The William Smith basketball team had to wait more than a month to make its home debut, but in the end it was worth it. Playing their ninth game of the season, the Herons handed previously unbeaten Cortland a 72-70 defeat in Bristol Gym.
William Smith (4-5) got a game-high 21 points from junior forward Kristen Kush before she fouled out with 5:55 remaining. Senior guard Mollie Danahy caught fire in the second half, scoring 14 of her 20 points after the break, including a 4-for-5 performance from behind the 3-point arc (4-for-8 for the game). Sophomore guard Sydni Salvatore also hit double figures, finishing with 13 points, three assists, and three steals.
Despite a clear height disadvantage, the Herons enjoyed a 39-34 advantage on the glass. First-year guard Jacqueline Murphy collected a game-high 10 caroms, while Danahy snagged eight.
The Red Dragons (6-1) had four players reach double digits, led by Brittany Cohen’s 20 points and four assists. Megan Maycumber, Molly Byrne, and Jennifer Patten each grabbed a team-high six rebounds, while scoring 18, 12, and 11 points, respectively.
William Smith found itself in an early hole as Cortland scored the first two baskets of the game and needed just five minutes to build a 7-point lead. Cohen hit a jumper at the 11:18 mark to put the visitors up 20-13, but Kush countered with a traditional 3-point play at the other end of the floor, kick-starting a 14-4 run for the Herons.
After a technical foul was assessed to Cortland Coach Jeannette Mosher at the 8:01 mark, Kush made a pair of free throws to tie the game 22-all. Cohen sank a jumper to put her team back in front, but first-year guard Erin O’Brien (9 pts, 5 reb, 3 asst) drained a 3-pointer to reclaim the lead for the Herons. Salvatore ended the run with a jumper at the 5:57 mark, giving the Herons a 27-24 lead.
Cortland scored the next four points to go back in front for the final time, but William Smith went into the break on a 10-2 run, capped off by Salvatore’s 3-pointer that beat the final horn.
At halftime, Kush led all scorers with 15, while Murphy had a game-high seven rebounds.
Danahy dialed long-distance on the first possession of the second half, giving the Herons a 10-point lead, but the Red Dragons battled back, getting within three on a triple by Byrne just over a minute into the session. William Smith pushed back with a 9-2 run capped by another 3-pointer by Danahy and used a another 9-2 run three minutes later to build the largest lead of the game for either team, 65-50, with 9:57 to go.
The Herons still had a double digit advantage when Kush fouled out, but had to weather a fierce comeback attempt by Cortland. Maycumber made both free throws after the Kush foul to make it a 69-60 game then Cohen made a layup at 4:51. Both teams went on a scoring drought, until nearly two-and-a-half minutes later, Jen Polan made her only basket of the game, a 3 that closed the gap to 70-65.
Patten sank two free throws with 1:54 to go to get the Red Dragons within a single possession and looked poised to make things interesting after a Danahy turnover. The senior atoned for her miscue with a steal and breakaway layup just a few seconds later, accounting for William Smith’s only points in the final five minutes.
Byrne made a 3-pointer with 41 ticks left. The Herons used every bit of the 30-second shot clock on its ensuing possession before missing a shot. Cortland grabbed the rebound to keep its hope alive. Cohen was able to launch a 3 from NBA range ahead of the horn, but didn’t get a friendly role off the iron.
William Smith will be back in action on Thursday, Dec. 30, when the Heron visit Medaille. Tipoff in Buffalo is scheduled for 2 p.m.