HERKIMER, NY — The Utica Academy of Science Atoms have had a bad taste in their mouths since December. That bad taste was put there by the Cooperstown Hawkeyes back on December 10th, routing the Atoms by 15.
Monday night at Herkimer College, that bad taste was replaced by something much sweeter: a big win.
Senior Ryan Maddox poured in 28 points, including a thunderous dunk in the last three minutes of the game, to lead the Atoms to a 70-56 win Monday night. LaMarcus Merchant had another 17 in the victory, which propels Utica Academy of Science to 16-1 (7-1 CSC-III) and creates a logjam for the CSC-III title with just a week to go in the season.
“It gave us more energy,” Maddox said of his dunk, which gave the Atoms a double-digit lead late in the game amidst thunderous chanting from their student section. “We just kept pushing after that.”
That push began right from the opening tipoff, as the Atoms jumped out to a quick lead and the Hawkeyes tried to match them in speed. That speed did not equate to points early on, however, as it was only a 2-0 Utica Academy of Science lead just two minutes into the game. One person that did get off to a fast start, though, and that was Maddox. The senior scored seven of the team’s first nine points while holding the Hawkeyes scoreless for almost two and a half minutes. Meanwhile, defensively, the Atoms were severely undersized, especially with six-foot-eight sophomore John Kennedy under the basket. However, Utica Academy of Science was able to use their speed to keep Kennedy’s hands empty and continue to force the issue offensively.
“We paid attention to detail tonight,” Atoms head coach Anthony Lee said. “We understood who we were playing. It’s tough to play us for four quarters…you have to have a bench or be in really good shape.”
Fortunately for the Hawkeyes, they had that bench that Lee mentioned, and it allowed to keep the score close, including a three-point shot from junior Ryan Lansing to tie it up at nine late in the period. However, a quick 5-2 run just before the buzzer (the only Cooperstown basket from senior Jack Lambert) allowed the Atoms to maintain their lead into the second quarter, taking a 14-11 lead into the second period.
Kennedy finally found his legs in the second frame, not allowing the Atoms any more than an early basket to extend the lead to four. Offensively, the Hawkeyes were still seemingly stuck in neutral. As a matter of fact, in the second quarter, Cooperstown’s free throws outnumbered their field goals (7-5). Luckily, that defense allowed to keep the Atoms down in the period and tie up the score. However, Maddox continued to be a thorn in Cooperstown’s side, constantly finding holes in the usually tight Hawkeye defense to keep the Atoms in the lead, including an acrobatic effort to take the lead back midway through the second, forcing Cooperstown head coach John Lambert to spend a timeout to bolster the defense.
“It comes down to energy,” Maddox said. “We had to keep pushing. Every practice, we were doing everything we could to keep the ball out of [Cooperstown senior Jack Lambert’s] hands. I think we did a pretty good job tonight.”
Defensively, that’s exactly what the Atoms did, keeping Lambert, who usually picks up most of the scoring for Cooperstown (racking up over 23 points per game) to just 12 points (as many field goals — four — as free throws) in the half, while six members of the 11-player Atoms roster found the scoring sheet in the second quarter. Meanwhile Maddox’s three-pointer late in the quarter extended the Utica Academy of Science lead to six late in the period before a short run by Cooperstown cut the lead to three. The Atoms would get the lead back to four with a basket with just seconds left to take a 31-26 lead into the locker room.
“We’ve run into a bit of the flu tonight,” Lambert said of his team, who looked uncharacteristically gassed throughout the game against the much faster Atoms. “But, I’m very happy with the effort the kids gave me tonight. We’re just going to get healthy and get ready for sectionals.”
Before that, though, the Hawkeyes needed to get through the third and fourth quarters in Herkimer College. The two Cooperstown “L’s” (Lambert and junior Ryan Lansing) kept the lead around where it was at halftime with timely shots and free throws. The basket-and-one was quite popular in the third frame, as several players managed to get lucky rolls to earn the bonus shot. However, it was Lambert and Lansing reeling the Atoms in, grabbing a basket-and-one and another jumper to cut the lead to one late in the third frames. Even Kennedy would get into the scoring, grabbing six points as the Hawkeyes outscored Utica Academy of Science 21-18 in the third frame to take a 49-47 deficit into the final quarter.
Unfortunately, the fourth quarter was where the Atoms finally got to the usually potent Cooperstown offense. Turnovers would be the name of the game (the team racked up seven in the quarter) as the speedier Atoms finally were able to poke the ball away from the fatigued Cooperstown offense, leading to a basket or a foul almost every single time. Despite that, however, the Atoms were not able to take advantage early on, as they were only able to score two points over two and a half minutes into the quarter.
“We didn’t take care of the ball tonight,” Lambert said. “We got a little fatigued. Regardless of fatigue, if you don’t protect the ball, you’re not going to be in many games.”
“You just trust your defense,” Lee said. “Some people say, you won’t get the steal, but they come. We just have to make the right decisions.”
The turning point came soon after, as a big three-pointer by Merchant extended the Utica Academy of Science lead to six late in the game. That was as close as Cooperstown would get in the waning seconds Dekwen Grant would drain another one to bring the lead to double digits for the first time in the game, and the aforementioned dunk by Maddox put the lead up to eleven. The Atoms paid the Hawkeyes back for outscoring them in the previous period by outscoring the Hawkeyes 21-9 in the period to finally put the game away for good.
For Maddox, the retribution for their loss in December (their only loss of the season) was sweet and a big shift in momentum (including a likely leapfrogging of the Hawkeyes in the New York State Basketball rankings) will give the Atoms a big boost heading into the last week of the season.
“[The win] gives us a great lead going into sectionals,” Maddox said. “We feel like we could beat anybody right now. If we play how we did tonight, we can beat everybody.”
Both teams still have a chance to win the CSC-III outright, and it could come down to the Atoms once again. They have two games this week, including a big tilt with Center State Conference power West Canada Valley and a make-up date with Mount Markham that may decide who gets a share of the Third Division’s title and the high seed that comes with it. Both coaches, when asked about that title, were just focused on one thing: the next game.
Lambert gave a simple answer to explain the loss, which give the Hawkeyes back-to-back losses, their only two of the season. “We don’t make any excuses,” Lambert said. “They beat us tonight. We’re just focused on the league title…We have a sharp turnaround, we play tomorrow night. At this time, all we need to do is stay healthy and focused. I don’t worry about that with this team.”
“We still have some work left to do,” Lee said. “No offense to Weedsport, but I think it’s going to come down to us and Cooperstown. They have a good team, a good program. We’re just telling [our team] to stay focused and take it one game at a time.”
Utica Academy of Science Atoms 70, Cooperstown Hawkeyes 56
Atoms 14 17 18 21 70
Hawkeyes 11 15 21 9 56
Utica Academy of Science Atoms(70)
LaMarcus Merchant 5 4-5 17, Dekwen Grant 3 1-1 8, Ryan Maddox 11 3-4 28, Jordan Donato 1 1-2 3, Taysir Hakim-Monterio 2 0-0 4, Shamar Mills 3 0-1 6, Drayton Belton 2 0-0 4. Totals: 27 9-13 70.
Cooperstown Hawkeyes (56)
Ryan Lansing 4 1-1 11, Calvin Sandler 4 0-1 8, Ja-Lah Wimberly 1 0-0 3, Jack Lambert 7 7-10 21, Jesse Furnari 1 0-0 2, Noah Lifgren 0 1-2 1, John Kennedy 4 2-3 10. Totals: 21 11-17 56.
Halftime: Utica Academy of Science 31, Cooperstown 26.
Three-Point Field Goals: Utica Academy of Science 7 (Merchant 3, Maddox 3, Grant), Cooperstown 2 (Lansing 2).
Total Fouls: Cooperstown 14, Utica Academy of Science 18.
Records: Utica Academy of Science 16-1, 7-1 CSC-III, Cooperstown 16-2, 7-1 CSC-III.
Utica AS 16 7 18 14 55
Cooperstown 11 11 14 12 48