SYRACUSE — The McGraw boys’ basketball team had played two very different Central Counties League games against Madison this season prior to Sunday’s meeting for the Section 3 Class D championship at Onondaga CC’s SRC Arena.
The league champion Blue Devils had won both, 72-67 in overtime at McGraw on Feb. 1 and 88-62 in Madison six days later. With two ties and four lead changes in the first five minutes Sunday, the title contest looked more like that first game early on. But thanks to the middle two stanzas, the final result ended up being a one-sided 71-41 win by Madison as the state’s top-ranked Class D team went on a 41-19 run over that 16-minute span and improved to 24-0 on the season.
“The game was even early, but mental mistakes hurt us,” said Eagles coach Matt Martins, whose team finished the season at 19-4 with the three losses to the Blue Devils and the other coming at the hands of Class A Cortland in the Purple Tigers’ Christmas Tournament. “Turnovers, not boxing out….we knew coming in that we could hang with them, but we hurt ourselves. You can’t have turnovers and mistakes against a team like Madison. We gave them second and third chances on offense, and they capitalized on those.”
“McGraw came out and matched our intensity,” Madison coach Dan Mitchell said. “That’s a good team, well-coached, and a great program. I hoped that eventually we’d pull away; I thought we would. They had a few turnovers, and so did we, early. It’s a big court. A key for us was when (junior forward) Sam Matteson went to the bench for us in the second quarter with his second foul and (junior guard) Colton Stone came in and hit a couple 3-pointers, key shots.”
The winners scored the last five points of the first quarter to break an 11-11 tie and led 16-11 heading into the second. Matteson, who finished with 15 points and was named the tournament MVP, picked up his second foul 3:14 before halftime with the Blue Devils up 28-18. Stone the entered the game and promptly drained a pair of treys, sandwiched around a basket by McGraw senior forward Jordan Cowen, to make it 34-20 for Mitchell’s squad, which took a 35-23 lead into halftime.
“I told the boys at halftime that they had to make shots,” Martins said with a smile. “I also told them that we were down by 12 but had been down by 14 or 16 at McGraw and gotten back in it. We had to improve our first-half performance, push the ball down the court and make layups. Madison came out for the second half fired up and shot well from the perimeter. They did a nice job of rebounding; we tried to keep them off the boards, but didn’t do a good enough job.”
“The boys came out in the third ready to play,” Mitchell said. “We went over what they were doing right and wrong at halftime, and what they needed to focus on to keep the game going in our favor. I think the second game we played with McGraw gave us confidence. They played really well the second half of the first one and we played very well in the second game, which carried over.”
The Blue Devils were also making their second straight appearance in the D final, having lost to Oriskany last year. “I think it helped,” Mitchell said. “The boys who were here last year — we have four of our five starters back from a year ago — had already had the championship-game jitters and knew what to do.”
“That could be, that Madison had been here before and knew what to expect, but it wasn’t a huge factor,” Martins said. “Our guys knew what they were getting into.”
The winners’ experience showed in the third quarter, as Madison scored eight of the first 11 points and went on to a 22-7 advantage over the eight-minute span to take a 57-30 lead into the fourth. The Eagles would get no closer than 23 points the rest of the way.
“I was surprised at the final margin,” Mitchell said. “McGraw is a good team, state-ranked (14th), and lost only to us and a Class A squad. Like I said, they’re a quality team.”
“We watched video from the second game with McGraw and tried to do the same thing, what we’ve been doing all year,” said Matteson, who was named tournament MVP after scoring 15 points to share game honors with teammate Lincoln Pisiak, a senior forward. “We came out a little slow, but put it together. Being the top-ranked D team in the state means a lot, but we don’t look ahead. We try to play like we’re the number-two team and will try to go as far as we can and make the most out of this season.”
Junior forward Dakota Stauber led McGraw with 11 points while senior center David Smith scored seven points and two players, Cowen and senior guard Devon Tuttle, added six points each. In addition to Matteson and Pisiak with their 15 points each for Madison, which won its first sectional title since claiming Class D-2 honors back in 1991, senior point guard Tyler Hummer also finished in double figures with 11 points.
Cowen and Tuttle made the all-tournament team along with Matteson (as noted, the MVP) and Hummer, with Mitchell named the Section 3 Class D Coach of the Year. Also named to the all-tournament team were senior forward Kenny Egan from New York Mills, which fell 82-51 to Madison in the semifinals, and junior guard Cadin Berie from Sackets Harbor, which lost to McGraw 64-58 in the semis.