Thompson did not miss a shot while adding 12 points before fouling out, and Layne finished with nine points and 13 rebounds for the gritty visitors.
“This is a special group,” said fifth year head coach Sue Roarke, the Bengals seeing a five-game winning streak and a 15-10 season come to an end. “We don’t always have the most talent on the floor, but a lot of times I think we’ve got the most heart.”
Buffalo State showed that after falling behind early, Cortland getting lay-ups on their first four possessions for a quick 8-2 getaway. The lead grew to 25-9, forcing Buffalo State to call for a time-out with 7:34 on the clock. That break came after Maycumber hustled downcourt twice to beat the Bengals defense — resulting in a lay-up and a foul where the six-footer out of Jamesville-DeWitt made one of two free throws.
The Bengals out-scored Cortland 18-8 for the rest of the first half, the Red Dragons lead just 33-27 at the break. Then there were five ties in the second half before guard Barb Kiliszek and McElroy made Buffalo State’s only 3-point shots on back-to-back possessions for a 51-45 lead.
Cortland quickly responded, starting with a Cohen free throw. Maycumber turned a steal into a breakaway layup and another defensive gem by Volpini —who had six steals on defense — set up a Cohen lay-up. Cortland was back to within 51-50 and this game was up for grabs.
“WE JUST NEEDED the horn to go off two minutes earlier than it did,” said Coach Roarke of her Bengals. “The heart was there.”
McElroy’s final basket with 43 seconds to go had Buffalo State within 61-57, but the visitors would not score again. Cohen, Maycumber and Patten made 5-of-6 free throws and Cortland was Final Four bound.
Cortland shot a sparkling 51 percent from the floor for the game, Cohen and Maycumber both 6-for-9 while Patten made half of her dozen attempts. The Red Dragons nearly paid for 22 turnovers and being beaten on the backboards 47-34, however.
“Hopefully, we learned some things and can get a day of rest before we get ready for Geneseo,” said Coach Mosher, whose team dropped two regular season games to the Knights including a 61-52 home court loss just last Friday.
“I like it, because the last game was a really good game. We both played well,” said Cohen of getting the rematch with Geneseo. “We just have to bring a lot of intensity and we have to rebound and run and play our game and not let them dictate.”
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