Saints run out of steam

North Country’s Devonte Walker glides toward the basket past Onondaga’s Shemere Elliot for a second-half layup during Tuesday’s game in Saranac Lake. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

SARANAC LAKE — With a chance to knock off one of the junior college powers in the state and keep an impressive first-semester run going, the North Country Community College men’s basketball team fizzled down the stretch Tuesday in a 95-85 home loss to Onondaga.

The Saints built up huge leads at various points in the contest, including a 21-point advantage in the opening half, but they collapsed under the Lazers zone defense after halftime to fall to 8-2 overall.

Onondaga, which is the second-ranked squad in Region III, won its fifth straight and improved to 5-1.

The Saints erupted for 58 points in the first half and carried a 14-point edge into intermission, but were held to a dismal 27 points during the second half when they were plagued by turnovers and missed opportunities at the foul line.

“When they switched to a zone, we stopped sharing it and had a lot of turnovers,” said a disappointed Saints’ head coach Daryl Crist. “We just didn’t get many shots at the basket like we did in the first half. A lot of turnovers and no second-chance points got them back into it. They beat us pretty good in the second half.”

Saints’ sophomore Damon Hunter defends James Jones of Onondaga during Tuesday’s game. Hunter dumped in a dozen points in the first half but was held off the scoreboard after intermission. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

Onondaga’s sophomore guard tandem of Tyler Sullivan and Tae Elijah proved especially deadly to the Saints, as the pair combined to drain 56 points. Sullivan, who was the Lazers’ athlete of the year a season ago, finished with a game-high 29 points and the 27-year-old Elijah added 27.

North Country was paced by Diondre Harvey’s 21 points, and Jonathan Thornton tossed in 18 in the loss. Thornton, a freshman from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, knocked down four of NCCC’s 10 three-pointers and scored 16 points in the opening half but was held to a single two-point field goal after intermission.

The Saints cruised to a 12-0 lead to start the game and enjoyed their biggest edge late in the opening stanza at 58-37 following a 14-1 run. Onondaga, however, strung together seven straight points at the end of the half to cut NCCC’s lead to 58-44. Lazers’ head coach Eric Saroney said that actually turned out to be an important part of the contest for his team, which went on a tear after halftime, outscoring the Saints 51-27 on the way to the victory.

“When we were first down by 21, it was really early in the game,” Saroney said. “We cut it to seven, but when they stretched it back to 18, I thought we were in a lot of trouble. I thought it was huge for us even to get it down to 14 at the half instead of being down 18 or 20. We had some bad defense in the first half, but to their credit, they shot the ball unbelievably.

“We just had our fingers crossed that the law of averages would catch up,” Saroney continued. “We haven’t played the zone much this year. We’ve been working on it a lot of practice, but I’ve actually been scared to use it. I thought we played the zone really well. We did the best job we’ve done all year in the zone, and I thought we executed better on offense in the second half.”

The Lazers dumped in the first six points of the second half to cut their deficit to eight, and whittled that down to a four-point hole and a 63-59 score with 15 minutes remaining. They took their first lead of the night with 11:20 left on the clock when Elijah sank a three-pointer, but the Saints responded with six straight points to regain the advantage at 75-70. Onondaga battled back to tie, and then took the lead for good when Chris Allen scored from in close to put his team on top 84-83 with 2:30 left on the clock. The Lazers then ended the game with an 11-2 run, which included eight points from the free throw line.

Onondaga finished with a 21-for-28 performance from the stripe while the Saints shot poorly at the line, hitting just six of their 14 attempts.

“We needed to understand possession of the ball and a shot at the basket is what we want as opposed to a risky pass,” Crist said. “Too many turnovers and not enough shots, and we were bad from the free throw line.

“When we play the right way, we’re good,” Crist added. “Their zone definitely effected us. We didn’t close it out on our home floor. We had them and we let them back into it, and they closed us out.”

Onondaga will be in the North Country again Sunday for its next game against Clinton Community College. The Saints’ next contest will be at home Thursday in a non-league game against Paul Smith’s College starting at 7 p.m. The matchup will be the second game of a doubleheader, with the NCCC women starting things off against the Bobcats with the opening tipoff slated for 5 p.m.

Onondaga 95, North Country 85

Onondaga (95)

W. Cutler 2-0-5, Elijah 7-10-27, Sullivan 10-7-29, Elliot 3-2-8, N. Cutler 4-0-10, Leslie 1-0-3, Allen 4-1-9, Jones 0-1-1. Totals: 31-21-95.

North Country (85)

Thornton 7-0-18, Walker 3-3-11, Hunter 4-1-11, Wilkinson 4-1-9, Harvey 10-1-21, Logans 5-0-12, Bien-Amie 1-0-2. Totals: 34-6-85.

Halftime: North Country, 58-44.

3-point goals: Onondaga (9) W. Cutler, Elijah 3, Sullivan 2, N. Cutler 2, Leslie. North Country (10) Thornton 4, Walker 2, Hunter 2, Logans 2.