The air was electric inside Max Ziel Gymnasium on Tuesday night as the fourth seeded Oswego State men’s basketball team knocked off fifth seeded SUNY Cortland in the SUNYAC Championships play-in game, 69-57.
The Lakers struggled a bit in the first half, shooting only 44 percent from the field, which gave the Red Dragons room to obtain an early advantage, leading 27-20 at one point.
However, Oswego State was able to turn the tables, gaining momentum from strong inside moves which would lead to foul shots. Senior Daniel Ross, junior Rashawn Powell and sophomore Walter Sampson each contributed three from the charity stripe, with Powell missing the only one in the first half.
Successful foul shooting and conversions on turnovers helped the Lakers carry a 34-33 lead going into halftime. SUNY Cortland committed six turnovers as opposed to only three from Oswego State.
Despite coughing up the ball a bit too much, the Red Dragons shot 56 percent from the field in the half, which ultimately kept the game close to that point.
But, the second half was a different story. The Lakers took complete control of the game, stopping SUNY Cortland in its tracks every time it gained the slightest bit of momentum.
Laker forward, Keith Tyson blossomed in the second half to finish with 15 points, on seven of nine shooting, with seven rebounds and an assist. This came after he scored just two points and grabbed just two rebounds in the opening half.
“My guys did a good job looking for me,” Tyson said of his performance. “I was just hustling, trying to get on the boards and trying to get second chance points, that’s my big thing.”
Head coach Jason Leone expressed admiration for the play of his forward, saying how his demeanor never changes.
“He’s very even-keeled when he goes on the floor,” Leone said. “He doesn’t get down on himself and when things are going well he plays the same way.”
Ross had another outstanding performance for the Lakers, playing all 40 minutes. He finished with 24 points, shooting 8-for-14 from the field and 7-for-7 from the line. The senior guard also added seven rebounds, five assists, four steals and one block.
Ross claimed that there was nothing really to attribute to his strong play other than simply sticking to the game plan.
Laker forward Rashawn Powell put on a defensive spectacle in spite of going 1-for-6 from the field and having just five points on the night.
“I thought Rashawn was the number one reason we won,” Leone said. “He had a couple turnovers on offense but without his defense, we wouldn’t have had an opportunity to win.”
Powell’s presence when covering SUNY Cortland senior captain Kevin McMahon is what Leone was grateful for the most. McMahon had 11 points in the first half, shooting 5-for-7. Powell held him to only four points in the second half.
Powell finished the game with nine rebounds, one block and four steals, as well as some appreciation from his coach.
The Lakers have No. 1 seeded The College at Brockport in an away game on Friday at 8 p.m. to look forward to now. This is a rematch of two teams that met just a week ago when Oswego State pulled off a convincing upset against the nationally ranked Golden Eagles at Laker Hall, 95-83.
In order to do it again, Leone says ball control and limiting easy baskets will be key. That’s not all it’ll take to defeat a nationally ranked opponent twice in one season, however.
“Part of the thing when you play against Brockport is your attitude,” Leone said. “Going in there, just playing with a little bit of a swagger, without being over-confident, we typically have done a good job of that and I’m expecting our team to do that on Friday as well.”
Ross is concerned about Brockport’s pace heading into Friday, saying “they’re 40 minutes of non-stop pressure,” and that they are constantly hassling them when the Lakers are on offense.
Tyson is prepared to bring more of his mental toughness to the away game on Friday, saying it’s going to be a mental battle as well as a defensive one.
The Lakers face off against the top seeded Golden Eagles at Brockport in the SUNYAC semifinals to decide who moves on to the title game on Saturday against the winner of No. 2 seed SUNY Plattsburgh and No. 3 seed SUNY Geneseo.