Cougars slip past Red Storm

Saranac Lake’s Jacob Shipman drives to the basket between Northeastern Clinton’s Alex Gomez (22) and Braydon Racine on Thursday, Jan. 3. Shipman scored a game-high 15 points. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

SARANAC LAKE — In a back-and-forth game that went down the wire, Saranac Lake’s boys came up a point short at home in a 42-41 loss to Northeastern Clinton in Champlain Valley Athletic Conference basketball action on Thursday.

The turning point came midway through the fourth quarter, when NCCS broke a 34-34 deadlock with a pair of back-to-back fast-break layups. Those two buckets gave the Cougars the lead for good, and the edge held up, even though the Red Storm did cut their deficit to one and two points on two separate occasions down the stretch.

Holding a 41-39 lead with 9.3 seconds remaining in regulation, NCCS got the winning shot from the foul line when James Molinski hit the front end of a one-and-one for his only point of the game. The sophomore forward missed his second attempt, Red Storm senior Jacob Shipman grabbed the rebound, drove the floor and hit a layup in traffic with two seconds left on the clock but was unable to draw a foul.

Saranac Lake hadn’t played since Dec. 20 when it toppled Peru 40-33 on the road for its only win so far. The loss to the Cougars dropped the Red Storm to 1-8 overall.

Despite the setback, head coach Dermott Morgan was pleased with his team’s effort, especially on defense.

Dylan Stewart dishes off a pass to Red Storm teammate James Catania during the opening half of Thursday’s game. (Enterprise photo — Lou Reuter)

“If we were to play this team at the beginning of the year, they would have beat us by 30,” Morgan said. “I’m so proud of this team. My guys, from the preseason tournament here where we got shellacked, to now, we’re definitely a different team. Our seniors have done a nice job.

“I think the guys are having fun,” Morgan continued. “In my 20 some years of coaching, I’ve found if a kid’s having fun, he’s going to show up in practice and play hard. We knew we would struggle offensively, but I was very proud of our man-to-man defense tonight. We kept them under 50.”

Shipman was the lone Red Storm player in double digits, finishing with a game-high 15 points. Spencer Trudo paced NCCS with 14 points and Thomas Gilbo, a freshman, added 10 in the win.

The Cougars held the biggest lead in the game, which was just five points, early in the second quarter. NCCS owned a 17-16 edge at intermission, and then opened the third quarter with two successful foul shots by Trudo to go up by three points. Saranac Lake then got a basket each from Shipman, Brooks Fletcher and Zach Churco to take its biggest advantage of the game at 23-19. The matchup see-sawed from there, with the lead changing hands several times.

Saranac Lake held its final lead of the game with 5:35 remaining when James Catania drained a three-pointer from the baseline to put the hosts on top 32-30. The Cougars then answered with an 8-2 run fueled by two-point field goals from four different players. And it was a run that provided NCCS with enough of a cushion to earn the victory.

“I was hoping we would pull away a little sooner, but we pulled the victory out in the end,” Cougars head coach Luke Connell said. “Once we started picking up the pace and moving the ball up the floor faster, that opened up some options for us on the offensive side. It took us the entire game to finally figure out to push the ball up the floor.”

With the win, NCCS improved to 2-2 in the CVAC and 2-4 overall.

“We’re on a learning curve. I have some young players with a mix of seniors,” Connell said. “It’s up and down. Honestly, with this team, I don’t have one strong scorer. If we want to win it has to be the whole team. We were able to do that today.”

Mason Supernaw finished with seven points for NCCS, which included a big three-pointer with 3:40 remaining that gave the Cougars a 41-37 edge. After Shipman, Fletcher and Carter Gagnon were the Red Storm’s next highest scorers, finishing with six points apiece.

Saranac Lake’s next game will be at home Tuesday against Ticonderoga.

Northeastern Clinton 42,

Saranac Lake 41

Cougars 8 9 13 12 — 42

Red Storm 7 9 10 15 — 41

NCCS (42)

Supernaw 3-0-7, O’Donnell 1-0-2, Gomez 1-2-4, Racine 1-0-2, Trudo 5-3-14, Collins 1-0-2, Gilbo 3-2-10, Molinski 0-1-1. Totals: 15-8-42.

SL (41)

Fletcher 3-0-6, Ciricovic 1-0-3, Meyer 0-0-0, Gagnon 3-0-6, Stewart 1-0-3, Churco 2-1-5, Shipman 6-3-15, Catania 1-0-3, Eckardt 0-0-0. Totals: 17-4-41.

Three-point goals: NCCS (4) , Supernaw, Trudo, Gilbo 2; SL (3) Ciricovic, Stewart, Catania.