A take-charge stretch of basketball to close the third quarter turned matters decisively Norwich’s way Tuesday night in a 65-42 Southern Tier Athletic Conference victory over Oneonta.
Michael Sutton scored 24 points and Michael Oralls had 11 points and eight rebounds for the Purple Tornado (11-0), which has dealt the Yellowjackets both of their losses this season. The first came by 55-47 on Dec. 4.
Significantly, the outcome left Norwich two ahead of its rival in the loss column of STAC’s East Division.
Oneonta, which trailed by 12 in the first quarter, drew within 36-31 when Paul Bischoff converted a jump shot from the elbow near the midway point of the third period. Thereafter, five Norwich individuals contributed points to a 19-2 spree that carried into the early stages of the final quarter.
Especially critical were consecutive 3-point goals from Storm Cook and Matt Burke — the latter his lone field goal of the night.
Meanwhile, the Purple Tornado limited Oneonta’s Jordan Gutierrez to nine points, considerably short of an average that has him hovering around the top of STAC charts. Primarily responsible was Zan Stewart, assigned the task as is his wont, with backing from Carlos Ithier.
“Zan Stewart plays tremendous defense. He’s shut down every big player we’ve had to go against this year,” Sutton said. “He’s a great defender and he really turned it on tonight. He’s long, he’s athletic and he just plays hard defense.”
“He’s a great player, averaging 26 or whatever. Zan and Carlos were the two guys tonight who held him down,” said Norwich coach Tom Collier.
The game began to tilt noticeably Norwich’s way during a segment that began with Oralls getting to the rim for a goal 3:55 into the third quarter. The next points came in the form of Cook’s 3-pointer from the left corner, which was ‘Jackets coach Jerry Mackey’s cue to call timeout with his team down by 41-31.
Problem was, the guests turned over the basketball on their initial possession after the stoppage, and Burke responded by canning another 3-pointer from along the top/right of the arc.
A free throw and a three-point play by Sutton, and then a quarter-ending short jump shot by Oralls off an offensive rebound made it 50-33 to begin the fourth.
Cook opened the final quarter with an interior goal, and Ithier fired in a 3-pointer from the top to make it 55-33 — about half-a-minute after Mackey opted to summon his starters on the sideline for the remainder of play.
As for Norwich’s formula for success against Oneonta, which is 11-0 when facing opponents other than Norwich?
“I think we play great defense and we play great team basketball,” said Sutton, who had the greatest say in the hosts’ ability to take early control.
In the first 90 seconds of play, Sutton cashed a 3-pointer from the right wing and then craftily entered the lane to create a second bucket. Later in the quarter came a 3-pointer from the top, and another from the left wing courtesy of crisp and patient ball movement. He hit two free throws 5:22 into the quarter to give him 13 points to that juncture.
Sutton opened Norwich’s second-quarter scoring by storming down the lane for a score, and closed it in similar fashion before the hosts trotted off for halftime ahead by 29-23.
“It was a big game and I knew I had to get it going, and my team did a great job of getting me the ball early,” said Sutton. “We were moving the ball well and I hit my open shots.”
“Great players are great in big games. That’s what Michael Sutton was tonight,” Collier said.
Back and forth the teams went through a temporary stretch of defensive indifference through the first several minutes of second-half play until the New York State Sports Writers Association’s seventh-ranked Class B team eased into command.
“I though Burkey’s three was the nail,” Collier said of a conversion that was followed by Burke’s demonstrative punch of the air before him.
Albert Odero’s 10 points headed Oneonta scorers, and Bischoff added eight.