Once Union-Endicott tended to the not-so-fun components of basketball Wednesday night, victory No. 7 in as many outings this season was a lock.
The Tigers’ 26-9 command of the third quarter was born of much-improved defense and rebounding — oh, and that rash of 3-point goals — and opened the gates to a 77-57 Southern Tier Athletic Conference win over Elmira.
C.J. Krowiak had 30 points and six assists, and backcourt mate Joey Orlando collected 16 rebounds for U-E, which scored 22 points in the closing five minutes of the first half to flip a seven-point deficit into a 39-32 advantage.
That lead stood at 39-27 until the Tigers allowed five Elmira points in the last 25 seconds of the half — symptomatic of defensive neglect that prompted a soft, soothing locker-room address from coach Joe Alger.
Seven-point lead notwithstanding, the Tigers’ attention to defensive rebounding to that stage was virtually non-existent.
“If you could have been a fly on the wall for our halftime talk … ” Alger said. “It was almost as if we opened the lanes for them and said, ‘Go get it!’ We were one-and-done on offense and they were getting second- and third- and fourth-chance opportunities.
“We had a nice little chat at halftime about the importance of playing on both ends of the court. Our defense dictates how well our offense plays. I think we made a statement when we came out those first couple minutes of the third quarter that we were going to button up our defense and we were actually going to box out instead of just try to out-jump them.”
The teenagers clearly heeded coach’s advice, and limited the Express to five points through the first 5:35 of the third quarter. Meanwhile, U-E’s Krowiak and Matt Eastman got down to business from long range as beneficiaries of sound ball movement.
When Eli Thomas — Elmira scoring leader with 12 points — converted a follow-up 1:26 into the third quarter the Express was within 43-35. That would be the final one-digit margin of the night.
Eastman pulled the cork on 14-2 spree by spotting up near the top of the arc and canning a gift-wrapped 3-pointer, and 16 seconds later Krowiak followed suit by transitioning into freedom on the left wing to make it 49-35.
Following an Elmira timeout, Eastman accepted Krowiak’s penetrating exit feed on the right wing and made it three consecutive threebies for the hosts, and Krowiak made it four in succession by bagging one from the left corner with 4:10 remaining in the quarter.
Two minutes and six seconds, four 3-pointers for U-E.
Just for giggles, quarterback Orlando went deep to wideout-extraordinaire Krowiak on an inbound pass from under U-E’s goal for a layup that made it 57-37 midway into the telltale quarter.
“The key wasn’t that we hit those threes, it was that we made the extra pass to get those threes,” Alger said. “People know who our shooters are and they close out on them fast, but the minute we made that extra pass — all four were on extra passes …
“It makes it look good when you make the shot on that extra pass as well. We need that, and we shared the ball very well in that second half.”
Contributing to the rapidly expanding margin in that third quarter was a shooting-challenged Elmira squad that for an extended spell couldn’t hit an ox in the backside with a fistful of Jolly Ranchers. Regardless of range or degree of defensive resistance, offensive futility set in.
“Right there at the end of the second quarter then early and often in the third,” was Express coach Ryan Johnson’s estimate of the length of his team’s extreme woes. Ironically or otherwise, the theme of his pre-game message was consistency.
“If we put four quarters together, I think we could beat or hang with just about anybody. We’re just not doing that right now,” he said.
Most was well early on for Elmira (4-5), which ventured east seeking to halt a four-game losing streak. It was 15-15 after a quarter and 24-17 once Tyler Lynch lofted home a ceiling-scraper from outside the arc on the right wing 2:40 into the second quarter.
Problem was, from that juncture through conclusion of the third period, U-E would outscore the guests by a blowout-inducing 48-17 count.