The Hawks Men’s Basketball team is bound for their second straight appearance in the SUNYAC tournament.
Last season, the Hawks took a five-game losing streak into the postseason, dropping them to the last seed in the tournament before being knocked out in the first round by eventual SUNYAC champion, Plattsburgh. After two home losses last weekend, the team is on a five-game losing streak with two games to go, both on the road.
Head Coach Dagan Nelson said the team’s goal this season was to improve from last season. Even though they have been fighting through injuries, the team has already matched their overall and conference win totals from last season. Nelson said that there is a small margin between winning and losing and the team needs to keep doing all the little things well.
“We want to compete for the SUNYAC championship and get a home game. We need to play really well down the stretch. Once we get in, anything can happen,” Nelson said.
This weekend’s losses cost the Hawks a chance to host a SUNYAC tournament game.
“We have a pretty cohesive group that wants to win,” Nelson said. “They have very good chemistry. We were very good offensively in the first 17 or 18 games and have been a top scoring team, scoring in the mid to high ‘70s.”
The Hawks went 6-4 in January while students were home for winter break. They hoped to save their best basketball for the final stretch of games. Nelson explained that the team has improved in rebounding and their defense has improved from last year, but overall it could be better. He also explained that the team has had some foul shooting trouble lately, but overall it has not been an issue and will be crucial at the end of the season.
Co-captains Matt Devine, Harris Wichard and Nick Taldi have all shown great leadership and have played their hearts out this season. Unfortunately, Devine suffered a compound fracture in the Feb. 5 matchup at Buffalo State and only returned on Monday’s loss to SUNY Oswego. The Hawks lost the game that he was injured in, and have lost the three games since. The coach said the team has missed Devine and needed him back on the court. Nelson admires his captains’ hard work, but explained that third-year guard Shareef Taylor has really stepped his game up lately.
“Taylor is our best athlete and has been the best all-around,” said the coach.
Taylor has led the team in scoring and is second in rebounding in conference play. Nelson said he has started first-year guard Taylor Sowah at point guard lately to get him playing with more confidence. The Hawks have also had some big play out of big man Daniel Olsen. After missing the first seven games with a knee injury, the seven-foot third-year is now leading the team in rebounds and has become one of their top scorers down the stretch.
The team has clearly missed captain Devine. As stated before, they have lost four games in his absence, costing them a chance to host a SUNYAC tournament game. The loss to Geneseo (4-11 in SUNYAC) on Saturday afternoon showed a cold Hawks’ offense. Third-year Wichard scored his 1,000th point in a Hawks uniform in Saturday’s loss, a credit to his impressive career so far here at New Paltz. The team has had its ups and downs this season and is currently on their longest losing streak of the year. The Hawks will need to find the fire again before the season ends and go into the SUNYAC tournament with confidence and momentum.