Hayden Ward and Matt Devine, senior forwards for Oswego State and SUNY New Paltz respectively, walked onto the court Tuesday night as the main contenders for the SUNYAC Player of the Year award. However, when the two left Max Ziel Gymnasium, there was a clear-cut favorite for the accolade, as Oswego State took down New Paltz, 74-57.
Ward matched his 18 ppg average while grabbing 12 boards for the Lakers (16-5, 9-5 SUNYAC), who beat the Hawks for the second time in two tries this season.
Devine lead the way for New Paltz (8-13, 6-8 SUNYAC) with 16 points and 9 rebounds, but Oswego State’s defensive presence would ultimately prove to be too much.
Junior transfer student Daniel Ross played like a defensive guru yet again, with four steals, five rebounds for an overall stifling effort on Devine and nine points to boot.
Ross has played at a high level from the get go, and his defensive prowess fits nicely into Oswego State Head Coach Jason Leone’s scheme.
“I had seen him play quite a bit in high school,” Leone said. “So I knew what he would be bringing to the team when he transferred here. He’s added a dimension of unselfishness and talent to the team that has gone a long way so far this season.”
After fighting through a hand injury early in the season, Ross has anchored a defensive unit that has been one of, if not the best defensive units in the SUNYAC. Oswego State held New Paltz to just 33 percent shooting on Tuesday, while holding them to 20 points below their season average.
As well as Ross, and seniors Sean Michele and Chris Gilkes, have played for the Lakers, Ward’s game is the reason that Oswego State is in the thick of yet another SUNYAC title race.
“Of course if I could vote for Hayden [Ward], which I can’t, then he would be my SUNYAC Player of the Year,” Leone said. “But regardless of postseason awards, he has done a great job for our program over the past four years. The intangibles are all there and he has been a great role model for the rest of the team as well.”
The Lakers travel to SUNY Cortland Friday to take on Jesse Winter and the SUNYAC leading Red Dragons with huge playoff implications on the line.
Cortland (18-3,12-2 SUNYAC) took down the Lakers in Oswego at the end of January, to make a huge statement in the conference. Now, the Lakers have a chance to return the favor with a road upset of their own.
Coach Leone discussed three main points with his team heading into this crucial matchup: playing to win instead of playing not to lose, making less mistakes in crunch time and limiting Cortland’s star player, Jesse Winter.
Winter averages 16 ppg and 4.8 apg, good for 10th and second in the conference, respectively, and poses a huge threat on the offensive side of the ball. If the Lakers are able to contain Winter and Ward is able to continue his dominance, then the rest of the game should fall into the hands of Oswego State. However, Cortland sits at the top of the conference for a reason and should not be taken lightly.
As the regular season nears the end, Leone has been happy with the team’s development.
“We just need to get even better and get the best out of everyone,” he said. “I’m very proud of what everyone has done so far. Not only will we be a force to be reckoned with this season, we will be a force for seasons to come as well.”