The Plattsburgh State men’s basketball team defeated Union College in the second round of the NCAA Division III tournament 87-75 to advance to the Sweet 16. The Cardinals extended their winning streak to 21 games.
No. 16 PSUC (24-4) will travel to Swarthmore College’s Tarble Pavilion to take on the No. 14 Garnet (24-5) in the third round of the NCAA Division III tournament at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Located west of Philadelphia, the borough of Swarthmore, Pennsylvania, is approximately 415 miles from the PSUC campus.
To advance to this round of the tournament, the Cards had to overcome a Union team that presented a unique challenge.
“That was the first time a team actually came out strong like that on us,” junior forward Jonathan Patron said.
The game began with a lot of emotion from both teams, and PSUC head coach Tom Curle said that the emotion was “not always positive” as he caught himself going after the officials early on.
The teams exchanged field goals early before the Dutchmen went on a 12-2 run to take an 18-8 lead after seven minutes. When the Cards called a time out, things began to turn around.
“Of all the things that they have done that impressed me, that was the most impressive. They settled themselves in from an emotional frenzy,” Curle said
Trailing 39-41 in the final seconds of the 1st half, junior forward Jonathan Patron drove for a
buzzer-beating layup to tie the game entering the second half.
“I think that was big for us,” junior guard Brandon Johnson said. “Once he did that, it was like
0-0 again. It was like a whole new game.”
A newly reinvigorated PSUC team entered the second half with confidence that they would eventually wear down the opponent.
“It takes a lot of energy to box John Patron and Ian Howard out,” Curle said. “To do that over 40 minutes is very difficult.”
Patron led the Cards with 39 points in the game, along with 18 rebounds. Of those rebounds, eight were offensive and resulted in many second-chance opportunities.
With the offense clicking, the PSUC defense also did what it could to maintain its momentum. Junior forward Ian Howard did his job with two steals and two blocks in key moments of the game. One block, when Howard sent an attempted three-point jump shot into the third row of the stands, drew a loud response from the crowd.
Johnson was not surprised by Howard’s performance.
“My coach in high school used to tell us to be the MVP without scoring the goal,” Johnson said. “I think [Howard] does that a lot.”
The atmosphere created by the 789 fans who packed Memorial Hall was loud, and Curle saw it as a reflection of the team’s success.
“The blocks were big,” Curle said. “And then Elijah [Bryant] hit that three and brought the house down. I have never heard the gym as loud as it was on that shot. Game over.”
The win sealed a program-record 21 consecutive victories, but the team is not focused on that milestone now.
“I’m worried about 22 in a row,” Curle said. “Then 23 in a row, then 24, and then 25. That will be nice in April, to look back on that.”
The players echoed that sentiment and said they were focused on continuing to win.
“It has been a great run,” Patron said. “I don’t want it to end yet.”