November 20, 2013
Red Dragons depth on display
Maybe this is more than a two-man team after all.
Though senior forward Kevin McMahon and junior guard Lamard Herron are the only SUNY Cortland players with a good chunk of basketball experience returning from last year’s 24-win squad, a little depth and a lot of defense were on display in a victorious Tuesday night performance by the Red Dragons.
With four players scoring in double figures led by senior back-up forward Garen Spendjian’s career-high 18 points, Cortland led wire-to-wire and handled Elmira College 63-51 in a foul-plagued Corey Gymnasium debut.
“We have more depth than everybody gives us credit for,” maintained Herron, who contributed 11 points and three assists to Cortland’s second victory in as many outings.
Starting sophomore point guard T.J. Hefele also had 11 points and three assists, while sophomore Blair Estarfaa swished a trio of 3-point shots off the bench to reach 11 points. So even with McMahon limited to seven points — the 6-foot-6 big man coming off a 25-point showing in a 61-59 win at Medaille this past weekend in Buffalo — these Red Dragons had little trouble making sure the visiting Soaring Eagles (0-3) didn’t take off.
“We have a lot of guys and they’ve been working and battling. As long as they’re confident they are going to make plays,” added Herron. “They can play. That’s the reason they’re here. People don’t think we have that, but they’re here for a reason. It was hard to get playing time last year when you had the guys that we had. It doesn’t mean that these guys weren’t ready. We’re going to prove that.”
That offensive balance, along with an aggressive man-to-man defensive effort that held Elmira (0-3) to 19 percent shooting in the opening half when Cortland grabbed a 28-16 lead, was comforting for head coach Tom Spanbauer.
“I think if we look at our numbers we’re back to being the kind of team we need to be,” said Spanbauer. “We’ve got four guys in double figures and our leading scorer scored seven points, so that’s positive.”
CORTLAND TOOK CONTROL from the start, starting when McMahon won the opening tap and Hefele maneuvered through traffic to score and convert a 3-point play — on the first of 51 fouls called in the contest — a mere 23 seconds into the game.
McMahon drew an offensive foul on Elmira’s first possession, Herron knocked down a 3-pointer from the top of the key and Cortland had a 6-zip head start. Before you knew it the Red Dragons held a 12-2 lead when Spendjian began his big night with a 3-pointer from the right flank and a hustle basket off the offensive boards.
“I’m just the energy guy,” noted Spendjian, the 6-foot-5 upperclassman out of Glen Cove who has gotten more and more playing time during his four seasons as a Red Dragon. He shot 6-of-12 from the floor and pulled down eight rebounds in his 25-minute contribution.
“I come off the bench and do the best I can to get the team’s intensity up there when we’re down. Today, I obviously helped and we came up with the ‘W,’” added Spendjian.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by Estarfaa and Spendjian put Cortland ahead 24-10 with 5:24 left in the opening half. From there, the closest Elmira would come would be pulling within 56-48 on a Derrick Vogel 3-point play with 2:06 left to go.
Elmira got no closer down the stretch as Cortland made 13-of-16 free throws over the final 6:44 to make sure the visitors would not come back. McMahon controlled the defensive boards, too, where he snatched 11 of his game-high 15 rebounds — though Elmira had a 43-33 edge off the glass.
With Elmira scouted as a bunch of 3-point shooters, Spanbauer was pleased to hold the Soaring Eagles to just 3-of-14 accuracy from beyond the arc. Neil Randolph was the lone Elmira player in double figures, finishing with 14 points. Guards Kurt Dutcher and Nick Cesare added eight points apiece off Coach Randi Torgalski’s bench.
GETTING USED TO the new rules limiting defensive contact is something teams are still adjusting to in the early going. Elmira was whistled for 27 fouls and Cortland 24, though Hefele was the only player to foul out.
“The new fouls called, they’re very sensitive,” said Spendjian of the referees. “We have to focus on playing defense more with our feet than with our hands, because they’re calling a lot of hand checks.That’s something we can fix, something we can work on in practice.”
Cortland ending up going 20-of-31 from the line, with six of those missed coming in the first half.
“Some of our guys have to get to the free throw line in a college game, and that’s some of the growing pains we’re going to have to go through,” said Spanbauer.
“Some of the things that happened out there today, we’re just going to have to live with some guys making some mistakes,some ill-advised shots. Until we really get guys experienced it will take time before we become a really high-level IQ basketball team,” he added. “We’re showing it at some times, in some of our possessions. Our execution is there at times, but our effort was outstanding tonight.”
“We have big goals ahead of us. We’re very young and our young guys are stepping up or us and they’re playing well. That’s a good sign,” said Spendjian, as Cortland prepares to host Utica College this coming Tuesday night at 6 p.m.
There was a moment of silence prior to the game for Mike Smith, the scoreboard operator for several seasons at Corey Gymnasium who passed away in August following a car accident. Besides being associated with college, Smith was a soccer referee and baseball umpire locally.... Spendjian had never been in double figures during his Cortland career as a part-timer before last night. His previous high was eight points against SUNYIT as a sophomore. His eight rebounds were also his collegiate high, having grabbed seven boards on three previous occasions.... The 6 p.m. tip-off against Utica on Tuesday is an hour earlier than usually scheduled. Spanbauer noted players will be departing for Thanksgiving break following the game, so the starting time was moved up.
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