BY TIM TAYLOR
Tioga County Sports Report
SYRACUSE - Pinch yourselves Owego. This isn't a dream. On Saturday, you will make the program's first state playoff appearance since 2006. The Indians are excited to take the court at SRC Arena for the 2019 NYSPHSAA Class B Boys Basketball Championships.
"It feels good because of all the work we put in this year, me and my teammates, every Saturday coming in and practicing extra hours," senior guard Kobe Bogart said. "It's all the work we put in. It's a dream come true."
"It's pretty cool," senior guard Christian Sage added. "I never made it here before, obviously, and just fouling out like that (against Seton Catholic in the sectional championship game), it's kind of nice to be playing another game, and hopefully a couple more.
"Hopefully, I can get a couple jump balls. I thought those jump balls were clean in the (Seton) game, but I guess the refs didn't think so, so hopefully be smarter and stay away from grabbing their arms a little bit."
Sage headed to the bench with 5:58 left in that game with the team trailing, 48-45, but Isaiah Bishop, Rob Merrill and Evan Hamed stepped up to score valuable points, and Nate Bennett provided some nice ball-handling skills off the bench at a time when Owego could just as easily have folded.
That victory moved the Indians on to states for the fifth time in program history. Their opponent, Section III champion Lowville (20-2), is making its state tournament debut, having won its only other sectional title in 1964 when there was no tournament.
Owego's last two appearances resulted in losses to the eventual champions in their openers, the two before that they bowed out to the runners-up.
The Raiders captured their first sectional title since 1964 (Class A) with an impressive 77-47 rout of General Brown in Sunday's championship game. They also defeated Hannibal, 79-24, Chittenango, 78-42, and Westhill, 63-60, in the tournament. Westhill, which has won eight of the past 11 Section III Class B titles, led most of the semifinal clash, but folded late under the press, which is the strength of Lowville's defense.
The Raiders come in giving up just 43 points per game on average because of that defensive pressure.
Even though he wasn't even in school the last time Owego played at the state level, Bogart knows what has to be done to snap the three-game state slide.
"Everyone plays hard, good defense, and hopefully the outside shot goes in," he said, "but we've got to attack the basket, get to the free throw line."
Defense will be key for Owego against a Red Raiders team which is averaging 68.2 points per game.
"I'm hoping that our defense is similar to what it's been the last two games, because if it's not then we're in for a long day, because they can shoot the ball," said Owego coach Chris Evans. The Indians held Norwich to 41 and Seton to 51 in sectionals - they scored 58 and 60, respectively, against the Indians in earlier contests.
"They move the ball. They have good team chemistry. They know how to play, so it's going to be a challenge again for our guys," Evans added. "A little bit different kind of challenge in that it's more five-man motion. The (Chad) Bach kid is really good and No. 23, (Aidan) Macaulay, is really good. All five guys move. It isn't like you have two main guys or three main guys. All five guys can do damage."
After the 54-51 win over Seton Catholic in the sectional championship game, Bogart said the Indians need to decrease the number of fouls. He reiterated that this week.
"Get down and play defense, without your hands," he said. "Beat them to the spot, make them go around you."
"We'll go as far as our defense will take us," Sage said. "If we play defense like we did against Seton we should be fine. We've got to be able to score also. I think we can do that definitely."
Lowville likes life beyond the arc, having cranked out 228 3-pointers - 80 by senior guard Hudson White.
"We try to run them off the line, kind of like the way we did against Tommy Dempsey and the rest of the Seton squad," Evans said. "You've got to be ready to close out and you've got to be ready to sit down and move your feet after you close out, and run them off the line and be ready for them to drive the ball. They're really good at driving and kicking.
"One of the things that happens at all levels is teams over-help. Everybody is so used to help, help, help, and you can't overs-help. You can't go too far. Some times it's better with that line right there, that 3-point line, to make a guy take a difficult, contested 6- or 7-footer in the lane as opposed to over-helping and then he can kick it out for a wide-open 3-pointer."
"All you can do really is keep a hand in their face and don't over-help, because that leads to a 3-pointer," Bogart added.
Sophomore twins Aidan and Gavin Macaulay average 15.8 and 11.6 points per game, respectively. White, a senior, gives Lowville a trio of high-scoring guards. He averages 14.2 points per game.
Bach, a junior guard and all-state pick last year, senior guard Brett Tiffany and sophomore guard Aidan Zehr, who also plays forward, combine to average another 18.9 points per outing.
Owego (19-3) won its fifth sectional championship by defeating Dryden, 72-40, Norwich, 60-41, and Seton Catholic, 54-51. The Indians, who won Section IV Class B titles in 1988, 1991 and 1995, come in outscoring opponents, 63.1-54.4.
Bogart, a 1,000-point scorer and school record holder for threes, leads the Indians in scoring at 21.8 points per game while Christian Sage averages 14.7. Bogart leads the team in rebounding while Sage is tops in assists and steals. The senior guards were named to all-state teams last year.
Owego will also look to junior Hamed for some baskets from beyond the arc. Senior Merrill and junior Mike Wasyln round out the Indians' starting rotation. Senior Bishop, and juniors Brendan Evans and Bennett should see action off the bench.
Rounding out the Owego lineup are seniors Damien Plater and Collin VanVorce, juniors Joey Higgins, Cooper Phelps, Jozell Race and Cole Taylor, and sophomores Mason Rieg and Nick Wasyln.
"I feel like we can match up with them," Sage said. "I feel like we can match up with anyone. We just need to do what we've been doing all season, ride on our defense, get Kobe inside."
"I think we're going to have to move the ball well," Bogart said. "We're going to have to play good defense, because they have a lot of guards that can shoot. Don't over-help, but make sure we're in the right position."
In the rankings, newyorkstatebasketball.com lists Owego at No. 18 and Lowville No. 28 among small schools while newyorksportswriters.org has Lowville No. 16 and Owego No. 24 in Class B.
Tip-off is at noon.
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