Norwich took control of Union-Endicott with a late-third quarter surge, then endured a foul-filled final period to claim an 85-67 victory and the school’s first Southern Tier Athletic Conference boys basketball championship in 20 years.
Go ahead and raise a hand if you predicted either an 18-point margin or an 85-point total for the winner Friday night in Binghamton University’s sparsely populated Events Center.
Point guard Michael Sutton’s 23 points brought 13-for-15 free throw accuracy and headed a quintet of two-figure Norwich scorers, and forward Storm Cook was a dominant force around the backboards throughout for the 18-0 Purple Tornado. Norwich next enters Section 4 Class B tournament play as the No. 1 seed.
Senior guard C.J. Krowiak turned in a hard-earned 22 points for U-E (14-4), and Miles Hemphill tacked on 14 points.
The contest was tied for the final time at 46 when the Tigers’ Matt Eastman quick-released a dead-on 3-point goal from the corner 4:30 into second-half play. Thereafter, Sutton flipped matters decidedly Norwich’s way by shifting into full fledged make-things-happen mode.
The Purple Tornado assumed the lead for keeps when Sutton penetrated to the rim for a left-handed finish, and 50 seconds later he fed Michael Oralls for a 3-pointer from atop the arc and it was 51-46.
Next Oralls spun down the lane for two before U-E’s Osama Barwari answered and it was 53-48 before Sutton accounted for the quarter’s final field goal when he accepted Carlos Ithier’s feed in transition and scored for a 57-48 advantage.
It was Sutton again playing an instrumental role as Norwich stretched it to a double-digit margin in the fourth quarter’s opening moments.
Krowiak ducked into the lane and hung in the air for a right-handed finish to draw the Tigers within 57-51. Then Sutton cut down the lane, received a feed from Zan Stewart on the wing, converted and tacked on a free throw for a 60-51 spread.
With 5:21 to play, Sutton softly stroked in a jump shot from the free throw line off the Tornado’s weave action high on the perimeter and it was 64-51. U-E’s deficit was 11 or more through the conclusion — and 19 when Stewart contributed six points to an 8-0 burst. That featured his fourth 3-pointer of the night followed by his putback that made it 72-53 with 3:53 to play.
The bulk of final-quarter play was a mere formality, and brought a combined 26 free throws.
Of the final margin, Norwich’s Cook said: “It was surprising because their offense is really good, but our defense was really, really good today.”
And his team’s 85-point outburst? “Our offense was really clicking in the first half, and then it started going in the second half.”
Norwich brought a 15-10 lead into the second quarter, then knocked in four 3-point goals — two from Cook — on the way to a 35-28 halftime advantage.
U-E grabbed the upper hand ever so briefly, 27-26, when Eastman looped around the perimeter and drained a catch-and-fire 3-pointer 3:10 before intermission. But Oralls responded with a put-back, Cook with a highly determined follow-up, Sutton with two free throws and, Cook with a 3-pointer from the corner courtesy of Sutton’s penetrating feed.
Ah, but back stormed the Tigers with seven straight to open second-half play.
Krowiak started by dribbling into a 3-pointer from up top, then he drove the right side of the lane for a tricky left-handed finish. Krowiak then made a steal and flipped ahead to set up Joey Orlando for a layup and it was 35-35.
“We called timeout and made a few defensive adjustments,” Norwich coach Tom Collier said. “Plus, Zan came down and made a couple 3s.”
Huge 3s they were from Stewart, from the left corner and right wing 32 seconds apart. Ithier made it a third long Norwich long ball in a 1:40 stretch when he banged one from the wing of Sutton’s drop-off feed for a 46-43 Tornado lead.
Oralls closed with 18 points, Cook 17 to go with a commanding effort rebounding and either blocking or altering shots, Stewart 15 and Ithier 10 for the winners.
“Gosh, that’s a lot of points. If you’d have told me we were going to score 85 points tonight … ” said Collier, his voice trailing off. “We’re not an offensive juggernaut but we’re pretty good offensively. Our calling card has been our defense.”
“Feels great,” Cook said, “first STAC championship since the ’94 team. Feels great.”