February 27, 2010
Late night fun for Dragons
Advance to face Hawks in conference title game
Joe McIntyre/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland’s Jessica Laing (11) moves the ball downcourt against Geneseo’s Brittany Finkle (35) in the first half of Friday’s playoff semifinal at Corey Gym. Laing scored 22 points in the 64-51 Red Dragons victory.
With this latest basketball victory cozily tucked away for the night, SUNY Cortland co-captain Miranda Lustig’s had lost track of the time.
“I can’ t believe it’s midnight right now,” said the Red Dragons senior guard, unaccustomed to keeping such late hours in Corey Gymnasium.
At least the clock did not strike midnight on the post-season ambitions of the top-seeded Red Dragons, who defeated Geneseo 64-51 on Friday to earn the chance to play for a SUNY Athletic Conference women’s playoff championship. Cortland and New Paltz will return to Corey Gym at 4 p.m. this afternoon to see who gets to cut down the nets and receive an automatic bid into the NCAA Division III national tournament.
The Red Dragons had to wait a bit before going about the task of capturing a 19th consecutive victory because of couple of eventful happenings.
First, there was the Thursday snowstorm that belted Central New York. That hindered travel plans, causing this semifinal twin bill to be pushed back an hour from its original 6 o’clock starting time.
Second, third-seed New Paltz had to stage a second half rally before battling through four overtime periods to nip second-seed Oneonta 82-79 in an epic opening semifinal contest. That kept both Cortland and Geneseo anxiously waiting out what eventually turned into a 10:07 p.m. tip-off.
For the Red Dragons, now 24-3 on the season, it was worth the wait.
After Cortland held the fourth-seeds scoreless over the final 7:46 of the first half to open up a 10-point lead, determined senior scoring leader Jessica Laing scored 17 of her game-high 22 points after intermission to finish off the Blue Knights before a boisterous home crowd.
Seven Red Dragons scored at least six points in this total team effort, Lustig coming up with nine points, eight rebounds and four assists. Starters Micki Volpini and Allyson Biordi, along with invaluable back-up forward Jennifer Patten, each tossed in seven points.
“I think the kids are use to being up late,” said Cortland coach Jeannette Mosher. “You can’t do anything about the weather and what happened with that. This is what we’ve been working for all year long, to be in the championship game, and have a chance. So we’re there. We have to be excited about that and that will give us some adrenaline.”
The word adrenaline was used by New Paltz coach Jamie Seward, too, when asked how his Hawks will recover from the ordeal of playing a game and a half in their marathon contest.
“Emotionally, we’re playing for a championship so adrenaline is going to carry us through a portion of that,” he said, feeling the depth of his team will help out going up against Cortland team that beat the Hawks twice during the regular season. “We have tough kids. They’ll be ready.”
GENESEO WAS READY to duplicate a 61-52 victory in Cortland that got conference play underway back in early December — the lone league loss for the first place finishing Red Dragons this season.
The Blue Knights (16-11) turned an early 9-3 deficit into a 22-18 lead with some sharp-shooting. Sophomore Katelyn Charbonneau hit an early trey while freshmen guards Melissa Graham and Lisa Rufer each connected twice from beyond the 3-point arc.
“They were having shooting practice out there, so we really had to step it up,” said Cortland’s Laing of that early Geneseo success against an ineffective Red Dragon zone defense.
Starting with junior Jen Polan hitting her second consecutive 3-pointer and sophomore point guard Biordi having a trey do a balancing act on a kind rim before falling through, the Red Dragons recovered nicely.
While the defense forced Geneseo into six turnovers and no points for the rest of the half, Cortland free throws — including Lustig hitting 5-of-6 — helped add to the lead. When Laing went end-to-end to score after snatching a defensive rebound, one of her dozen rebounds, Cortland was up 32-22 with 1:19 left. They took that margin into halftime.
Turning to some full court defensive pressure helped stifle Geneseo over that critical stretch of time. “It slowed them down a little bit and got them out of their rhythm and we were able to get some things out of that,” said Coach Mosher.
“And I think Amanda Lustig kept us in it in the first half. Our big guns in the first half weren’t around and Miranda did a good job,” she added. “And Jen Polan hit two big threes I thought that were really key when they were making a run. It got the momentum back where we could take a 10-point lead at halftime.”
Being up by double digits with school all-time scoring leader Laing held to just five points was impressive stuff.
“All the girls were giving it their all,” said Lustig of the Cortland effort. “Everyone is pretty passionate and we’ve been working hard all season. This is what we want, what we’ve been working for.”
“THANK GOODNESS Jess came alive in the second half,” said Mosher. “We knew that she needed to score. We felt we were pretty fortunate we were up by 10, but she toughed it out. It was definitely physical. They had some big girls in there.”
“A little frustrated, a little tired, a little passive at times,” is how Laing put her early troubles. “You have to work through it.”
She did just that as Cortland never trailed in the second half, though Geneseo did pull to within 42-38 when Graham hit another 3-pointer just after a Cortland timeout with 11:59 left to play.
Laing made two free throws after grabbing her own missed shot, Volpini converted a 5-on-1 fast break directed by Lustig, Laing hit a 3-pointer from the side, Patten swished a pair of free throws and Laing converted another full court burst and further trouble was avoided. Those 11 unanswered points built a 53-38 lead and forced Geneseo to call a timeout with 7:48 left to play.
With Mary Bruns hitting a jumper and Patten a 3-pointer from the top of the key, Geneseo never got closer than nine points the rest of the way while shooting just 30 percent from the floor for the game.
“They got some key offensive rebounds when they needed them and they just made more shots than we did,” said Geneseo coach Scott Hemer, who got 14-point efforts from Graham and back-up forward Brittany Finkle. “We were inconsistent finishing on the inside, and that hurts you.”
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