The Plattsburgh State men’s basketball team advanced to the second round of the NCAA Division III National Championship with a 103-86 victory over Nichols College Friday.
Contributions from players coming off the bench proved crucial for the Cardinals in the win.
“They just killed us on the glass,” Nichols sophomore guard Tyler Dion said. “They played harder than us tonight and they deserved that win.”
PSUC (23-4) will play the Liberty League champion Dutchmen of Union College (19-8) Saturday at 7 p.m. in Memorial Hall.
The first-round game against the Bisons of Nichols College (25-4) began quickly for the Cards, with a layup by senior forward Jonathan Patron opening the scoring only three seconds after tip off.
The teams exchanged the lead four times in the opening minutes before PSUC established a lasting lead
A pair of free throws by senior guard Zack Coleman before the halfway point of the first half gave PSUC a 19-17 lead and the Cards would remain ahead on the scoreboard for the rest of the game.
Holding on to that lead was a difficult task against a Bison team that specialized in scoring from three-point range, with junior guard Marcos Echevarria leading the way at 119 long-range baskets in 29 games. The responsibility for defending Echevarria fell to Coleman through much of the game.
“I tried to make [Echevarria] uncomfortable,” Coleman said. “I don’t want him to feel comfortable just coming in to a stand-still three, because that is his bread and butter.”
Echevarria was restricted to 20 points in the game with only four three-point shots made.
With several players on both teams, including Patron, getting into foul trouble early in the game, both coaches needed to turn to their benches for assistance. For PSUC head coach Tom Curle, this was the turning point of the game.
“When they went to their bench, it was a drop,” Curle said. “When we went to our bench, there was a pick up, particularly offensively.”
One of those players who stepped in off the bench was senior guard Eric Mack, who led the Cards in the first half with 12 points to complement his six rebounds and three blocks.
PSUC’s bench players combined for 39 points in the game, compared to 18 for the Bisons. With 14 points from senior guard Eli Bryant and 12 rebounds by junior forward Ian Howard, the bench was instrumental in securing the win for the Cards.
Leading by five points at the halftime buzzer, PSUC came out of the locker room and began the second half with a 12-2 run from which the Bisons were never able to recover.
“I think we wore them down,” Mack said. “Toward the end, you could tell they were fatigued. When you put Ian [Howard] in the game when the other team is tired, there is just no way they can stop him.”
The Cards held a 20-point lead with just under two minutes remaining in the game, and Curle was proud of the way the team maintained their defensive composure to keep Nichols behind.
“At one point this season, we were blowing leads,” Curle said. “We were getting up by 20 and letting teams back in. We ended up winning those games, but I said the next step in our progress is to get that lead after a time out and go the next two minutes and play great defense.”
With Union up next less than 24 hours later, Mack was confident the team would be able to focus on the next opponent after the Friday win.
“It’s not going to be a problem,” Mack said. “We are going to bring the same intensity that we did today.”
That attitude will be important going into a game against a Dutchmen team that came from behind against New Jersey City University in the first round Friday.
“Every team we play now is a championship team,” Curle said.