March 7, 2011
Title eludes Purple Tigers
J-D pulls away to keep Class A crown
UTICA — It was just one shot, but it gave Cortland High boys’ basketball coach Mick Lowie an unwelcome hunch Saturday afternoon at the Utica Memorial Auditorium.
The top-seeded Purple Tigers were in a close battle with No. 2 Jamesville-DeWitt, trailing 44-40 as the third quarter of the Section 3 Class A championship game wound down. That’s when Red Rams junior forward Tyler Cavanaugh launched a 3-point try from the right corner that looked to be well off.
But the ball banked off the glass and through the net, and when the buzzer sounded two seconds later J-D had a 47-40 lead entering the final eight minutes.
Then it was time for the Dajuan Coleman Show.
The Red Rams’ 6-foot-10 junior forward and Division I college prospect scored 16 of his game-high 26 points in the fourth, including seven in what ended up being a 13-0 run by the winners that actually started with Cavanaugh’s trey. All told, the Red Rams had a 28-15 scoring advantage in the fourth and pulled away to claim their fourth straight sectional Class A crown by a final score of 75-55.
“That bank shot at the end of the third… oooh,” said Lowie, whose team had beaten visiting J-D —which at the time was without standout senior guard Demetrius Mitchell — 55-51 in late January. “It was almost like a premonition. What’s coming now? They have so much firepower that they wear you down, and Mitchell makes them even better.
“It was evident that they made an adjustment and were going to get the ball to Coleman in the second half,” the CHS coach continued. “He wants the ball every time, and when he gets it he’s going to take care of business, which is what he did. They were shooting well enough outside —they went 8-for-16 on 3-pointers — that we had to pay more attention to the perimeter, which left us one-on-one inside on Coleman. And once he gets the ball, he’s gone.
“There’s not much you can do about it with the size advantage he has.”
J-D went 30-for-51 (59 percent) shooting overall from the floor, while Cortland was 21-for-49 (43 percent) including a respectable 7-for-16 (44 percent) from beyond the 3-point arc.
THE THREE-TIME defending state public high school Class A champion Red Rams scored nine of the first 11 points of the game and held onto that seven-point edge, 16-9, after one quarter. Cortland tied the score at 20-20 with 3:06 left in the first half on a short jumper by junior guard Qwuhail Barlow, then at 22-22 on a lay-up by junior guard Jonathan Prior with 1:24 remaining. Cavanaugh hit his first 3-pointer, also from the right corner, 17 seconds later to give his team the 25-22 lead that it held at half-time.
J-D kept the lead in the third quarter, though the Purple Tigers remained within striking distance. Junior center Brandon Babcock’s bucket from inside with 3:01 left in the third made it a one-point game at 37-36, but the winners scored the next four points to go up 44-36. Prior then hit a 3-pointer from the top of the key and, a bit later, a foul shot to make it 44-40 before Cavanaugh’s decisive late trey.
“We wanted to get Tyler out to the short corner to force a one-on-one inside,” said J-D coach Bob McKenney, his team now 18-3 on the season after its seventh straight win. “We did a better job of isolating in the second half. Tyler’s good enough to step out and hit a three, which he did twice tonight, and Dajuan is tough to handle inside, although I thought Babcock did as good a job of it as anyone has this season.
“Tyler also didn’t have a real good game at Cortland, and was excited for the opportunity to come back out against them and show the kind of player he is. We were all excited about playing them again, especially with Demetrius back. We knew in January that Cortland was a team we were going to see at this time of year; they pass, shoot and play together well. And they play the 2-3 zone as well as anyone in the area.”
“I didn’t call the shot,” Cavanaugh, who earned Most Valuable Player honors for the Class A sectional tournament, said with a laugh when asked about his key 3-pointer, which gave him 16 points. That wound up being his total for the game after a scoreless final eight minutes, to go with 10 rebounds.
“We wanted to keep getting the ball inside in the fourth; we pushed the tempo, which helped, and you know that Dajuan, with his size and being that good, will take over,” said Cavanaugh. “I thought the biggest thing was getting a stop on their first possession of the fourth, and going up by nine.”
J-D did that after Coleman got fouled inside and hit two free throws.”
“WE DIDN’T GET the ball down low in the first half, but stepped it up in the second,” said Coleman, who had four first-quarter points, none in the second and six in the third before exploding in the fourth, including a pair of 3-pointers. “We knew we were going against a good team, and had to play our game, and I knew that I had to step it up and be the leader of this team.”
Coleman also had 14 rebounds to help J-D to a 32-23 advantage on the boards and was named to the all-tourney squad.
“We had to take away something,” Lowie said, his team having closed the season at 19-2, with the best winning percentage (.906) in program history and tying for the most wins, as its nine-game winning streak ended.
“We tried to take away the inside, and they did the job from the outside. This wasn’t a game that we lost. They won it because of what they took away from us, and by making plays in the fourth quarter,” said Lowie. “Mitchell gives them 15 points a game and some more good (man-to-man) defense. They’ve been averaging 80 points per game since he came back (from a broken foot, right after the Cortland game). We scored the same number of points we did in the first game.”
Prior led Cortland with 15 points, including 13 in the first three quarters to help keep the game close, plus three rebounds and two steals and was named to the all-tournament team. Barlow had 12 points, all in the first three quarters, as well as two steals.
Babcock had eight points and a team-high eight rebounds, while senior forward Justin Hogan, who was also an all-tournament selection, had seven points, five rebounds, four assists and three steals and junior forward J.P. Reagan seven points and two blocked shots.
Also selected for the all-tournament team were Kyle Peck from No. 5 Oneida and Mike Sullivan from third-seeded Whitesboro. Lowie was named the Class A Coach of the Year.
Mitchell complemented Coleman and Cavanaugh with 15 points and seven assists for the Red Rams, and noted that “I wanted to get out and go against Cortland. I missed last year’s game, too, with a leg injury. Both teams are real good and gave it their all, but I thought we’d be able to win it.”
McKENNEY DOWNPLAYED the revenge aspect of the championship game, saying with a smile that “I don’t know that that is the right word; it sounds more like murder. But losing down there did wake us up. We knew they were capable of beating us, but the biggest thing was that if the kids didn’t see it, they wouldn’t believe it. Mick is very deserving of Coach of the Year. He does a good job with those kids.”
“It’s the kids’ fault,” Lowie said with a laugh when asked about his award. “They played great all year. We’d lost one game coming in, to CBA, and had beaten J-D. It’s really for the whole team and the coaching staff.”
Saturday’s game marked the end of the scholastic basketball careers of Hogan, forward T.J. Bardsley, guard Donovan Prior (Jonathan’s brother), forward Justin Tabel, guard Alex Stacy and forward Nick Reynolds.
“I dreamed of being here (sectional finals), but never thought it would come true,” said Hogan, the only starter in the group. “All the goals we set we reached and went beyond, which means the most to me. The score here doesn’t reflect how the game went.”
With eight players back, including Barlow, Jonathan Prior, Babcock and Reagan, and talent available from this season’s 13-5 junior varsity squad, things look good for the Purple Tigers.
“We have a lot of good kids back, and a bright future,” Lowie said. “Everybody else knows it, too. We’ll still have a bulls-eye on our backs. That’s a nice place to be.”
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