December 10, 2009


Dragons rally past Pioneers

BasketballBob Ellis/staff photographer
Ben Nagle scored a career-high 18 points in Wednesday’s SUNY Cortland win over Utica.

Sports Editor

Coming into last night’s non-conference basketball test, SUNY Cortland men were shooting a modest 62 percent from the free throw line.
That is why the Red Dragons’ second half success was a bit staggering Wednesday night, when a perfect 16-for-16 touch from the charity stripe helped erase a nine-point deficit while handing visiting Utica College a 71-61 defeat.
“I guess we can only shoot them when we need them, because it was a close one at the time we were making them all,” said senior forward Ben Nagle, who swished all four of his attempts during a career-high 18-point performance. “Definitely that was huge for us tonight.”
While Cortland made 18-of-20 free throws for the evening, including those 16 straight over the final 10 minutes of play, there were other factors that led to the Red Dragons securing a third straight Corey Gymnasium victory.
l There was the trapping press and zone defense Coach Tom Spanbauer turned to after falling behind, a move that hindered the Pioneers in the second half. The visitors, who were led by junior guard James Patterson’s 25 points and five assists, shot just 30 percent from the floor over the final 20 minutes.
“We made some bad decisions,” said Utica second year head coach Christopher Connolly, whose Pioneers (4-3) were looking to go 3-0 against SUNY Athletic Conference schools having already knocked off both Oswego and Potsdam.
“I don’t think their press got us to turn it over, it just made us play a little quicker,” he said. “Span (Coach Spanbauer) does a good job of that and it’s something we tried to prepare for and they did a good job against us. We got going a little too fast against their zone press.”
“It takes that extra eight to 10 seconds away from them attacking in the half court, which when you’re playing zone that’s critical,” said Spanbauer of Cortland’s tempo-changer. “Teams always figure out, if they have a full shot clock, where to get some shots so those eight to 10 seconds are very important.”
l There was the domination of the backboards, Cortland with a final 40-23 rebounding edge. The Red Dragons ruled inside with senior center Paul Oliver leading the way, responsible for 20 points (including a perfect 8-for-8 from the line) while yanking down 11 rebounds.
Nagle had eight boards to go along with his big offensive showing. Senior big man Mike Lewis and junior swingman Dusty Marshall got their hands on five rebounds apiece, too, off the bench while scoring four and seven points, respectively.
l There was some timely shooting, especially a pair of late game 3-pointers knocked down by freshman guard Jeff LeMont. The Hannibal sharpshooter pulled the trigger from the left wing with just over seven minutes remaining to finish off a 15-2 Red Dragon run that put the hosts ahead 56-52, while his second trey with 4:23 left provided a 63-58 working margin. Coach Spanbauer called those the two biggest shots of the game.
l Taking better care of the basketball down the stretch was also vital, especially after seven of Cortland’s troubling 20 turnovers came when Utica was scoring 15 unanswered points to turn a 41-35 deficit into a 50-41 lead with 11 and a half minutes remaining.
Freshman guard Jesse Winter had five assists and eight points, including a pair of 3-pointers, in running the Cortland offense that was virtually mistake-free over the final 10 minutes.
“The disappointing part of our turnovers tonight was they weren’t pass-induced. They were sloppy dribbling, sloppy ball-handling, guys just losing it off the dribble,” said Spanbauer. “I bet 10 of our turnovers were basically in our hands where they took it from us.”
While team captain Oliver came up big, the contribution of former all-conference defensive end Nagle was a nice bonus — especially considering this is his first year of collegiate basketball after four years on the gridiron capped when he was the team captain of a Red Dragons football squad that reached the NCAA Division III playoff quarterfinals in 2008.
The 6-foot-4, 235-pounder out of Rochester Aquinas is relied upon to make all the hustle plays and work his tail off, and had not scored over six points in any game before last night’s showing that included three steals, a couple of blocks shots and an assist.
“I’ve always been able to score, but I’ve always been a player who looks to pass first,”said Nagle. “My guys were hitting me for easy layups and there was nothing I could do, I’ve got to shoot those in.”
Nagle made seven of his nine shots from inside hustle plays, like the opening two baskets of the second half when he simply beat the Utica defense down court and turned Brian Manning passes into lay-ups. He knows he’s still developing his somewhat rusty basketball skills.
“It was a lot more of an adjustment than I expected,” he said of the football to basketball transition. “Even when I was playing football, I was playing summer league and stuff. It’s very different on the collegiate level, though. I’m feeling more comfortable now.”
So are the Red Dragons, who after finals week will close out the first semester hosting SUNYIT on Dec. 18 at 4 p.m. looking for a fourth straight home court win.
“It shows we’ve got a good team,” said Nagle of winning back-to-back close games over Brockport and Utica. “We’ve got a lot of depth and a lot of guys can step up, so teams don’t know where to focus on us. We’ve got a strong line-up, 16 deep. You never know who’s going to come out and score points for us.”
Cortland started three freshmen last night, too — rookie Harrison Hefele getting his first start with junior Ron Evans sidelined after injuring his thumb in practice Monday.