CANAJOHARIE - Marcus Failing has been eased into the Fort Plain Hilltoppers rotation early in the season as he recovered from injury.
He broke out Wednesday night, dropping three 3-point baskets on the Canajoharie Cougars at key moments, helping Fort Plain to a 62-55 win over the Cougars in a Western Athletic Conference North Division boys basketball game.
"Those 3s were great because I didn't play in the first game against Mayfield and I didn't play much in the next two games," Failing said. "This is the game where I really broke out. I was just happy I got in there and started hitting them."
Fort Plain’s Jacob Sardina drives the lane as teammate Eric Orlogio blocks out Canajoharie’s Josh Gonzalez looks to defend during Wednesday’s Western Athletic Conference North game at Canajoharie High School. (The Leader-Herald/Mike Zummo)
Failing's biggest 3-pointer came with 5:58 remaining in the game as he turned a two-point Canajoharie lead into a 43-42 advantage, starting a run that sent the Hilltoppers.
Failing finished the game with 12 points.
"He's getting healthy and working hard in practice and he can shoot it," Fort Plain coach Casey Russom said. "He can shoot it and he's fearless and that's what I like about him."
The Cougars' Dillan Veeder tied the game with a basket, but Zach Sweet knocked down a 3 of his own with 4:59 left, starting an 8-0 run that put the game out of reach.
"It's those little runs, those two- or three- or five-point runs and it seems like we're doing that in the fourth quarters," Russom said. "We made our free throws, which is big. We got some big rebounds, and hit some shots."
Late in the game, the Cougars sent Joe Ray to the free-throw line, where he hit 6 of 8 to maintain Fort Plain's lead.
Four Hilltoppers finished in double figures. Jacob Sardina scored 13 points, while Ray had 13 and Chris Hanifin added 11.
"That's the way our team is," Russom said. "It's an everybody team. On any given night, we've got nine or 10 guys that can put up double digits. They don't care who scores. They just care about the win."
The win gave Fort Plain (4-1 overall, 3-0 WAC North) an early one-game lead on the Cougars. They came into the game tied for first place with identical records.
"It was a tough game," Ray said. "It was a big rivalry game and we knew it was going to be tough. We came out, fought out and won."
Both teams came flying out of the gate in the first quarter, scoring a combined 29 points with the Cougars (3-2 overall, 2-1 WAC North) taking a 16-13 lead.
Even then, Canajoharie coach Phil Schoff knew something was wrong.
We had 16 points in the first quarter and I said 'oh my gosh, we're only up three,'" he said. "What that told me was that our defense was lax. It was very lackadaisical. Our press wasn't working and our game is getting steals off our press, and they took us right out of that."
Even the Hilltoppers believed they were a step slow on defense as they allowed the Cougars to score 16 points, six of which came off 3-point baskets by Kevin Shannon. The Cougars took a seven-point lead after back to back 3s by Shannon and Veeder, who finished with 17 points each.
"In the first quarter, we were slow getting around and covering the 3-point shooters," Ray said. "At halftime, we made that adjustment. We needed to get more rotation on our defense."
Failing answered with a 3 and then a basket by Stephen Belden pulled the Hilltoppers to within four. A putback by Sardina and a 3-pointer by Hanifin gave Fort Plain a 27-26 lead, its first of the day. The Hilltoppers took a two-point lead, 30-28 into halftime when Sardina hit a 3-pointer with 1:04 left in the second quarter.
"Our new offense is really helping us out," Failing said. "It gets us a lot of open looks, not just for me, but for a lot of the other guards. Then, what opened it up was the big guys down low in the post. They get open all the time."
Fort Plain 62, Canajoharie 55
Fort Plain13 17 8 24 - 62
Canajoharie16 12 12 15 - 55
Hanifin 4-2-11, Sardina 6-1-14, Sweet 3-1-8, Ray 2-8-13, Failing 4-1-12, Belden 2-0-4. Totals: 21-13-62.
Bowerman 2-1-5, Shannon 6-1-17, Veeder 5-6-17, Gonzalez 2-2-6, Folts 4-0-8. Ouderkirk 1-0-2. Totals: 20-10-55.
3-point goals: Fort Plain 7 (Hanifin, Sardina, Sweet, Ray, Failing 3); Canajoharie 5 (Shannon 4, Veeder).