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March 6, 2008

 

Red Dragons come on strong

Second-half surge overtakes Medaille

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Bob Ellis/staff photographer
SUNY Cortland senior guard Derrick Fish is fouled while in mid-air by Ron Malicki (34) of Medaille last night at Corey Gym. Red Dragons were 81-69 ECAC_tourney winners.  

Gallery

By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Editor

Unable to shake off some early offensive doldrums, SUNY Cortland head basketball coach Tom Spanbauer had this thought cross his mind.
Early in the second half of Wednesday’s ECAC Division III Upstate Championship quarterfinal round game, he was thinking if someone could just step up and deliver back-to-back baskets then the Red Dragons would be on their way.
Shortly thereafter, with visiting Medaille College having built an eight-point lead at Corey Gymnasium, freshman Ron Evans did just that. The 6-foot rookie swingman from New Hartford broke free off a screen to hit a 3-point shot and followed that up 18 seconds later with a three-point play after grabbing an offensive rebound.
That quickly, the Red Dragons simply took over.
Those six quick Evans points were the start of a 16-zip scoring spurt by Cortland — in the span of just over two minutes — that eventually turned into an 81-69 victory. In their final Corey Gymnasium outing of the season, the Red Dragons reeled off 53 second-half points while making 62 percent of their shots.
“It was good to give us a little spark,” said Evans after scoring a team-high 14 points to lead a balanced attack that delivered the 20th win of this season against just seven setbacks.
Big man Mike Lewis and guard Will Coston added 13 points apiece, center Paul Oliver and forward Carson Niehoff netted 12 points each and guard Juan Miolan tossed in 11 points for the productive victors.
That sends the Red Dragons into this weekend’s Final Four along with two other SUNY Athletic Conference teams — host Brockport and Oswego.
In other quarterfinal round games last night, Oswego knocked off Cazenovia 85-69 and St. John Fisher nipped Vassar 68-65. That sets up Saturday’s semifinal pairings, as third seed Cortland faces second seed Oswego at 6 p.m. and top seed Brockport takes on fourth seed St. John Fisher at 8 p.m.
The title game is Sunday at 2 o’clock.
Cortland will be able to get a chance to avenge an earlier 77-74 regular season home court loss to Oswego because it finally got the tempo of this game going in its way, with the help of some improved defensive play.
“That’s our kind of game, getting in transition and running, pushing it up and getting good shots,” said Evans.
“When we’re feeling good and moving up and down the court we’re a tough team to beat,” added senior back-up guard Mark Schaller, who contributed three assists to an offense that turned the ball over just five times all night.
SCHALLER WAS ALSO part of some aggressive second half defense that helped thwart Medaille (15-13), the Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference members making their first-ever ECAC post-season appearance.
The visitors from Buffalo, in their second season under the direction of former Canisius coach Mike MacDonald, were getting easy baskets out of their half-court offense and beating the taller Dragons on the boards.
Forward Kelly Condello came off the bench to score 18 points for Medaille, while Keith Hack added 15 and team scoring leader James McNeil 12 — though McNeil made just 4-of-15 shots including 2-for-12 troubles from 3-point range.
The Mavericks never trailed while building a 35-28 halftime advantage. And though Cortland grabbed a brief 44-43 second half lead on a Miolan drive to basket, Medaille responded with eight unanswered points and appeared to have regained control.
The Medaille lead was 52-44 with 13:19 left to play.
“They moved the ball really well on offense and were always moving themselves,” said Schaller of the visitors. “We had to shut them down on defense and not take a play off, because if we took a play off they were going to go backdoor on us or get a lay-up.”
“The guys stepped up and our pressure bothered them, and our defense led to a couple of run-out scores and that gave us even more energy on the defensive end,” said Coach Spanbauer. “When you don’t score it looks like you’re not playing well, but we were really executing our offense pretty well. We weren’t getting balls to fall early.”
Starting with Evans’ quick six, Cortland shots started to fall when it counted the most.
Cortland isolated Niehoff, who finished off a drive. Lewis came up with a steal, rolled a fast break lay-up over the front rum while being fouled and made the free throw. Evans beat the defense down court after a missed Medaille three throw for an easy bucket. After Coston took an offensive charge call for a Medaille turnover, he dropped in a 3-pointer from the corner.
That’s how a 52-44 deficit turned into a 60-52 lead in a relative blink of an eye.
CORTLAND WAS NEVER in trouble after that, Niehoff hitting a couple of treys down the stretch. An Oliver basket off a pretty Miolan feed gave the Red Dragons their biggest edge at 78-62 with just under five minutes left to play
Afterwards Coach Spanbauer was happy to have seniors Schaller, starting point guard Derrick Fish and back-ups Joe Sargent and Quentin Merritt finish their careers at home with a post-season win; was happy nine Red Dragons were able to pick up the first post-season collegiate career victory.
“Before the game we talked about talking pride in being in the tournament, taking pride in your team and taking pride in yourself,” said Schaller after making the most of this ECAC opportunity.
Oswego 85, Cazenovia 69: Mahamoud Jabbi had 25 points, 10 rebounds and six blocked shots for the second seed Oswego. Guard Nick Perioli added 19 points and eight assists for the Lakers.
Cortland High graduate and 6-foot-8 Cazenovia freshman Tom Wilk had three points, three blocked shots and 12 rebounds coming off the bench for the visitors.
St. John Fisher 68, Vassar 65: Matt Newman led four double figures scorers for St. John Fisher with 12 points as the fourth seeds advanced.