The Utica College men’s basketball team played their season opener against Cortland State University at home this past weekend. The Red Dragons overcame an eight-point deficit in the final minutes of the fourth quarter to beat the Pioneers 87-85.
The season opener proved to be a battle between experience and inexperience. The Pioneers jumped out to an early 11-point lead 26-15, with a little over eight minutes left in the first half. The Red Dragons didn’t let the advantage get to them as they were able outscore UC 25-11 for the rest of the half. Cortland finished the first-half leading UC 40-37.
The second-half was a battle to the very end. The Pioneers went on a 31-13 run to take the lead back from Cortland 72-61 with 8:40 left in the game. UC continued to spread themselves out against Cortland leading 79-71 with four minutes left in regulation. However, the Red Dragons found its grove and as they went 8-of-10 on free throws and added two 3-pointers to take the two point lead and secure the victory 87-85.
Robert Tutein, lead the team with 24 points and 6 rebound. Although UC lost there were still positives to take away from the game with such a young team.
“I’m very proud of my team. We have a lot of young guys who are inexperienced, I feel we played well for our first game, especially against a veteran Cortland team,” Tutein said. “Last night that game just showed that we have so much potential to do great things this season, just fixing the little things as we move forward and I see us having a very good season.”
A lack of experience and foul trouble game seemed to hurt the Pioneers in the end.
“At the end of the game a couple things went wrong for us, foul trouble caught up to us, they got extra shots,” Tutein said. “We lost key guys like Ivan and Carl, who are guys that help us close games out. Also I feel that Cortland just showed that they were a veteran team and took advantage of us being more inexperienced.”
Sophomore Carl Taylor finished the game with eight points along with two rebounds. He eventually was limited in the crucial minutes of the game due to foul trouble.
“I feel my performance last night was terrible due to the fact of me fouling out with 3 minutes to go in the game,” Taylor said. “I see this season being very successful, UC hasn’t had a team that reached in the Empire 8 playoffs in a while. But with this team, I could see us contending for a championship.”
After the first game of the season, there is still some work and progress to make for the Pioneers.
“We need to work on finishing teams off when we have them down. We can not relax when we have a 10-point lead. We need to turn it into 20,” assistant coach James McClendon said. “We knew coming in that Cortland was going to be a test for us. This game gives our young guys a taste of collegiate basketball but hopefully they saw that we are a very good team that can play with anyone.”