---- — GALLOWAY, N.J. — At the beginning, the Plattsburgh State men’s basketball team started out too cold. Near the conclusion of its season-opening contest, Bridgewater State got hot from the field and closed the gap by a considerable margin.
The middle of the game, though, was just right as the Cardinals held on for a 78-70 victory in the second game of the Richard Stockton Tip-Off Tournament on Saturday night at the Sports Center on the campus of Richard Stockton College.
Although Plattsburgh State (1-0) shot 48.4 percent from the field in triumph, it was forced to work through an exceptionally sluggish offensive stretch in the opening stages of the tilt. In its first game-related basketball activity since March 1, the Cardinals struggled mightily to put points on the board, missing their first 15 field goal attempts of the non-conference bout.
“We came out with a lot of energy, but we couldn’t put the ball in the basket,” Plattsburgh coach Tom Curle said. “We were excitable.
“We fell behind 9-2, but we weren’t getting outplayed. We just couldn’t put the ball in.”
During that trying time, Bridgewater State (0-2) was able to build up an advantage of as many as nine points, but thanks to a number of hard-driving trips to the rim, the Cardinals were able to keep the Bears from taking a double-digit lead.
Jordan Moody sunk a pair of free throw attempts to put the designated home squad on the board for the first time at the 17:22 mark of the tilt, and additional charity stripe makes by Shamoy McIntosh, Xavier Thomas and Shavar Fields accounted for the next trio of points before the shots finally began to go through.
Directly after Fields capitalized on one of his free throw attempts at 11:21, senior Chris Manning did what he was the best in all of NCAA Division III basketball at last season. The Baldwin, N.Y., product swindled the ball from Tyler Demelo and drove coast-to-coast for an uncontested layup which proved to be the first field goal of the night for the Cardinals.
From that point on, the Cardinals regained their footing on the offensive end of the floor, and it wasn’t just Manning who Plattsburgh State had to thank for it. In the first game of his farewell collegiate campaign, senior Shavar Fields came off the bench and made things miserable for the interior defenders from Bridgewater State.
“Once we settled in we started pressing them and turned them over,” Curle said. “We went into the half up three points and we shot about 30 percent from the field.”
The 6’6 Albany, N.Y., native netted seven of the next 11 points for the Cardinals, who began to flourish during that particular stretch.
Another senior in John Perez banked in a layup with six minutes remaining in the first stanza to give the Cardinals their first lead of the game, 15-14. With 4:22 to go in the opening frame, Michael Rector canned a long-range basket to give the Bears their final lead of the bout, 19-17.
The heavy dose of Fields on the interior continued as the senior rattled home a layup and knocked down his free throw attempt after the ensuing foul. His three-point play was the start of a 9-0 surge by the Cardinals which culminated with Thomas taking to the sky for a dunk that made matters 28-19 Cardinals with 1:51 to go in the first half.
Battling through a back-and-forth second frame, the Cardinals allowed Bridgewater State to come back and knot matters at 39 with 13:01 to go, but consecutive long balls by McIntosh and Edward Correa allowed Plattsburgh State to put some distance between it and the Bears once again.
The shot accuracy troubles that manifested themselves in the opening frame were a thing of the past for Plattsburgh State in the final 20-minute half. The aforementioned triples kick-started a 13-4 surge by the Cardinals, who saw their lead balloon to 12, 55-43, with 8:22 to go in the game.
An absolutely sizzling second-half shooting pace of 65.6 percent (21-of-32) allowed the Cardinals to increase their lead to as many as 17 points before the Bears bridged the sizable gap with their long-range assault.
“I think we went up by as many as 16 or 17 in the second half,” Curle said. “We just needed to settle down a little bit. The gym was sort of like our field house. It’s a tough shooters gym so we started taking the ball to the rim.
“We shot an unbelievable percentage in the second half because we started taking the ball to the rim.”
Three Plattsburgh State turnovers in the final minute of play translated to a trio of three-pointers off the hand of Ryan Spencer as the Bears trimmed the Cardinals’ lead to eight, 76-68, with 24 seconds left.
Fortunately, Thomas navigated the Bridgewater State full-court press with ease before sinking a layup with 16 seconds remaining to up the Plattsburgh State lead to 10.
Fields finished with a team-high 17 points on six-of-seven field goal shooting as well as eight rebounds to lead a balanced Plattsburgh State attack. McIntosh added 15 and the only blocked shot for the Cardinals while Moody finished with 12.
Perez concluded his first game since February 21 with a double-double, consisting of 10 points and 10 rebounds.
The Cardinals shot 2-of-16 (12.5 percent) from long range and 14-of-21 (66.7 percent) from the foul stripe while outrebounding the Bears 40-30 and forcing their foes into 23 turnovers.
Michael Lofton came up with game highs in points (18) and rebounds (11) for Bridgewater State.
Set to conclude their stay in the Garden State on Sunday, the Cardinals will take on host institution Richard Stockton, who defeated Bridgewater State 84-76 on Friday night. The clash between the two undefeated teams will begin at 1 p.m.
Plattsburgh 78, Bridgewater State 70
Bridgewater State (70)
Clark 4-0-9, Lofton 6-6-18, Reid 1-1-4, Allen 1-0-2, Gibson 3-8-14, DeMelo 1-1-3, Monteiro 2-1-5, Ramanko 0-0-0, Rector 2-0-5, Grandfield 0-0-0, Spencer 3-0-9. Totals: 23-17-70.
Manning 3-0-6, McIntosh 5-4-15, Perez 5-0-10, Moody 4-4-12, Hodgson 1-0-2, Correa 4-0-9, Thomas 3-1-7, Fields 6-5-17, Baker 0-0-0, Siergiej 0-0-0. Totals: 31-14-78.
Halftime: Plattsburgh, 28-25.
3-point goals: Bridgewater State (7) Clark, Reid, Allen, Rector, Spencer 3. Plattsburgh (2) McIntosh, Correa.