March 5, 2016

NCAA basketball: First round breeze for Dragons

AMHERST, Mass. — The post-season isn’t suppose to be quite this easy.
The SUNY Cortland men’s basketball team secured an 11-point halftime lead and never wavered the rest of the way while opening up the NCAA Division III tournament with a resounding 69-50 first round victory over Worcester Polytechnic Institute on Friday night.
With senior JP Reagan and sophomore James Morales providing an offensive boost off the bench, and with senior guard TJ Hefele doing a little bit of everything, the Red Dragons improved to 21-7 overall.
Forward Reagan finished with 18 points and Morales 12 for the Red Dragons, each with a pair of 3-pointers. Starter Hefele also scored 12 points with two treys, which went along nicely with his team-high six rebounds, two steals and couple of assists as Cortland shot 50 percent from the floor while eliminating the Engineers from Massachusetts.
But the Red Dragon defense did just as much in ending WPI’s season with a 20-7 record, the Engineers done in by shooting just 35 percent from the floor. That included making just 5-of-22 shots from 3-point range.
“It all stemmed from our team defense, probably the best defense we’ve played all year,” said Cortland’s Reagan at the post-game press conference.
“I thought we kept WPI off-balance,” added head coach Tom Spanbauer, happy with Cortland’s match-up zone that held down the Engineeers.
Cortland will now face regional host Amherst College at 7 p.m. tonight back at LaFrak Gymnasium in a second round test. Amherst (23-5) got past Husson (21-7) from Maine 74-72 in the second contest played here last night.
The Red Dragons have won nine of their last 10 outings heading into the Amherst contest.
TRAILING 6-5 AS both teams struggled to score over the opening minutes, Cortland then reeled off 13 unanswered points to surge ahead to stay. Southpaw Hefele swished a pair of 3-pointers and Reagan made another trey during that stretch.
WPI got back to within 20-17 on an Ian Converse three-point play with 7:52 left in the half, but Cortland scored the next seven points to push the lead back to double figures. Senior team scoring leader Blair Estarfaa, who finished with eight points, made a 3-pointer during that run.
“We just stayed calm,” said Hefele of WPI’s first quarter response to falling behind by double digits. “Basketball is a game of runs and we stayed disciplined and stuck to our game plan.”
Cortland led 33-22 at halftime and quickly pushed the lead to 16 on a Hefele layup and a Dre Hampton 3-pointer in the first minute and a half of the second period.
WPI eventually got back as close as 10 on Clyde Niba’s jumper with 11:55 remaining, but the Red Dragons answered with two Shayne Martinez free throws, a Morales 3-pointer from the left flank and a Reagan jumper to go up 46-29 with 9:36 left.
The lead was at least 14 points the rest of the way and grew as large as 24 in the final two minutes.
Reagan made 7-of-10 shots from the floor, 2-of-4 from 3-point range, and added five rebounds, two assists and two blocks. Hefele scored 10 of his 12 points in the first half and made 5-of-8 shots the floor.
Fresh from winning the SUNY Athletic Conference playoff title with a last-second 3-pointer to beat Oswego 77-74 last weekend, Morales went 4-of-6 from the field — including 2-of-4 from long distance — and also came up with a team-high three steals.
Niba led WPI with 15 points and eight rebounds, while Converse scored 11 points and dished out three assists. The Engineers shot just 35 percent from the floor, including making just 5-of-22 shots from 3-point range.
WHILE CORTLAND made just 9-of-30 treys, inside the arc the Red Dragons were 16-of-20.
“They really made a concentrated effort at defending the arc,” said Spanbauer, tipping his cap to WPI.
“One of the things our guys have learned to do and has made us better this year is that teams have guarded us that way all year,” he added. “So we were forced to learn how to put the ball on the deck and space the floor and get the ball to the rim and not be such a one-dimensional team.”
Cortland has now won the opening game in each of its last five NCAA tournament appearances, with the last three first-round wins coming against Massachusetts schools. The Red Dragons beat Elms at home in 2013 before losing to Middlebury in the second round, and Cortland defeated UMass Boston at home in 2006 before falling to Tufts in the second round.
— Cortland’s win was part of a 2-for-3 success rate for SUNYAC schools in the tournament, as Oswego went overtime to beat Delaware Valley 88-78 while regular season champion Plattsburgh was upset at home by Fitchburg State 84-81.
Oswego 88, Delaware Valley 78, OT: Senior guard Brian Sortino scored a career-high 39 points as the Lakers advanced at Marietta College in Ohio.
Sortino converted a three-point play with 18 seconds left in regulation to put Oswego up 68-66, only to have Delaware Valley’s Andre Butler make a pair of free throws with eight-tenths of a second to go after being fouled trying to score after rebounding a teammate’s missed 3-pointer.
Oswego took control by opening overtime on an 11-3 run, highlighted by 3-pointers made by Kyle Covley, Alex Rawa and Sortino. Rawa had 15 points and 15 rebounds in the win.
Oswego plays Gwynedd Mercy in tonight’s 7 p.m. game at Marietta College in Ohio. Gwyneed Mercy nipped host Marietta 86-85 in the opening round.
Fitchburg State 84, Plattsburgh 81: A Cardinals squad ranked 23rd in the country was done in by 19 turnovers, including three costly miscues over the final two-plus minutes.
Down three with nine seconds left after a time-out, Plattsburgh had to settle for a lengthy Eli Bryant shot launched from well beyond the 3-point arc which missed the mark.
Jaleel Bell scored 30 points for Fitcburg State, 19 of those coming in the second half.
Seniors Kyle Richardson and Edward Correa stood out in their final games in a Plattsburgh uniform. Richardson finished with 26 points to go along with 15 rebounds while Correa totaled 20 points and had six boards..

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