SUNY Oswego (24-4) grinded out a 64-58 victory over Wells (17-12) in their first-ever NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Tournament appearance at Max Ziel Gymnasium, Friday.
The Lakers were lead by SUNYAC Player of the Year Chad Burridge, who tallied 27 points and 9 rebounds in the historic victory.
The 1,034 in attendance saw an extremely passive first half in which the Lakers mostly played catch up. Wells jumped out to an early 8-2 lead, but the Lakers bounced back to knot it up less than four minutes later, only to relinquish that lead again.
Each team seemed timid in their first ever tournament appearance, hoping to limit any mistakes from nerves and excitement, "They handled us inside as far as scoring in the paint in the first half," said Lakers Head Coach, Adam Stockwell.
The teams continued to exchange blows as the Wells Express rode big man and Syracuse, N.Y. native, Mabior Mayen out to a 19-12 lead. However, Oswego rallied again to take the lead and hold it going into the locker room at halftime up, 26-24.
The second half was just the opposite as Oswego built upon their lead with solid secondary scoring and excellent free throw shooting. The Lakers bench outscored the Wells reserves 17-8 overall. Oswego was also perfect from the charity stripe going; 12-12, while the Express only hit 55.6 percent of their free throws. "Our free throws have been a strength for us all year," added Coach Stockwell.
With 6:26 left in the second half, Wells second-leading scorer Terry Harrison committed his fourth foul of the game. Head Coach Joe Wojtylko signaled for him to come to the bench, but Harrison waved him off – opting to stay in the win or go home game.
Less than two minutes later, Harrison’s fifth and final foul proved to be a pivotal point in the intense battle. As he cut hard towards the basket with his team down by five, Harrison knocked his defender to the floor drawing a charging call. "I thought it was the right call" said coach Wojtylko, "It was a tough time to call it, but give credit to the referee, he made the right call."
With three minutes remaining, Wells kept Lakers fans on the edge of their seats when Dave Foltz brought the Express within one on a layup, but that was as close as they would come to regaining the lead they held for the majority of the first half.
With the final seconds waning, sophomore Chris Gilkes took an inbounds pass and launched it halfway down the court, "I shifted left and saw Chad," said Gilkes "So I ran back and just threw it."
As he received the pass Burridge recalled, "I just broke out and hoped Chris saw me breaking." He then, raced in from the 3-point line on a fast break and put an exclamation point on the victory with a dunk that sent the crowd into a raucous frenzy.
Although it was a monumental victory for the Lakers basketball program, they must now turn their attention to the next matchup with the Rhode Island College Anchormen, Saturday. "We got to come out and focus and be ready to go," Burridge added.
Rhode Island is coming off an 83-54 trouncing of Penn State-Behrend in the 5:30 game hosted at Max Ziel Gym, "We’re going to have to be very sharp and focused with what we do, we’re not going to be able to give away any possessions," Coach Stockwell, said.