BY TIM PULSIFER
---- — PLATTSBURGH — “We’re in!”
Those were the words uttered by a smiling and somewhat relieved Plattsburgh State’s women’s basketball coach Cheryl Cole in the aftermath of Friday night’s exciting 72-60 victory over Cortland at Memorial Hall.
Both teams entered the game sporting identical 8-8 conference records and needing a victory in order to keep their playoff hopes alive. In front of the hometown fans, the Cardinals got the job done, punching their ticket to the SUNY Athletic Conference Tournament.
“We needed this one in a big way, and the ladies really came through,” Cole said. “We played two strong halves of basketball and were able to respond down the stretch and finish strong.
“Finishing and closing out games has sometimes been a problem for us this year, but (Friday) I think we were able to show just how far we’ve come as a team. We were able to keep our composure down the stretch, make some shots and actually win quite comfortably.”
The Cardinals will wrap up their regular season this afternoon against Oswego.
Plattsburgh (13-11, 9-8 SUNYAC) led for virtually the entire first half and went into the break ahead 29-26.
“We came out well, but I thought we turned the ball over a few too many times in the first half,” Cole said. “We also had a couple of defensive breakdowns, making things a little tighter than I would have liked. But all in all, I was pretty pleased with the way we were playing in the first half.”
Cortland (10-13, 8-9) showed no signs of going away, however, and knotted the game at 39 with 13 minutes remaining. The bulk of the offense for the Red Dragons came from the perimeter. Cortland finished with eight 3-pointers, including five in the second stanza.
Plattsburgh standout Kathleen Payne took matters into her own hands. Payne, who scored 11 of her game-high 18 points in the second half, led a 17-7 run that put the Cardinals in front for good.
“KP was really feeling it tonight,” Cole said. “When she is in a zone like that, she is a very difficult player to defend. She was also running the floor and making plays on the defensive end.
“Rebounding, creating turnovers with second effort, blocking shots for us. She just played an outstanding all-around game.”
As good as Payne was, Friday night’s win was anything but a one-player show. Several other Plattsburgh players also came up huge.
Brooke Reifinger played perhaps her best game of the season. Reifinger, who finished with 13 points, connected on 9-of-10 attempts from the line, including several pressure-packed free throws down the stretch to help seal the deal in favor of the Cardinals.
“Brooke had a great game,” Cole said. “When things weren’t really happening for us on offense at one point in the second half, Brooke began attacking the paint. And I think everyone kind of fed off that for the rest of the game. She was a real difference-maker for us tonight.”
Misha Green and Dana Nucaro also had a strong game, finishing with 10 points apiece, and Brittany Marshall added an additional nine, including a pair of first-half threes.
“We just had tremendous balance tonight, and that is when we are at our best,” Cole said. “When everyone is contributing, the other team just has too many players to contend with. With four players in double figures and a fifth with nine and the way we were sharing the ball, this was just an outstanding team win.”
One key area was the foul line, where the Cardinals outscored the Red Dragons by a margin of 26-2 for the game. This differential was primarily attributed to the fact that the Cardinals were able to work the ball down low, where they drew contact, while the Red Dragons kept their offense on the perimeter for the majority of the evening.
Caysea Cohen finished with 13 points and eight rebounds and Erin Wolstenholme added 12 points to pace Cortland.
The Cardinals’ victory was their fourth straight and gave them their first season sweep of the Red Dragons.
Plattsburgh State 72,
Rando 3-0-8; Cohen 5-1-13; Minor 3-0-7; Touey 4-1-9; Williamson 1-0-2; White 0-0-0; Logan 0-0-0; Shine 1-0-2; Wolstenholme 5-0-12; Morris 2-0-4; DeMarco 0-0-0; Seger 1-0-3. Totals: 25-2-60.
Marshall 2-3-9; Green 2-6-10; Payne 7-1-18; Cassidy 1-3-6; Nucaro 5-0-10; Lloyd 1-0-2; Reifinger 2-9-13; Paul 0-4-4; Coryea 0-0-0; Lewis 0-0-0. Totals: 20-26-72.
Halftime: Plattsburgh 29-26.
3-point goals: Plattsburgh State 6, Payne 3, Marshall 2, Cassidy. Cortland 8, Rando 2, Cohen 2, Wolstenholme 2, Seger, Minor.