Men’s basketball returns to SUNYAC semis

Senior Rashawn Powell (32), the lone player graduating, may play his final game this weekend in Plattsburgh.  (David Armelino | The Oswegonian)
Senior Rashawn Powell (32), the lone player graduating, may play his final game this weekend in Plattsburgh. (David Armelino | The Oswegonian)

The No. 3-seeded Oswego State men’s basketball team will travel to top-seeded SUNY Plattsburgh for the semifinals of the SUNYAC conference playoffs, where they will take on the No. 2-seeded SUNY Geneseo Knights. The other matchup pits the SUNY Plattsburgh Cardinals against the No. 4-seeded College at Brockport Golden Eagles.

The three teams the Lakers find themselves pitted against were all participants in last year’s NCAA tournament, while the Lakers look to get back for the first time since the 2011-12 campaign.

The favorite to win the SUNYAC is the No. 1 Cardinals, but the Lakers have a good shot in their own right to win the conference as well. The Lakers will look to rely on their defense, which has been a strong point for them this season, allowing 63.6 points per game leading up to Friday’s contest.

The Lakers also rank third in the SUNYAC and in the top 50 in the country in opponent’s field goal percentage, placing 45th while allowing opposition to shoot only 39.8 percent from the field per game. They were even better at guarding the three-point shot, allowing only a 29.2 percent success rate from beyond the arc, good for best in the SUNYAC and 12th in the country.

Another key for the Lakers is their lack of turnovers. The Lakers committed the fewest amount of turnovers in the SUNYAC with only 264 and ranked 25th nationally in the category.

The Lakers will have leading scorer, sophomore Brian Sortino looking to lead the pace on offense. He struggled in the playoff matchup against SUNY Oneonta but found his scoring touch in the second half en route to scoring 16 points and helped lead the Lakers to victory. Sortino is averaging 16 points a game on the campaign, which is fourth in the SUNYAC, on 45 percent shooting from the field, which is eighth in the conference. Despite this being only his second season, he has proven to be the Lakers best player this campaign.

Another threat the Lakers have on offense is junior guard Walter Sampson, who in his third season, is finally receiving significant playing time for the squad and has shown his worth by being the team’s second highest scorer behind Sortino and shooting at 50 percent from the field.

The Lakers also have other players who appear to be primed to perform in these playoffs, such as lone senior Rashawn Powell, transfer sophomore Dustin Pond who is in his first season with the Lakers, and junior center Mark Candelario who was a standout against SUNY Oneonta in the first playoff matchup.

The SUNY Geneseo Knights shared an equal record with the Lakers this regular season, both within conference play and overall. They are looking to reach the NCAA Tournament for the second season in a row. They were awarded the first round bye as the second overall seed due to defeating the top-seeded Cardinals during the regular season, while the Lakers were winless against the Cardinals.

The Knights boast, who many people see as the top player in the conference in senior Gordon Lyons, who averaged 20.7 points per game to lead the SUNYAC. He was also the leading rebounder in not only the SUNYAC, but the entire country, averaging 12.8 rebounds a game.

The Knights went through a rough patch in their season in January, losing four of five games to close out the month. But the team recovered in February to post a 7-1 month to close out the season and secure the first round. They should remain wary however, as their only loss in February was at home to the Lakers. The Knights led the SUNYAC in assists per game at 15.9 a game, and also led the conference in field goal percentage shooting at 46.9 percent.

The College at Brockport Golden Eagles, the reigning SUNYAC conference champions and NCAA tournament participants from a year ago, took a step back this season. They finished the regular season 11-7 within the conference and a 15-11 overall record. They clinched the fourth overall seed and they will take on the Cardinals after having defeating fifth-seed Buffalo State on Tuesday. The Lakers defeated the Golden Eagles both times they played this season, including an overtime affair in Brockport.

The Golden Eagles came into the season with a much different team, compared to a year ago. Six senior players retired from the squad due to graduation. Among the seniors who retired, four were of their top five scorers from a season ago including John Ivy and Brandon Caruthers, who averaged 21.3 points and 12.9 points per game respectively. As expected, their scoring was reduced significantly, from 81.1 points per game to 67.8 per game so far this season.

Considered by many as the favorite at the start of the season to win the SUNYAC, the SUNY Plattsburgh Cardinals will host the conference tournament and look to advance to the NCAA tournament for the third straight year. Last season, despite finishing as the runner up in the conference tournament to Brockport, they advanced the furthest of any team in the SUNYAC, reaching the sectional semifinals after winning two games before losing to Amherst.

The Cardinals came into this season with a class of seniors who were expected to make a large impact. These players include Reggie Williams, the team’s top scorer at 12.8 points a game and leader in field goal percentage at 58.3 percent, as well as Jordan Moody and Shamoy McIntosh, who are the second and third highest scorers on the team. They defeated the Lakers twice in the regular season, but the Lakers definitely would want a chance to redeem themselves this weekend.

The Cardinals will look to continue their impressive 3-point shooting over the weekend. They led the SUNYAC in 3-point-shot percentage and made attempts. They also come into the weekend ranked 10th in the country in opponent’s field goal percentage, holding opponents to 38.1 percent shooting from the field.

The Lakers have as good a shot as any of the other teams in the semifinals to win the conference. One thing that should motivate the Lakers is that if they do not win this tournament, they may likely not receive an NCAA Tournament berth.

The Lakers will take on the Knights at 5:30 p.m. on Friday, while the Golden Eagles take on the Cardinals at 7:30 p.m. The SUNYAC tournament finals will take place on Saturday at 4 p.m.