CORTLAND— Looking at the final score, it was shocking to think that the McGraw Eagles were tied at 34 with the Cortland Purple Tigers midway through the third quarter.
But once they got that close, the Purple Tigers outscored them 25-2 the rest of the game for a 59-36 victory Wednesday night at Cortland High.
Cortland’s Noah Armstrong led all scorers with 22 points, four steals, three rebounds and two assists. Max Gambitta added 10 points, four rebounds, three assists and three steals and Tyler Blake pulled down an astounding 16 rebounds to go along with eight points.
Caleb Smith was the only Eagle in double figures with 14 points.
The Eagles went on two big rallies in the game that made the Purple Tigers uncomfortable. Their first came in the second quarter when they trimmed a 10-point lead down to three with five minutes left after the Purple Tigers started the game up 21-11.
The Purple Tigers responded by sinking their free throws down the stretch leading into halftime to go up 30-21.
The Eagles’ next run was a 13-4 streak that pulled the Eagles level. It was a sequence where the Purple Tigers were missing high-percentage shots at every range imaginable.
“I was very impressed with this McGraw team,” Cortland coach Jeremy Milligan said. “The kids played hard. Caleb Smith sees the court well and has a balanced game. He was a tough matchup.”
Then Milligan called a timeout to get his players under control.
“During the timeout I got after a few players that were not playing up to their potential,” Milligan said. “Last evening, we had a great team meeting and talked about playing to our potential to be sure that we then shortened season ends, no players, especially seniors, have any regrets.
From there, the Eagles would not make another field goal for the rest of the game.
The Purple Tigers finished the third quarter on a 12-0 run to take a 46-34 lead. Even though they went cold offensively for the last two minutes of the quarter, their defense made sure the Eagles would entertain no thought of another run.
Almost every possession for the Eagles in the final 12 minutes of the game resulted in a one-and-done or a turnover. The only points they scored in the fourth quarter were a pair of free throws by Smith that ended a 21-0 run by the Purple Tigers.
“I challenged the team to play better and play within themselves,” Milligan said. “The team rose to that challenge and did just that.”
The Purple Tigers had assists on 16 of their 22 field goals, which Milligan described as “evidence of how selfless our team plays.”
The Purple Tigers are back in action at 7:30 p.m. tonight when they host Norwich.