Last year, the New Paltz men’s basketball program made strides, upping their total wins to seven and earning their first conference win since 2016, but the Hawks are back and better than ever and aiming for their first playoff berth since 2013.
Fourth-year co-captain Cory Garcia said that the returning players are ready to go for their 2018-2019 campaign.
“This year we have been implementing things from the get go,” he said. “Last year, you can say was a trial run. The returners now know how coach wants to play. He gives us a lot of freedom and wants us to spread the court going five out and get out in transition. My class in particular has a lot of experience and we want to go out with a bang.”
Hawks head coach Keith Kenney is returning for his second year at the helm assisted by Tom Bell, Jhanson Clark, Jim Wherry, Greg Allen and Rohan Johnson. Kenney said that the expanded coaching staff is in constant communication to help the team. He added that he expects that the returning players improved individually over the offseason and that he expects the newcomers to impact the program immediately.
“We have a really talented and hardworking group of newcomers to the team,” said fourth-year guard and forward Nick Paquette. “Our freshmen have skills that speak well above their class, and our transfers bring added firepower that will definitely help us compete against other teams.”
New to the Hawks nest are first-year guards Dylan Fraser and Jackson Vertucci and first-year forwards Isaiah Bien-Aise, Caleb Scrime and Brandon Scott and transfers third-year forwards Scott Reisert (SUNY Orange) and Felix Riascos (Herkimer College).
Third-year forward Tristan Wissemann returns as the team’s second leading scorer last year with a total 250 points, averaging 10.4 per game. Garcia returns as one of only two players to start in all 25 contests during the 2017-2018 campaign and also held the lead in assists and steals for the season with 76 and 39 respectively. Paquette and fourth-year guard Paddy Parr return as two of the best rebounders, both averaging around four per game last season.
“We have a talented group that can compete with anyone in this league; it’s all about execution,” Parr said. “For the senior class, we have been through so much adversity over the past three seasons. We have learned a lot about how to deal with losing but it finally feels like our program is ready to take the steps towards becoming a winning basketball team.”
Unfortunately, the Hawks came up short in a back-and-forth battle at Western Connecticut State University resulting in a 90-74 loss for the season opener.
“West Conn is a great team with a great coach and we had to play a tough game on the road to start our season,” Kenney said.
The Hawks opened up the scoring against the Colonials, but once they gained the lead West Conn was able to hold it for the majority of the minutes. New Paltz kept constant pressure on them though and remained within two points for nearly the entire first half.
Managing to cut the deficit to one point eight times in the first half, the Hawks even tied the game at 34 with just under six minutes until halftime. The remaining minutes of the half yielded a West Conn 9-2 run, followed by a 3-pointer by Paquette and a made free throw by second-year guard Jake Passaretti leaving the score at 45-43 going into halftime.
New Paltz opened up the second half strong with a 3-pointer by Wissemann and a traditional three point play by Passaretti giving the Hawks their highest lead on the day. West Conn regained the lead with a subsequent 11-point run but another 3-pointer by Paquette tied the game at 66 with 11 minutes remaining in the contest.
The Hawks retook the lead one final time in the contest after a steal by Parr and transition basket by Bien-Aise with about seven and a half minutes left to play but was answered with an eight-point Colonial run. Passaretti chipped in the final points of the day with two trips to the line, but the Hawks offense was unable to score again for the remaining 3:42 of the match.
On the day New Paltz posted a 35.1 shooting percentage from the floor (11-of-39 beyond the arc) and 69.7 percent from the foul line while 27 Hawk turnovers resulted in a total of 29 points capitalized upon by the Colonials.
Four Hawks posted double figures on the day including Paquette (15), Wissemann (14), Passaretti (12) and Reisert (13). Reisert also grabbed six boards and blocked three shots, while Passaretti chipped in eight assists and three steals. Parr led the team in rebounds with 11 and posted an additional three steals, three assists and two points.
New Paltz will face Maritime College in their home opener this Friday, Nov. 16 at 7 p.m. in the Hawk Center.