February 29, 2016
SUNYAC basketball: Buzzer-beater gives Dragons title
PLATTSBURGH — Only the second basket made by James Morales in the entire game will now be remembered as one of the most clutch shots in the history of SUNY Cortland basketball.
Sophomore forward Morales connected on a decisive 3-pointer in the final second of regulation to give the Red Dragons a dramatic 77-74 victory over Oswego in Saturday afternoon’s SUNY Athletic Conference playoff championship contest.
That capped a 47-point second half offensive that carried Cortland to its eighth conference title and first since 2013, as the second-seeds overcame a 12-point second half deficit to pull out this victory at SUNY Plattsburgh’s Memorial Hall.
Cortland had battled from behind throughout against defending champion and fourth-seed Oswego, the Lakers having upset regular season champion Plattsburgh the previous evening on this same court.
The Lakers led 71-68 when Cortland sophomore center Carrel Joseph — who was named the MVP of the tournament after his career-best 24-point championship game performance — tied the game with his sixth 3-pointer of the contest with 1:28 left to play.
Cortland then took the lead when senior point guard TJ Hefele connected on a 3-pointer of his own with 32 seconds left, only to have Oswego find Kyle Covley unattended in the right corner for a matching trey to pull the Lakers even at 74-all just eight seconds later.
That enabled Cortland to hold the ball for a last shot, which led to Blair Estarfaa driving down the lane. Finding his path to the rim blocked, the airborne Red Dragon senior tossed the ball out to the right flank.
That’s where Morales was positioned, though he had to go to his left away from the basket to pull in the errant pass. That accomplished, Morales quickly launched an off-balanced shot against two defenders that swished cleanly through a mere four-tenths of a second away from the finish.
It was Cortland’s school record 18th trey of the contest, Morales having also connected from beyond the arc with 41 seconds to go in the opening half for his only other basket.
Though stunned by the Morales’ shot, Oswego was still able to get a long pass to 27-point scorer Brian Sortino after a timeout. A lengthy 3-pointer taken from in front of the Lakers bench fall well short.
CORTLAND IS NOW headed to the NCAA Division III tournament, with those brackets to be announced at 12:30 p.m. this afternoon. The Red Dragons are 20-7 overall and winners in eight of their last nine games, having reached the 20-win plateau for only the eighth time in school history.
The 6-foot-6 Joseph made 9-of-11 shots, including 6-of-8 threes, to spark a Cortland offense that shot 61.5 percent from the floor after intermission. Hefele had 14 points and seven assists, making 4-of-8 treys. Senior forward JP Reagan finished with 12 points and six rebounds, while team scoring leader Estarfaa also had a dozen points on four 3-pointers to go along with four assists and five rebounds.
MVP Joseph would be joined on the all-tournament team by Estarfaa and super-sub Reagan.
After coming from behind to nip third-seed Brockport 80-78 the previous evening with a similar second half surge, when senior point guard Shayne Martinez made four treys during a career-high 16-point showing, Cortland was in comeback mode once again in the title game.
Looking to avenge two regular season losses to Cortland, Oswego (20-8) jumped out to an early 10-2 lead, was up 41-30 at halftime and was ahead 46-34 on a Covley 3-pointer in the early moments of the second half.
THE RED DRAGONS recovered, and this was a 60-60 standoff with eight minutes to go when Oswego reeled off seven unanswered points. The Red Dragons finally ended a scoring drought of just shy of four minutes with an inside basket by Joseph.
Consecutive threes by Joseph put Cortland ahead 68-67 moments later, only to have Sortino make a pair of free throws before scoring off a drive to build a 71-68 Laker advantage and set the stage for a frantic finish over the final 1:51.
The Red Dragons finished 18-of-35 from the arc — a torrid 51 percent — and turned the ball over only five times to emerge victorious. Those 18 treys surpassed the old school record of 17 set against SUNYIT in the 2011-12 season.
Oswego junior guard Sortino had scored 29 points in Friday’s 81-74 upset of Plattsburgh, and his 27 points and eight assists against Cortland earned him a spot on the all-tournament team along with 19-point scorer Covley.
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