OSWEGO, N.Y. – If anything, the 14th-ranked Oswego State men’s basketball team’s 73-62 SUNYAC quarterfinal victory over New Paltz showed the Lakers it will not be an easy path to a conference championship.
The top-seeded Lakers (23-3) went 18-0 in SUNYAC games during the regular season, but struggled at times against the eighth-seeded Hawks (9-17) at Laker Hall on Tuesday night.
However, when they needed it most, Laker forward Hayden Ward (Jr., Montauk, N.Y.) came up with key buckets en route to a career-high 25 points. He also grabbed 16 rebounds, one off his career-best total for his 11th double-double of the season.
The game started out very well for the home team. Ward put the Lakers up 9-2 with a three-pointer three minutes into the game and thanks to solid shot selection the lead continued to grow.
Head Coach Jason Leone’s squad shot 72 percent from the floor during the opening 11 minutes of the game and held a 29-14 point lead after Chad Burridge (Sr., Hannibal, N.Y.) hit a kick-out three-pointer.
But then, turnovers became a problem for the Lakers. A team that averaged 10.7 turnovers per game this season, had seven in the first half. Those mistakes and a pair of New Paltz three-pointers allowed the Hawks to trim the lead to 31-26 with 3:30 left in the half.
Ryan Sheridan (Sr., Blauvelt, N.Y.) converted a three-point play late in the half to help regain control of the game and free throws by Ward pushed the Laker lead back to 36-28 by halftime.
The Lakers scored the first eight points in the second half, but there was still an uneasy feeling in the gym.
The Hawks cut the lead to 58-51 with 6:40 left in the game, forcing the Oswego State to call timeout. That was when Ward stepped up big. He scored the next two baskets in the game, both following offensive rebounds. The second hoop was also a three-point play in which Ward drew Hawk Matt Devine’s, who was the leading scorer, fourth foul in the game.
The two baskets started a 9-2 run over the next three minutes that sealed the quarterfinal victory.
Along with Ward’s 25 points and 16 rebounds, Burridge added 15 points and Chris Gilkes (Jr., Syracuse, N.Y.) chipped in 10. Sean Michele (East Rochester, N.Y.) led the way with five of the Lakers’ 15 assists.
Devine finished with 22 points to pace New Paltz.
With the win, the top-seeded Lakers will host both SUNYAC tournament semifinals on Friday night. The Lakers will face fourth-seeded Brockport at 8 p.m. The tournament finals will also be held at Laker Hall on Saturday at 4 p.m.