By Jake Carapella
NEWBURGH – The State University of New York at New Paltz men’s basketball team got its first win of the season in its finale of the Hudson Valley Tournament on Saturday afternoon at Mount Saint Mary College.
The Hawks were 0-2 coming into the game after 68-61 and 77-73 losses to Farmingdale State and Vassar College on Nov. 17 and 19, but got solid play from three of their top players on Saturday, each of whom helped the team to a 73-63 win over the Bard Raptors.
Rylan Blondo led all scorers in the game with 21 points (8-for-16 shooting) to go along with six steals, while forwards Isiah Biene-Aise (5-for-7 shooting) and Lucas Seyoum (7-for-15 shooting) added 16 points and 15 points, respectively, to give SUNY New Paltz its first win of the season.
“I thought Blondo was a menace on defense and his energy lifted us,” said Hawks coach Keith Kenney. “He attacked the basket and made good decisions.”
SUNY New Paltz got off to a good start thanks to the energetic play from RJ Myers-Turner and Blondo, each of whom had steals and converted them into layups at the other end to get the Hawks out to a quick 6-2 start, as it played with high energy early on.
Seyoum converted on a corner jumper off a nice cross-court pass from Blondo that put them up 12-9, but that was the last bucket the Hawks scored for nearly the next four minutes, as the Raptors went on a 16-0 run over a three and a half minutes, a run that included 3’s from forward Tyler Bruns and guards Greg Farrow and Elliot Harris. SUNY New Paltz guard Phil La Rosa ended the run with a layup with 10:30 on the clock.
Bard led by as many as 13 in the half on three different occasions, thanks to marksmen shooting from Farrow (seven first half points), Bruns (six first half points) and Harris (five first half points).
The Hawks battled back, thanks to Biene-Aise, who single-handedly brought his team back in the game. Trailing 36-23, he went on a personal 8-0 run, followed by two Seyoum layups to cut the score, 39-35 Raptors. Blondo added a free throw late to trim the halftime deficit to three. At the half, Bien-Aise led all scorers with 13 points.
“Isaiah came off the bench and gave us a spark that kept us in the game,” Kenney said.
SUNY New Paltz got off to a fast second half start, bringing the same energy it brought at the beginning of the contest. Brandon Scott hit a left-handed layup before hitting a free throw to tie the game at 39. Blondo swiped Bard with a great right handed pickpocket steal and dished to Seyoum for a layup to put the Hawks on top, 41-39. Bruns tied the game at 41 with a layup at the other end, but SUNY New Paltz went on a mini run to create some distance.
The Hawks went on a 10-4 spurt that helped establish a 51-43 lead, but Bard, not to be outdone, fought back in it. Sophomore guard Azriel Almodovar got a steal and finished on a left-handed layup. The Raptors then trapped St. Lucia to force a turnover with Almodovar capitalizing as he drove, spun and kicked the ball out to Bruns in the corner for a triple. Lazaros Panagiotounis grabbed a steal and laid the ball up to cut the SUNY New Paltz lead to one at 51-50. Almodovar scored again, with 9:57 on the clock, giving the Raptors a one point advantage, 52-51.
The Hawks, however, regrouped, took the lead and kept Bard at bay for the rest of the contest.
They stretched their lead to nine, 63-54, before Heston Tucker, who finished the game with 10 points, hit a 3 to get the deficit back to six, 63-57. SUNY New Paltz continued to tighten up defensively, though, and forced Bard into a shot clock violation with 4:39 on the clock. St. Lucia then drove and the ball swung to an open Blondo in the corner, who hit from the perimeter to extend the lead to nine, 66-57.
The Raptors got within six with less than a minute remaining, but that was the closest they got the rest of the way, as Myers-Turner added a layup and a free throw in the final 30 seconds to secure SUNY New Paltz’ victory. He finished with eight points on 4-for-4 from the line.
For Bard, in addition to Tucker’s 10 points, Koulouris also scored 10, along with a game-high 11 rebounds. Almodovar led the squad with 11. The Hawks out-rebounded the Raptors, 44-37, getting a team-high nine rebounds from St. Lucia. Scott and Seyoum had six rebounds apiece.
“Lucas had a great game and he was proud of his performance,” said Kenney. “He was aggressive and smart in his play.”
The Hawks also had a healthy advantage at the free throw line, making 15-of-20 attempts for a solid 75 percent.
“In the second half, we turned the ball over less and made good decisions on their press,” Kenney said. “We guarded the three-point line much better in the second half, and made timely shots at the end… We as a team are not happy with how we played so far but we will keep fighting and get better each day.”
Next up for SUNY New Paltz is a home game at 7:30 p.m. in the Hawk Center against SUNY Oneonta on Nov. 30.