March 4, 2011
Cortland, J-D set for title-game rematch
Mick Lowie is well aware of the general school of thought concerning his top-seeded Cortland High boys’ basketball team’s upcoming contest against No. 2 Jamesville-DeWitt with the Section 3 Class A title at stake.
The game, slated for a 2:45 p.m. start Saturday at the Utica Memorial Auditorium, is a rematch of the Purple Tigers’ 55-51 home win over the Red Rams on Jan. 28. That was the last game that J-D’s 6-2 senior guard-forward Demetrius Mitchell missed due to an injury suffered in his team’s second contest of the season. Both teams have gone 6-0 since then, Cortland winning by an average margin of almost 21 points per game and J-D by an average of just over 30.
In post-season play, CHS demolished No. 9 East Syracuse-Minoa 76-38 in the quarterfinals and got by No. 5 Oneida 48-39 in the semis while J-D romped over No. 10 Mexico 85-52 in the quarters and No. 3 Whitesboro 81-45 in the semis.
“They’re the three-time defending Section 3 and state (public-school) Class A champions,” said Lowie, whose team is 19-1 — tying the program record for wins in a season — and ranked sixth in the state among Class A teams, of the Red Rams, 17-3 and ninth in the state. “And they will be until someone beats them. They’re a different team with Mitchell, and it may be a different story.
“Could they go all the way again? Yes, and nobody may touch them. Could we beat them? Sure, but we’ll have to play an outstanding game to do it. We’re well aware of all of J-D’s strengths. We know that Mitchell averages 15 points (and a team-high six assists) per game, makes their team quicker, gives them better ball-handling and is good on defense. But our kids have the right attitude.”
“They know the challenge that’s before us, with J-D at full strength. I think they look at it like another challenge, just like the ones we’ve had all year. All of us believe we can win; it’s going to be a different game, with a little different game plan. We’ll have to play even better defense than the first time, rebound and shoot well. Points inside will be at a premium.”
The return of Mitchell adds to an embarrassment of riches for coach Bob McKenney and the Red Rams, starting with 6-10 junior forward Dajuan Coleman, who leads the team in scoring at 19.4 points per game and rebounds with 14 a contest. Another key to the Red Rams’ success is junior forward Tyler Cavanaugh, with 14.4 points and 12 rebounds a game.
With Mitchell back, plenty of post-season experience and revenge motive to boot, the Red Rams have a lot going for them heading into Saturday’s clash. McKenney, however, discounts all of it.
“It’s not revenge so much as it is being excited about the opportunity to play Cortland again,” he said. “They certainly took us out of our game last time; was it them, or us, or the fact that we didn’t have Demetrius? They’re a well-coached team with excellent chemistry, which is how we did it (won a state championship) in 2004. Plus, they pass and run their offense well. I think it will be a great, exciting game.”
Cortland, which comes into Saturday on a nine-game winning streak, gets 13.9 points per game from Babcock, 10.7 from junior guard Jonathan Prior, 9.8 from senior forward Justin Hogan and 9.1 from junior forward J.P. Reagan. Babcock is the team’s leading rebounder with 171 (8.6 a game), while Hogan has contributed 122 (6.1) and Reagan 83 (4.2). Hogan has team-highs of 69 assists and 59 steals.
As for the keys to winning the game and the title, Lowie said that “Against Whitesboro, J-D used more full-court pressure than they did against us, because they’re deeper and quicker. We’ll have to be ready for that, both zone and man-to-man.”
McKenney noted after the loss to Cortland that his team’s guard play needed to improve if the Red Rams wanted to have any kind of post-season success. “Bringing a player like Demetrius back is obviously going to improve that,” McKenney said. “But his absence provided a valuable opportunity for other kids to get some experience, and if we did our job, hopefully they improved a little bit. Having Demetrius back takes the pressure off them and lets them settle into their roles.”
One reason for the success Cortland has had this season is the unselfishness and togetherness exhibited by every player. “The kids on the bench call themselves the dream team,” Lowie said. “They embrace their role, and know what it is. They’re the scout team in practice, acting as our upcoming opponents and how they play, and they have fun with it.
“That’s not easy to do when you’re a senior and underclassmen are playing; it takes a special player to be able to do that. These kids like being together, and it’s one solid group of 14 kids. Sometimes as coaches we’re not certain of how they’ll grasp things, but at the end of every game, things got done. They get it.”
“This team has been playing together since elementary school,” Hogan said recently. “It’s all about chemistry. A lot of credit goes to the kids who push (the starters and top reserves) in practice. If it wasn’t for them, there’s no way we’d be where we are.”
Starting for Cortland Saturday will be Hogan, Prior, Babcock, Reagan and junior guard Qwuhail Barlow. J-D’s starters will be Coleman, Mitchell, Cavanaugh, junior forward Pete Drescher and senior guard Davi Sacco.
The game will be shown live on Time Warner Cable Sports 2, Channel 1026 locally. The winner faces Section 10 champion Massena (17-3) Tuesday in a state regional game, the site and time to be determined.
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