BY KEVIN DIFFILY // MARCH 1, 2013 //
Clad in white shirts in support of their home team, Curry students stormed the Student Center basketball court last Saturday, Feb. 23, like a New England blizzard.
This storm was joyful, however, as the men’s basketball team won The Commonwealth Coast Conference championship and an automatic berth to the Division III NCAA Tournament. The Colonels defeated Gordon College, 69-63, behind TCCC Player of the Year Sedale Jones and his game-high 23 points.
This Saturday, March 2, the men’s basketball team will travel to Middlebury, Vt., to take on host Middlebury College in the first round of the tourney, starting at 7 p.m. A fan bus will leave from the Curry Student Center at 2 p.m. on Saturday. The Middlebury Panthers are led by senior forward Peter Lynch, who averages 15.4 points and 5.3 rebounds a game, and junior guard Joey Kizel, who averages 14 points and has 43 steals on the year. Middlebury enters the game with a 25-3 record.
Despite Middlebury’s impressive numbers, Curry head coach Malcolm Wynn said the Colonels enter the game with great confidence. Said Wynn, “We’re going to win.”
“We don’t play as well as we’re capable of playing all the time,” he later added. “But we’re talented and guys have made the right sacrifices at the right particular times. You can’t ask for more than that….I’m not saying we’re a complete team, because we have some work to do, but we have the talent to go as far as we want to go.”
According to Curry guard Lambros Papalambros, the team has been shooting high since the start of the season.
“From the moment we lost last year at Nichols College in the first round of the [conference] tournament, I was on a personal mission to win the conference championship,” he said. “Every single day for the last [year], I woke up with one thing on my mind, and that was to cut down those nets. I honestly don’t know what I would have done if we lost.
“It’s funny, because I can honestly say our expectations were to win the conference championship and compete to go to Atlanta” for the Division III Final Four, Papalambros added.
This year’s team (21-7 overall, 15-3 TCCC) rebounded nicely from the 2011-12 season, when the Colonels finished 11-15 and lost in the quarterfinals of the TCCC playoffs. Curry last appeared in the NCAA tournament in 2008.
This year’s Curry squad features a cast of extremely skilled players who had struggled to achieve success—for a variety of reasons—at other schools. For example, Jones spent his freshman year sitting on the bench at UMass-Amherst before transferring to Curry. Papalambros previously attended Babson College, but was suspended from the program during his freshman year after a DUI charge. And Junior power forward A.J. Stephens, who averaged nearly 17 points and 10 rebounds a game this season, is 25 years old and was kicked off of the squad last season for behavior detrimental to the team. Prior to his time at Curry, Stephens had played for different community and junior colleges.
“Most of our team is comprised of guys that needed a second chance—great players that the basketball world seemed to forget about,” said Papalambros, who averaged 16 points and nearly 4 assists per game this year while also shooting an impressive .526 from the field. “We all kind of looked at it as redemption, and I truly think it brought us closer, making all of this even more special.”
In addition to the team’s aforementioned top offensive talent, Wynn spoke highly of senior center John Durkin, Curry’s only four-year player this season, and the leadership he has displayed throughout the season.
Leadership, determination and smart play will be among the keys to success against a Middlebury team that has compiled a 12-1 record at home this year. Pepin Gym will likely be packed and loud on Saturday.
Despite the seemingly tall odds, Wynn said he likes his team’s chances to move on.
“If everything goes the way we want it to, Curry’s going to be victorious,” he said.
A win allows the Colonels to play again, one week later (March 9), against the winner of the SUNY Cortland and Elms College game. A full tournament bracket can be found here.