Norwich’s boys sewed up a Southern Tier Athletic Conference basketball playoff berth with Wednesday night’s 68-46 victory at Owego, improving the state’s seventh-ranked Class B team to a 14-0 record.
Point guard Michael Sutton shook off a shaky first-half showing to ignite a third-quarter charge that turned an eight-point advantage into a 47-29 spread to open the fourth. That followed a second quarter in which the Purple Tornado denied the hosts a field goal.
Michael Oralls’ 11 points headed that exquisitely balanced cast of Norwich scorers, but some of his best work was done on the defensive end. Storm Cook and Zan Stewart added 10 points each, and Suton nine for the winners.
Will Gladney’s 14 points topped Owego (10-3), which is a victory from wrapping up the Central Division championship following a four-year stretch that brought the program 16 wins in 72 games.
Cook tacked on 11 rebounds and blocked a handful of shots as well, meaning the defensive blueprint worked just about to the letter.
“Our whole game plan was, if we could free Storm up to roam the paint — and he changed a lot of shots, too,” Tornado coach Tom Collier said. “Storm’s kind of our hidden gem. No one kinda knows about Storm Cook, but he’s a player.”
Norwich was a perfect mess in the early going, fumbling away the basketball repeatedly and misfiring too frequently from tight range when opportunity did arise.
Owego’s final lead, 13-11, was wiped away when Stewart converted two free throws 2:12 into the second quarter, and Sutton put the Tornado out front for keeps when he turned Carlos Ithier’s feed into an easy bucket inside 13 seconds later.
That would set in motion a 13-1 burst in which four scorers contributed.
Oralls picked off an inbound pass near midcourt and went the rest of the way for a goal, and Cook dropped one in off an ally-oop feed from Oralls to make it 19-13. Next came a cleverly aggressive piece of work from Ithier, who drove to the rim, rose and drew two defenders, converted left-handed and drew a foul. He added the free throw and it was 22-14.
To close Norwich scoring in the quarter, Oralls finished ahead of the pack after Matt Burke made a steal near midcourt, and Stewart went nearly end-to-end off a turnover for points. It was a 26-16 difference at halftime, and clearly the more seasoned Purple Tornado was establishing its superiority.
The Indians’ deficit was two digits for good once Sutton turned a penetrating goal into a three-point play 3:10 into second-half play. That left him seven third-quarter points and put his team ahead by 35-23.
In fact, all eight of the visitors’ third-quarter field goals came from point-blank range, and they tacked on five free throws.
“In the second half we would take a shot and everybody would watch the shot — and Norwich got layup after layup,” said coach Bryan Hathaway, whose Owego squad is 5-3 in conference play with Susquehanna Valley visiting on Friday.
“The boys did not play their game offensively. I thought defensively in the first half we played extremely well. We got a little tired, and I don’t have a lot of depth on the bench … “
Norwich made it consecutive three-point plays in the third quarter when Burke was the beneficiary of a steal by Ithier and added a free throw to make it 38-25 at the midway point of the period. Ithier then finished inside courtesy of Oralls’ penetrating set-up. The Tornado completed third-quarter scoring via ideal execution of its “One Shot” offense — exchange after exchange leading to a gimmie by Oralls off Ithier’s feed from the corner with a second remaining.
Oralls’ most meaningful assignment was guarding Owego sophomore Gladney, a strong interior presence who managed those 14 points with aid of two 3-point goals.
Just to put a bow on it, Norwich extended the lead to 54-34 early in the fourth with a stretch that brought Oralls another interior bucket, another ally-oop finish by Cook — this one off Sutton’s baseline inbound lob — and a jump shot from the free throw line by Burke.
Had someone suggested 14-0 to Collier on Day 1 of preseason?
“We’d take it. Obviously we didn’t expect to be 14-0, but we come every day, work hard in practice every day,” he said.
On the other side is a program making significant strides toward a return to relevance in the conference.
“It’s a great learning experience,” Hathaway said. “Failure is just a stepping stone to success. We needed this. We needed to play a really good team to see what we needed to work on.”