A change in defenses and a couple of hot hands meant an enjoyable visit to a jam-packed Shafer Gym for the Homer Central boys’ basketball team Friday night against rival Cortland High.
Stephen Walter scored a game-high 15 points, plus 10 rebounds for a double-double, and Jacob Rivers scored seven of his 12 points in the third quarter as the Trojans earned a 51-40 OHSL Freedom National win.
Homer has now won two straight against CHS for the first time in recent memory, having won the second of two games between the teams last year 44-42, and is now 2-1 in league play and 6-3 overall. Cortland fell to 0-3 league and 3-6 overall.
“Homer played with a lot of composure,” Cortland coach Jeremy Milligan said. They only turned the ball over five times (to the Purple Tigers’ 15), which is outstanding. They played selflessly and had kids that made shots when they needed them.”
The first quarter was tight and ended with the visitors clinging to an 11-9 lead. “We started in a 3-2 zone but weren’t active enough,” Homer coach Sean Malone said. “We decided to go man-to-man after the first quarter and put ball pressure on their guards. We got some turnovers and got out in transition better. We had been taking, and missing, too many threes.”
“We were pleased to see the man-to-man,” Milligan said. “We got good looks inside and from beyond the arc, but just couldn’t hit our shots, going 16-for-51 (31 percent) from the floor to their 19-for-54 (35 percent).”
The game was still close, the Trojans up 15-14, after Purple Tigers senior guard Sheridan Crane hit a trey 3:43 before halftime. From that point on, though, the winners went on a 13-3 run the rest of the quarter to take a comfortable 28-17 lead into halftime. Seven of their points in that stretch came from Walter, who wound up with nine in the stanza.
“My teammates passed the ball well,” Walter said. “We just had to stick with it, had to play our game and we’d be all right. We made some shots, got in a running game and had a lot of confidence.”
Homer came out cold in the third quarter, not scoring until 3:48 remained. The hosts, meanwhile, had only managed to score five points in that stretch to pull within six, 28-22. It was a close as they’d get the rest of the way as the Trojans made another run, this time in 14-4 fashion, to lead 42-26 heading into the fourth. Rivers was the catalyst this time, scoring half of those 14 points, five in the span of 23 seconds with a trey and a two-pointer.
“I let the game come to me and put a couple shots in the hole,” the senior guard said. “We all needed to do that in the second quarter, and we did. We finally calmed down in the third, and didn’t let the crowd get to us.”
Homer took its biggest lead of the game, at 44-26, on a basket by junior forward Lannis Dodge 57 seconds into the fourth. The Purple Tigers battled back, though, and cut the deficit to eight on two occasions late, the last time at 46-38 with 1:20 left. The Trojans were then able to cash in from the foul line, going 5-for-7 down the stretch to close things out. That included senior guard Riley McEvoy’s 4-for-5 performance that helped him finish with 10 points on the night.
“I was proud of the fact that the team didn’t give up, made a little run and forced them to hit some free throws down the stretch,” Milligan said. “Congratulations to coach Malone and his team; they were composed, made the plays they needed to consistently and outplayed us. We did win the boards, which is uncommon, with 34 rebounds to their 32.”
Sophomore center Jay Atkins scored nine points and also had a game-high 15 rebounds, while Crane and junior guard Izeah Williams had eight points apiece. Milligan noted that part of the CHS game plan was to go inside to Atkins and senior forward Duff Steve, but Steve was limited by foul trouble — he picked up his fourth foul 1:10 into the third quarter and finally fouled out with around four minutes left in the game — and those shots weren’t falling either.
Homer came on on the heels of a 61-47 win over host CBA on Tuesday. “Cortland played hard right to the end; it was a good game, and we tried to tell (the team) that it would be,” Malone said. “After beating CBA, they were riding a little too high. We had to reign them in. But winning that game and beating our rival is nice.”
The game was played in honor of Dustin Mondics, a standout player from Moravia who was seriously injured in an automobile accident on Dec. 22. Donations were taken at the door in lieu of admission, and a 3-point shooting contest at halftime saw the winner, Cortland senior Kiegan Brown, donate his winnings to the family as well.
Both teams wore white warm-up shirts with “PRAYERSFORDUSTIN” on the front and his last name and number, 40, on the back, courtesy of Geared-2-Sports. Milligan, who coordinated the event, said afterwards that more than $2,000 was raised between the night’s proceeds and donations from the faculties and staff of both Cortland High and Homer Central.
Parker School sixth-grader Nick Sutton was the Purple Tigers’ Fan of the Game.
THE CORTLAND JVS shaded Homer 47-45 to improve to 4-5 as sophomore guard Ricky Young scored 17 points and sophomore forward/center Caleb Thompson added 15. Sophomore guard Nick Barnes took game honors with 23 points for Homer, now 2-7.
Cortland’s teams visit CBA Tuesday, the JV game tipping off at 6 p.m. Mexico’s squads visit Homer Wednesday at SUNY Cortland, the JV game slated to start at 5:30 p.m.