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By Brian Fees
Southern Tier Sports Report
CORNING — The Corning Hawks have been in this situation before.

A big second quarter had Elmira leading 31-22 at the half.

The Hawks were down, but they knew they were never out, and in the end they rallied back for a 53-49 win to move to 9-0 on the season.

“We just knew we had to play harder, had to play smarter, had to keep our composure,” Corning point guard Jackson Casey said. “We believe we are one fo the best teams around, we just had to play that way.”

Corning led 10-8 after one quarter, but Elmira outscored them 23-12 in the second quarter to take the lead.

Chris Woodard started the second quarter with a three, before Landen Burch tied things back up for Corning.

Then, Elmira scored five straight, with freshman James Harris coming up with a big three.

Corning came right back with five straight, with Isaiah Henderson tying the game.

The Hawks took the lead as Aidan Chamberlin threw down a big dunk, but Harris hit two threes within a minute, and three threes in the quarter, and Seth Myles gave Elmira its fifth three of the quarter as they took the nine-point lead.

For the Express it was special seeing the contribution from the freshman Harris in the game.

“It is nice,” Elmira coach Ryan Johnson said. “We have got some young guys up for a reason, and I’m not afraid to play anybody if they are going to go out and do their job.. The big thing for me is I watched him in warmups, he looked good in warmups. We talked about the mental preparation and you can’t start preparing mentally in the middle of the second quarter, it has to be in the locker room as soon as we get here and we have got to do it the entire time.

“I watched him and the way he warmed up and I said we can use him. I mean, he missed his first three, I believe his first two or three, and we told him just keep shooting, keep shooting. He’s a good young player, but I’m just proud of the way my guys stepped up tonight. That’s a good Corning team. Very well coached, they play their butts off, they play hard, they play physical, so I’m proud of my boys, but we have a lot of work to do.”

Corning coach Mike Johnston Jr. was impressed with the way Harris shot the ball in the game.

“Kudos to Elmira, they came out and they competed tonight,” he said. “I thought Harris had a huge game for them tonight. He’s a freshman. I’ve seen him play three or four times and I haven’t seen that. Obviously he’s on people’s radar now, he just had four three pointers against us.”

In the third quarter the Hawks started to work their way back. Isaiah Henderson heated up in the third quarter, scoring seven points in the third and 11 second-half points.

Henderson hit a big three to cut the deficit to six, before Xavier Jones stretched the Elmira lead back to eight. Henderson got another basket and had Elmira within five in the quarter, before Elmira stretched the lead to 38-32 after three quarters.

This isn’t the first time that Henderson has had a big second-half. Time and again this year he’s come up with big second halves for the Hawks.

“Just at halftime our teammates pushing each other and telling me to keep shooting,” Henderson said. “It’s just momentum, just keep going and make my shots.”

Casey had full confidence that Henderson would heat up.

“At the end of the day, I’ll find Isaiah and I have faith he’ll find his shot by the end,” Casey said. “I’ve seen it time after time, practice and game, 5 a.m. at the Y, midnight at the gym. I’ve seen him make it all the time, so I have faith he’ll make it.”

The whole Corning team got hot in the second half.

“He (Henderson) had 11 in the second half, 11 of his 16. Landen Burch had six in the second half. Casey had seven in the second half, (Nesu) Maphosa had five in the second half. Aidan Chamberlin kind of carried us in the first half, kind of kept us in the game a little bit. The little things won the game for us tonight, we just kept fighting, found a way to win.

“We’ve got experience. That’s the third or fourth time this year we’ve been down, but our kids stayed focused. Not playing our greatest, but that’s a tribute to what Elmira is. They play hard, their kids play hard, they have got good athletes, they were beating us to the ball early in the game.”

For the Corning players they key was just working together and staying composed in the second half.

“It feels great,” Casey said of the win. “Sloppy game, but we did what we had to do at the end. We stayed composed, and we had each other’s back.”

After Elmira went up 39-32, the Hawks scored four straight, with Landen Burch scoring inside to cut the deficit to 39-36.

Woodard hit a jumper for Elmira to stretch the lead to five points with six minutes left, but Casey quickly answered for Elmira to get the deficit down to two.

Seth Myles scored on a circus shot for the Express and Elmira went back up four-points, but Corning kept fighting back and with 4:35 left Burch tied the game.

Henderson converted a three-point play to give Corning it’s first lead since the start of the second quarter at 46-44.

Mikey Middaugh quickly tied the game for Elmira, but Henderson was fouled on a three-point shot, making one free throw to put the Hawks up 47-46.

Chamberlin then scored for Corning as they went up 49-46 in the final minute.

Nesu Maphosa gave Corning a five-point lead, but Elmira wouldn’t quit. With 8.4 seconds left Harris hit his fourth three of the game to cut the deficit to 51-49.

Casey was fouled and went to the line shooting 1-and-1 with a chance to seal the game.

For Casey it’s a situation he lives for.

“It feels good, because it’s a make or go home situation, you’ve got to make it,” Casey said.

And, that’s exactly what happened as the junior hit both free throws to seal the win for the Hawks.

Casey has come up big in big moments over and over this year, including a buzzer beating three against Johnson City to force overtime in a game the Hawks eventually won.

Corning’s players had full faith Casey would hit the free throws.

“I always have got confidence in my teammates,” Henderson said.

Free throw shooting was a big key to the game. Neither team shot great from the line, but Casey hit the big free throws late. Elmira was 3-for-16 from the line, including 2-for-10 in the fourth quarter.

“One of the glaring stats to me was down the stretch they were 3-for-16 from the line,” Johnston Jr. said. “They gave us a chance. We weren’t much better early on, but Jackson Casey was ice at the line down the. stretch. That was huge.

“In the fourth quarter they were 2-for-10 from the line, that’s huge. We did a better job blocking out on free throws and getting possession. At halftime we had one guy in double figures, by the end of the game we had four guys in double figures, so they just relaxed. They let the game come to them a little better down the stretch.”

One of the big keys for Corning was the defense in the second half.

“Defense,” Johnston Jr. said. “We gave up seven points in the third, we gave up 11 points in the fourth, so 18 total in the second half. We gave up eight in the first, so we had three pretty solid defensive quarters and that helped our cause because we did not do a very good job taking care of the ball.

“We were always confident, this is our third or fourth game that has been really close. It always reverts back to fundamentals. Take care of the ball, make your free throws, make your layups and defend at the opposite end and limit them to one shot and we did that with under two minutes to go. We did a better job because we did not do it early in the game.”

Down the stretch the Corning players just knew they had to step up.

“I am just determined and I want to win more than just about anybody on the court,” Casey said.

For Corning there is just something about this group in big spots.

“I said to the kids at halftime, just keep playing, let the game come to you, don’t force things,” Johnston Jr. said. “I’m not worried about score, you’ve just got to win the quarter. We gave up a big one, where they outscored us 23-12 in the second quarter, but we won the other three quarters, so I thought that was really big.

“We just keep finding ways, making plays, making free throws down the stretch, making key layups, getting the ball to guys when they are open, defending the basketball and limiting shots so it’s that crunch time that our kids have been getting it done. They are just competitors. Some people tense up, our guys, they have that grit. They buckle down, they know they have to do it on the defensive end, down the stretch I think that was key.”

For Elmira this is the second straight game they got out fast on a rival, they led Horseheads by 20 points. While both games ended with the same result, Johnson sees how much progress his team is making.

While free throws are still hurting the team, the Express players keep playing hard.

“I like the effort,” Johnson said. “I can live with that every single night. If we are consistent and we are playing four quarters, we will go through spurts here and there. It’s high school basketball, sometimes you struggle to get it in. We came up empty at the foul line again, but I thought for the most part we were banging, finishing strong.

“We contained some of their good scorers, we didn’t let them get out in transition too much. So, overall, I’m very pleased. Definitely not happy with the loss, never am, but it’s progress. We haven’t been that consistent all season long, so I’ll take it. We’ll run with it and try and get better in practice.”

Johnson knows that when his kids see the film they will be able to see how they are improving.

“Film doesn’t lie,” Johnson said. “We’ll spend our time in the film room and they’ll see it. We’ll talk about it and now I think it’s starting to register a little bit.”

For Corning’s players, the win was nice, but now it’s onto the next game.

“It’s good, they are our rivals, but now we have got to get Ithaca,” Casey said.

The Hawks are 9-0 on the year, and ranked 18th in the state, but they are ready to try and get the next win.

“It feels great,” Casey said of 9-0. “But, 10-0 would feel better.”

Henderson had 16 points, four boards and a block and Casey had 12 points, four boards, six assists, two steals and a blocked shot.

Burch had a double-double with 10 points and 12 boards and Chamberlin was just a board away from a double-double with 10 points and nine boards, to go along with one steal.

Maphosa had five points, six boards and two assists in the game.

Myles led Elmira with 14 points and Harris had 12, on four three-pointers.

Jones had eight points and Middaugh and Woodard each had five points in the game. Aaron Brooks had three points and Phil Nierstedt finished with two points.

Corning hosts Ithaca next Wednesday at 7:15 p.m. Elmira returns to action this Friday when they host Maine-Endwell at 7:30 p.m.
IN TOP PHOTO: Corning’s Aidan Chamberlin throws down a dunk against Elmira. . . PHOTOS BY BRIAN FEES

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