December 13, 2012
CHS finds a way at Shafer Gym
Overcomes slow start to win home opener
Jeremy Milligan will remember this one for a long time.
The first-year head coach of the Cortland High boys’ basketball team saw his team come out cold in the first quarter, take the lead for good in the second and threaten to run away from Mexico before the visitors surged back to make a game of it down the stretch.
It all ended up as a 40-35 Purple Tiger win in Milligan’s first game in Ross O. Shafer Gym as the CHS bench boss.
“Since I’ve been involved with the program, the last four years, Cortland has had a tendency to win at home,” said Milligan, who was an assistant under Mick Lowie for four seasons before taking over for this season following Lowie’s retirement. “We have a phenomenal fan base, and the Cortland Crazies make sure there’s a lot of energy in the stands.
“The program takes pride in winning at home, and I was impressed with our ability to find a way to win this game.”
As noted, it looked like that might not happen early on. The hosts — now 2-0 in the OHSL Freedom American Division, 4-0 overall and recipients of honorable mention notice in this week’s Class A state poll — didn’t score their first points until senior guard Isaiah Prior’s jump shot from the foul line with 2:30 left. Mexico led 5-2 at that point and scored the final five points of the first quarter, capped by sophomore guard Jacob Cleveland’s 3-pointer with two seconds left, to make it 10-2 Tigers after the first eight minutes.
Cortland scored nine of the first 11 second-quarter points top pull within one, and after a basket by Mexico senior forward Robert Wallace made it 14-11 senior forward Brian Hughes scored two baskets in a row to give Cortland its first lead — at 15-14 — with 28 seconds left until halftime.
Prior then scored a buzzer-beating layup off an assist from Hughes following a Mexico turnover to make it 17-14 Purple Tigers at halftime.
“We started the game in a man-to-man defense and got off to a slow start offensively,” Milligan said. “Early in the second quarter we went to the 21 (1-2-2 zone) to put a little pressure on their guards. In fact their biggest guy (senior Patrick Twiss) is also their point guard. We were able to make a lot of steals, and our defense led us.
“We knew that 3-point shooting is one of their strengths, and to hold them to only four threes in the game says something about our defensive intensity. Our lack of experience in close games down the stretch leaves room for improvement in building a lead and working according to the time and the score.”
The hosts opened the second half with a 14-5 run to take a 31-19 lead, their biggest, with 2:30 left in the third. Mexico narrowed its deficit to 32-24 entering the fourth quarter and got within three twice down the stretch, 36-33 with 2:18 remaining on a basket by Twiss and 38-35 with 1:22 remaining when Wallace scored.
After the Purple Tigers missed two shots and then lost the ball out of bounds with 40.8 seconds left, Mexico committed an over-and-back violation with 18.1 seconds remaining. Tigers coach Paul Callaghan then called his final timeout, but coming out of that CHS was able to work the ball around until Eamonn Mahar was fouled after a feed from Hughes with 5.5 seconds left. The junior guard drained both bonus-situation free throws, and the visitors then lost the ball out of bounds as the final buzzer sounded.
“Give Mexico credit,” a relieved Milligan said. “They fought and clawed until Eamonn hit those two huge free throws.”
“Their press hurt us; we had 12 second-half turnovers, and that was the game,” said Mexico coach Paul Callaghan, whose team fell to 0-2 in the league and 1-2 overall. “We have two sophomores and a junior who play a lot, and we’ve got to hope that they learned from what happened tonight.
“We executed pretty well early and I thought we played real good (man-to-man) defense, which kept us in it. But to commit 12 turnovers in the second half and still have a chance to win the game......if you cut that number in half we’d be up.”
Hughes led Cortland with 11 points and also had a team-high four steals, plus two deflections and five rebounds. Prior added 10 points and also had six rebounds, two steals and three deflections.
“Isaiah played behind Qwuhail Barlow last season and has improved immensely,” Milligan said. “He’s able to lead the team from his point guard position, and in the first three games led us defensively and was able to step up and deliver the ball well. Tonight the true Isaiah came out with some nice jumpers in transition along with the defense and the ability to find open people.”
Prior himself was quick to share credit for the win.
“One of our goals was to stop Twiss, and Brian did a nice job,” Prior said. “We all anticipate passes very well; we work on that in practice. After the first quarter we decided to step it up, and held them to four points in the second. That and the late basket boosted the whole team.
“Cutting down on turnovers was a big thing we talked about,” added Prior, CHS with 13 on the night to Mexico’s 18. “Coach told us to slow down, that there was no need to rush. Shout out to Eamonn for those two clutch free throws, and to Teddy (Phillips) for his rebounding. Cortland has done pretty well on this court the last couple of years, and we want to do our best to maintain that.”
Junior guard Zach Whelan had eight points for the winners, while senior forward Josh Gutchess had seven points and five boards. Milligan noted that junior guard Phillips started in order for CHS to gain from a size advantage, and that five of his team-high seven rebounds came on the offensive end. Each team had 34 total rebounds, Mexico’s individual totals not available.
Cleveland led the visitors’ scoring with 11 points. Cortland went 16-for-49 from the floor (33 percent) on the night to Mexico’s 14-for-46 (30 percent).
CORTLAND JVs also improved to 2-0 league and 4-0 overall with an easy 70-38 win over Mexico behind 16 points apiece from freshman forward Brett Copes and freshman guard Nick Craig. The Purple Tigers led 18-15 after one quarter, then outscored the visitors 24-5 in the second to end the suspense early, Copes and Craig with six points each in that stanza while sophomore guard Michael Maniaci had five. Collin Warrington led the Tigers with 10 points.
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