Mid­dle Early Col­lege comes up short

Coop­er­stown han­dles pres­sure to take ti­tle

The Buffalo News - - SPORTS - By Miguel Ro­driguez

BING­HAM­TON — The looks on the faces of Mid­dle Early Col­lege play­ers and coaches told the story. The Kats fell be­hind again.

Un­like past play­off games, the hole be­came too dif­fi­cult for them to claw their way out of in Floyd L. Maines Memo­rial Arena on Sun­day.

As a re­sult, Mid­dle Early Col­lege’s quest to add to its state cham­pi­onship col­lec­tion dur­ing its rel­a­tively short ex­is­tence came up short. Coop­er­stown seized con­trol late in the first quar­ter and never trailed from that point as the Hawkeyes won their first state crown, 71-61, in the New York State Pub­lic High Schools Ath­letic As­so­ci­a­tion Class C fi­nal.

Tour­na­ment MVP Jack Lam­bert led the charge for Coop­er­stown with 23 points and seven as­sists. His per­for­mance fol­lowed Satur­day’s state tour­na­ment-record 53-point ef­fort in a triple over­time win over XI-Green­port.

An es­ti­mated 1,500 watched as Coop­er­stown (24-2) had all the an­swers for what MEC threw at it. The Kats’ trap­ping scheme that caused op­po­nents prob­lems did lit­tle to slow down the Sec­tion III cham­pi­ons, who had it well scouted.

“They got off to a hot start,” Mid­dle Col­lege coach James Kane said. “We talked about find­ing our de­fen­sive iden­tity early. We ob­vi­ously didn’t do that. They beat us on the basketball court, moved the ball well. Lam­bert, he was open for two sec­onds and he had the ball through the hoop for three points. … We should have had a bet­ter game plan to take him out of the game.”

“To­day it was just lack of com­mu­ni­ca­tion,” MEC se­nior Traemelle Stevens-Richard­son said. “We came out ready to play. It just didn’t go our way.”

The siz­zling shoot­ing that helped pro­pel MEC into the state fi­nal wasn’t bad Sun­day (43 per­cent), but nowhere near the 50 per­cent it shot Satur­day. The Kats had some is­sues against the lengthy zone de­fense, mostly due to 6-foot-8 sopho­more John Kennedy serv­ing as an in­tim­i­dat­ing rim pro­tec­tor.

Kennedy fin­ished with 17 points and 10 re­bounds.

Se­nior Ja’Kari Net­tles led Mid­dle Col­lege (22-4) with 19 points, and Devonte Prince added 15. They were the only Kats in double fig­ures, un­like their semi­fi­nal win when they spread the wealth and had four play­ers in double fig­ures, in­clud­ing top scorer Ja­mond Jones. Jones fin­ished Sun­day with five points, 12 un­der his sea­son aver­age, on just 2 of 7 shoot­ing.

Trail­ing 9-7, Coop­er­stown switched from full-court pres­sure to zone de­fense with Kennedy in the mid­dle mid­way through the first quar­ter. It proved to be a wise move as the Hawkeyes scored the next 14 points with Kennedy bul­ly­ing his way for four, open­ing things up for Lam­bert, who drained a pair of 3-point­ers.

From that point, the Kats flirted with fu­ri­ously ral­ly­ing only to have ef­forts blunted by Coop­er­stown play­ers al­ter­nat­ing hit­ting big shots. MEC’s trap­ping schemes, which fu­eled a comeback win from a 19-point deficit in a state quar­ter­fi­nal win over C.G. Fin­ney and the game-de­cid­ing 14-0 run in the state semi­fi­nal against Lake Ge­orge, didn’t work against the Hawkeyes.

“They were pa­tient, they weren’t gam­bling on loose balls or passes,” Net­tles said.

The Kats were try­ing to win their third state ti­tle in their 11th sea­son. The se­niors thought it was their time to go out leav­ing their own legacy for oth­ers to fol­low.

They got to a state fi­nal. That’s some­thing to ap­pre­ci­ate down the road. But not right now.

“It was just a heart-break­ing loss,” Net­tles said. “I was ex­pect­ing to come out with a win but you can’t al­ways just ex­pect it. You have to work to get what you need.”

“That’s just the game of basketball. It’s a one and done,” Kane said. “I feel, over­all, we could take that team ma­jor­ity of the time, but in basketball, all it takes is one game. We didn’t show up for this game and it ended up hurt­ing us.”

Pho­tos by Harry Scull Jr./Buf­falo News

Mid­dle Early Col­lege’s Traemelle Stevens-Richard­son, cen­ter, grabs a de­fen­sive re­bound against Coop­er­stown in the Class C fi­nal on Sun­day.

Mid­dle Early Col­lege’s Ja­heim Vir­gil walks to the bench fol­low­ing the Kats’ 71-61 loss to Coop­er­stown in the Class C cham­pi­onship game.

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