First SUNYAC Championship Secured By Hawks

By Monica D’Ippolito

OSWEGO — For the first time ever, the State University of New York at New Paltz men’s basketball team are SUNYAC Champions.

In a storybook-like climax where the title game pitted the No. 2 seeded Hawks, who earned just their third appearance in a conference championship game, the last coming in 2003 where most of the guys on the roster were yet to be born, against the No. 5 and top seeded Oswego Lakers, a program looking for the coveted three-peat of championships.

With odds stacked against them, SUNY New Paltz overcame a 14-point second half deficit to pull what arguably was the biggest upset in the country this season to claim an 85-80 win and hoist the 2024 SUNYAC trophy.

The first half was tight between the two teams with the Hawks holding the slight advantage throughout most of the opening 20 minutes. A transition dunk by Tyreik Frazier pushed SUNY New Paltz out in front by eight with just more than seven minutes to go off a dish by Dakoda Smith.

The Lakers came back to regain the lead in the final two minutes. Kobe Bogart re-upped the advantage for the Hawks, as he got his shot to go underneath the basket, but Oswego scored five in the final 30 seconds capped with a long-ranged 3-pointer by Jeremiah Sparks to end the half.

The momentum carried over to the second half where Sparks instigated an 11-0 run, including eight unanswered, which helped establish the hosts largest lead of the day at 60-46 with about 14 minutes left. Smith and Bogart helped swing control over to the Hawks on back-to-back hustle plays. First, Smith pulled down an offensive board off an initial miss by Alex Krupinski from 3, muscling his put-back in to end the Oswego run.

Bogart then immediately won the ball back on a steal and capitalized on the other end with a try off a feed by Sean St. Lucia to work the difference down to single digits.

Smith answered a Lakers free throw with a make in the paint off an assist from A.J. Knight before Knight responded with points in the paint following a 3-pointer by Oswego midway through the half. Julien Crittendon brought the lead back to nine for the Lakers, but the Hawks countered with nine-straight points to get within one. Bogart officially gave SUNY New Paltz the lead after getting fouled behind the 3-point line and earning three free throws where he hit on all to push the Hawks ahead by one at 69-68 with just less than six minutes to go.

SUNY New Paltz rode on the momentum and started building a cushion, as Knight added two after a defensive stop on one end with the Hawks forcing a turnover next defensive possession before Ethan St. Lucia hit in the paint to bring the lead to five. Bogart capped the surge as he buried a 3-pointer with three minutes to go off a dish from Krupinski to bring the score to 76-68.

Crittendon hit back-to-back shots to get the Lakers within two scores with about 2:30 to play. Both teams were held without points until Bogart broke the stretch with a pair at the foul line. He made 1-of-2 to extend the lead to five with a minute left. SUNY New Paltz forced a turnover on Sparks on the next possession and Knight then got to the line with the team in the penalty. He missed the attempt, but Smith was there to snatch the offensive board allowing Rylan Blondo to capitalize with a bucket in the paint.

Sparks started putting his team on his back as he scored the next three points to trim the score to 79-76 with 40 seconds left. Bogart was hit and earned two from the charity stripe and this time sank both to crucially put the difference at five. Sparks scored in the paint and the Lakers called a timeout immediately and after a turnover by SUNY New Paltz, sparks scored again on the break and the game was within one.

With 11 seconds left Knight was placed on the foul line and he calmly made both to push the score to 83-80. Sparks missed the ensuing attempt from the perimeter with Knight pulling down the crucial rebound with seconds left. Blondo then put the finishing touches on the win as he laid in two to solidify the 85-80 score.

The final basket was the perfect end to a magical run for the Hawks, having their two-time All-SUNYAC select and fifth-year senior in Blondo put the last points on the championship win. He finished with 16 points, five rebounds, three assists and a steal and was named to the All-Tournament team.

Fittingly, two transfers were SUNY New Paltz’s other selections in Knight and Bogart. The duo were key additions this season for coach Keith Kenney’s squad as they got done what they came in to do — bring the program its first ever SUNYAC title.

Knight had 10 points, two rebounds, three assists and a steal. Bogart was the player of the game, finishing with a game-high 29 points on 10-for-18 shooting with seven rebounds, two assists and two steals. Knight was also named to the All-Tournament team, while Bogart earned Tournament MVP hours. Sean St. Lucia was also named to the All-Tournament team after registering 13 points, four rebounds and three assists on the afternoon.

The win also clinched the Hawks their first ever 20-win season and earned them an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament — its first appearance on the national stage. They await who and where they will face and go with the selection show.

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