It’s nights like Tuesday, that will provide a good ball club with lessons to be learned and opportunities to grow. That’s what the SUNY Plattsburgh men’s basketball team has gained after suffering a tough loss on the road versus the St. Lawrence University Saints, in Canton.
After a back-and-forth first half, it seemed as if this game would head down to the wire. The Saints used a second half surge to top the Cardinals 85-70. With that win, St. Lawrence continues its undefeated, 3-0 start to their season while the Cardinals will drop to 1-2 in their early goings of the year.
In the game, Plattsburgh was led by guard Axel Rodriguez who contributed 19 points in the effort; forward Erik Salo had 13 points and guard Kevin Tabb had 12. While those were the only players for Plattsburgh to score in double-figures, St. Lawrence had five players in double-digits and the Saints relentless offense became too much for the Cardinals.
The first 20 minutes of the game were tumultuous. St. Lawrence came out in a hybrid 2-3 zone-defense that forced the Cardinals into seven first half turnovers. While the turnovers proved costly, as the Saints scored five points off turnovers in the half, the foul trouble for the Cardinals proved to be detrimental in the first period as well.
“The fouling early on in the game, that’s really what killed us. We were having a tough time with our defensive rotations when a guy got beat,” Salo said. “They were so spread out that we just had a tough time getting over to the proper help position and were getting called for some tricky fouls, including myself.”
While the turnovers and foul calls contributed to putting the Cardinals behind early, Rodriguez’s shooting in the first half was a big factor in keeping the team in the ball game early. The junior hit three huge three-pointers in the first frame, and while that wasn’t the only thing that kept the team hanging close, those shots were monumental in the rally that left the Cardinals down just three points heading to the break.
“If we’re able to make threes, it forces the defense to stretch and play more honestly on the perimeter. And then if that happens, that opens things up a little bit more on the inside where we should be able to attack in the paint,” said Head Coach Michael Blaine. “Axel did a good job of stretching that defense for us in the first half.”
Although the team was able to tighten up the game at halftime they knew their work wasn’t done, heading to the locker room.
“Our coach was telling us at half time just to go out and run our stuff and stick to our stuff,” Salo said. “He was telling us from the beginning, not just at the half not to wait. By that he meant just go out and play aggressive. Make them play to our tempo, don’t play down to theirs.”
Coming out of the break, tempo proved to be a deciding factor of the game. Turnover problems reared its ugly head again, and six more giveaways allowed for the Saints to get out in transition and score 15 points off those turnovers. The strong shooting displays also faded for the Cardinals as the team went 0-9 from the three-point range in the second half, while St. Lawrence was seemingly on fire from deep, draining five from beyond the arc. “If shots fall then yes, the game is a lot closer but I also think that was not the main problem,” sophomore guard Joe Cassiano said. “It was a combination of that and the ball started to stick in people’s hands; people started the hunt shots instead of letting the game and our offense work.”
In the end, a dominant second half push from St. Lawrence left the Cardinals without an answer, as the team wasn’t able to contend and keep up. When the final buzzer sounded in Canton, Plattsburgh was on the losing end, by a 15-point margin.
“We played a good first half and we were like, ‘these guys maybe aren’t as good as we thought.’ But instead we should say, ‘what can we do to win the second half? What can we do to be better?’’ Cassiano said.
The attention of the Cardinals now turns to their next matchup, Nov.19. The Cardinals will host their first home game of the season, taking on another currently undefeated team, against Skidmore College. The team will hope this loss serves as a learning experience for their younger players as well as a teaching and growing moment for the veterans of the team.
“Our group has to understand that every single play, every single possession, every single action is vitally important for us to be sharp and engaged in doing what we’re supposed to do,” said Coach Blaine. “For us it’s going to be paramount that we learn to be mentally engaged at all times, phases, and possessions.”