In a game in which the two teams took turns owning the quarters, the Cortland High boys’ basketball team had too big of an early hole to dig out of Friday night.
Visiting Syracuse Academy of Science got off to a strong start in Shafer Gym, scoring the first 10 points of the game and leading 22-4 after the first eight minutes. The Atoms never looked back from there on their way to a 74-58 win that evened their OHSL Freedom American record at 1-1 and upped their overall mark to 2-3.
Cortland, without senior guard Will Pace due to an injury, fell in its OHSL Freedom National opener and is now 1-4 overall. The game was the first ever between the two schools, SAS last season’s Class B sectional runner-up before being bumped up to Class A for this season
“In scouting SAS, we had identified sophomore guard Symir Torrence as a major scoring threat, coming in averaging 21 points per game,” Cortland coach Jeremy Milligan said. “We knew that they wanted to wanted to turn the game into a running match, using their speed and athleticism defensively to provide quick scoring opportunities.
“Two major emphases for us tonight were getting back on defense — the two furthest players from the hoop had to hustle back to prevent fast break opportunities — and to limit SAS to one shot each possession.”
The visitors went 9-for-17 in the first quarter against the Purple Tigers’ 2-3 zone while CHS went 2-for-11 from the floor. “We were a bit shell-shocked in the opening minutes, allowing easy fast-break points and easy penetration into our zone,” Milligan said. “In the second quarter, we jumped into some half-court press that slowed down the tempo and SAS was not able to get things going as quickly as they wanted.
The Purple Tigers, meanwhile, stepped things up offensively, outscoring SAS 23-16 to trail 38-27 at halftime. Sophomore guard Rory Hines led the way with all nine of his points in the quarter on three 3-pointers.
The third quarter started similarly to the first, with SAS playing up-tempo and Cortland slowing things down. The visitors went on an 11-4 run to open the stanza and ended up with a 25-9 advantage over the eight minutes. The fourth quarter started with the Atoms up 63-36.
“At the end of the day, SAS’s speed and athleticism got the best of us,” Milligan said. “We ended with 25 turnovers to their six. The last few games we have not handled the intense full court pressure well overall. At times, we run our press break and limit our dribbles, and break it with ease. Many times we’ve been playing passive, and nervous, and that has not worked out well. I need to do a better job of getting us to playing relaxed and confidently against pressures.
“Having Will sidelined certainly hurt our play overall. He knows our system well and it would have been nice to have another experienced guard to handle some of the SAS pressure.”
Senior forward Kenyang Nguyentron took individual game honors with his 17 points for the Atoms and was joined in double figures by three teammates. Sophomore forward Noreon Williams and sophomore guard Symir Torrence had 15 points each for the winners and senior guard Khari Odoms added 12.
The Purple Tigers were led by senior guard Sheridan Crane’s 11 points and 10 from sophomore guard Gus O’Connell. Crane also had a team-high eight rebounds and senior forward Duff Steve added five boards as the visitors had a 40-31 advantage in that category. Senior guard Garrett Reagan had five assists, two blocked shots, two steals and two deflections and sophomore guard Gus O’Connell had four assists.
CORTLAND JVs are also 1-4 after SAS scored a narrow come-from-behind 65-61 win. Sophomore guard Ricky Young scored 16 points and sophomore forward/center Caleb Thompson added 14 for the hosts. SAS, which trailed 13-10 after one quarter, 29-26 at halftime and and 43-41 at the end of the third, was led by Z. Derby’s 19 points. He was complemented by J. Corria with 14, A. Wittaker with 12 and Z. Smith with 10.
HOLIDAY TOURNEY: Both Purple Tigers squads will host the annual Booster Club Holiday Tournament Wednesday and Thursday. The JV team will meet McGraw at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday after Dryden and Chenango Forks get things started with a 1:45 p.m. tipoff. The CHS varsity also plays McGraw, the start set for 7 p.m. after Dryden and Chenango Forks meet starting at 5:15 p.m.
The JV consolation game will start at noon on Thursday, with the championship game slated to begin at 1:45 p.m. The varsity consolation game is 5:15 p.m. Thursday, followed by the championship contest at 7 p.m.
Cortland’s varsity has won the tournament 10 times in its 23 seasons, including a five-year stretch from 2010 to 2014 that was broken last year when Dryden was crowned champion.
The annual Cortland High Alumni Game will take place at 3:45 p.m. Thursday, with all former Purple Tigers welcome to participate. All players should report to the downstairs gym by 3 p.m.