By Drew Wemple
Memorial Hall was rocking this past Tuesday night as SUNY Plattsburgh’s men’s basketball team took on their North Country conference rival SUNY Potsdam. The game had everyone out of their seats as the Cardinals were able to claw their way back from, at one point, a 22 point deficit to keep the game close down to the wire.
Offensively, the team was able to get the ball down low and dominate with points in the paint, outsourcing the Bears 54-36. The team was led by a 22 point performance from junior forward Erik Salo; Kevin Tabb added 15 points of his own and big-man Cameron Ness chipped in with 12 points and 10 boards. However, the points down low couldn’t make up for the team shooting 42% from the free throw line and just 15% from three-point distance.
“We shot very poorly from the line, which is atypical for this group,” Head Coach Mike Blaine said. “We’ve just got to convert at a higher level to stem the tide when things aren’t going our way and try to extend and continue to build on prosperity when things are going our way. So you know, we kind of shot ourselves in the foot there at the free throw line.”
Besides the free throw line and the long range shots not going their way, Potsdam guard Colton Huestis was lighting it up from downtown, hitting five threes in the game en route to 25 points, and their versatile forward/center Brandon Segar Jr. had a dominant 17 rebounds and 20 points.
Heading into the matchup, the Cardinals were on a three-game losing streak with their most recent game Tuesday, Nov. 23. That left the team one week in between games, to head home and celebrate the holidays with their families.
“We were off Wednesday, Thursday and Friday and then we practiced late Saturday night, and then Sunday and Monday to get ready for Tuesday,” Blaine said. “It was a nice little bit of a chance to catch our breath and give the guys a chance to hopefully recharge a little bit then be able to have three solid days of practice heading into the game versus Potsdam.”The team was coming in hungry, looking to take down a SUNYAC rival and get back on the winning track. The two teams went back-and-forth early, trading inside baskets to set the tone for the rest of the game. Some newer faces were also getting called upon for the Cardinals, for instance Joe Cassiano made his second start in three games, and added a quick basket in the early stages to keep things close.
“I mean, it’s definitely always good to come out and be on the floor for the start of the game. You know, that’s one of the most important parts of the game. A good start to the game is always the best thing and I tried to make my big contribution with a bucket,” Cassiano said.
However, due in part to the Cardinals going 1-12 from distance in the half, the team trailed by nine heading into the break.
“During half we talked about where we were effective offensively, where we struggled, we talked about what things worked well for us defensively and where we kind of had to tighten up a little bit,” Blaine said. “I think that we did a better job of that in the second half.”
While Plattsburgh at the half focused on how to gain ground on Potsdam, the Bears sought to gain distance from the Cardinals, and showed it to start the second half. The Bears jumped out to a huge run, in large part to Huestis seemingly going unconsciously shooting the ball, and opening up their largest lead at 22 points.
However, this is when the Cardinals and Memorial Hall came alive. A big couple defensive plays leading to open layups, and some more shots falling from three lead to a massive comeback, and the Cardinals kept chipping away.
“It’s hard to pinpoint a specific moment but the energy really changed when we brought it to within 10. We had a very nice, great couple of defensive stops, Kevin Tabb got an easy dog and then Sheriff got an and-one right after that,” Cassiano said. “It was a big energy boost and a big game swing.”
The crowd could sense the game swing too, as after every basket or Potsdam turnover the noise level crept louder and louder. The atmosphere was built for the Cardinals to feed off their energy.
“That was a huge part of the run, because, you know, we got the bench that can only do so much with those 10 guys, and the guys in the game are out there giving it their all. We really fed off that crowd,” Cassiano said. “Once we started playing well that momentum carried over, which really helped you know, give us back the energy.”
However, it proved to not be late enough, as Potsdam was able to hold on and win a tight four-point game. Blaine sees this as a chance to improve moving forward.
“We’ve got to make sure that we’re cleaner on the offensive end to give ourselves a chance to put more points on the board more easily, especially early on in the game and then we’ve got to do a better job of when an opposing team makes a run, not losing contact with them,” Blaine said.
The Cardinals will get another chance to play behind a raucous home crowd tonight, as they take on another tough conference rival in SUNY Oneonta.