Led by a monstrous combination of 42 points and 20 rebounds from its pair of SUNYAC All-Tournament Team forwards, the Oswego State men’s basketball team defeated SUNY Cortland for its first conference championship title since 1965.
Senior forward Chad Burridge and junior forward Hayden Ward dominated the tournament and earned SUNYAC All-Tournament accolades. Ward averaged over 19 points and 11.6 rebounds per game in the tournament. Burridge added 15.7 points and 7.6 rebounds per game, as well as an emphatic slam dunk that changed the complexion of the semifinal match-up against The College at Brockport.
“We did it. There are no words to describe it,” Burridge said. “It is a great feeling and I am just so excited that we won the title.”
“When the clock struck zero seconds, I just thought about the players and how much I respected their effort this season,” head coach Jason Leone said. “They really deserved this championship. To manage the high expectations that we had going into the season and then having an unblemished conference record is truly a remarkable accomplishment.”
The conference championship earned the Lakers an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, as they were selected as a No. 4 seed on Monday. For the second consecutive season, they will host the first and second round in their respective pod. Leone, the 2011-12 SUNYAC Coach of the Year, acknowledges that this is going to be a challenging week for his team.
“I don’t know what to expect in practice this week,” Leone said. “It will definitely be a challenge to get the team and everyone around the program re-focused and grounded after an emotional weekend. But I expect our players, staff and fans to handle this like we still have a lot more season left to play.”
Burridge, the first two-time SUNYAC Player of the Year in Oswego State history, believes that his team has what it takes to pick up where last season’s team left off in the NCAA Tournament.
“We know what we have to do to prepare,” Burridge said. “We celebrated winning the SUNYAC title, but now we have to get re-focused for the NCAA Tournament.”
In addition to Leone and Burridge’s honors, Ward was named a first-team All-SUNYAC performer and Sean Michele was named to second-team All-SUNYAC. Ward led the SUNYAC in rebounding. Michele led the nation in 3-point percentage at 52 percent.
Oswego State will host Endicott College in the first round tonight at 7:30 p.m. at Max Ziel Gymnasium. Endicott won 20 games this season, including its conference championship game by 24 points. The Gulls boast five players who score in double figures. Erik Callo, their 6 foot 8 inch tall center, averages a double-double.
The winner of the Oswego State/Endicott College game will play the winner of the Medaille/Eastern Connecticut State game in Max Ziel Gymnasium. Last season, Oswego State advanced to the second round before losing on its home floor to Rhode Island College by eight points.
Oswego State entered the SUNYAC tournament riding a 13-game winning streak, owning a flawless 18-0 conference record. The Lakers consequently were the No. 1 seed in the tournament and earned home court advantage, where they had not lost a game all season.
In the SUNYAC Semifinal, the Lakers had to battle the demons of past years. The Lakers trio of four-year seniors Burridge and guards Ryan Sheridan and Conor Monoghan, lost twice in the semifinal round of the conference tournament to Brockport, most recently last season in a shocking upset in Max Ziel Gymnasium.
Oswego State’s seniors did not disappoint in their final game against Brockport, winning by a final score of 64-57. Burridge’s double-double and game-high 13 rebounds were part of a stellar defensive effort from the Lakers that held the Golden Eagles to only 57 points.
Monoghan scored 11 points, dished four assists and collected two steals for arguably his best game of the season. The player of the game, however, was undoubtedly Sheridan. He made a game-high four 3-pointers, including a jump shot in the corner that sealed the victory, and finished with 15 points, leading Oswego State in scoring.
The Lakers would enter the championship game the following night with the utmost confidence, despite playing a formidable opponent in SUNY Cortland. The outright second seed in the SUNYAC, Cortland was coming off a semifinal victory against SUNY Geneseo in which the Red Dragons drained 15 3-pointers.
After a competitive and low-scoring first half, both schools picked up the tempo in the second half. The change in speed originally benefited Cortland, but by the end of the second half the post play of Ward and Burridge proved to be too much for the Red Dragons to handle, and the Lakers pulled away for a final score of 66-75.
“It means a lot because I love Oswego State and I love my players and staff,” Leone said. “I feel fortunate to have gotten the opportunity of a lifetime to coach at Oswego State, so I feel like I owe a great effort everyday to everyone surrounding our program. So this is very special to me.”
“This year is even sweeter then last year because we won the title,” Burridge said. “We are happy that we accomplished one of the biggest goals that we set for ourselves.”