Patrick Rivers, Assistant Sports Editor
The Utica College men’s basketball team split in two home conference games over the weekend. On Friday, the Pioneers played host to Ithaca College and came out victorious 84-72.
Senior Robert Tutein led UC with 29 points on 11-for-16 shooting from the field. UC outscored the visiting Bombers 45-28 in the second half en route to the 12 point victory. Sophomores Carl Taylor and Ivan Iton combined for 21 points and 11 rebounds in the win.
“The guys did a great job executing,” head coach Chris Connolly. “Ivan had a couple layups inside, and Rob hit a couple threes that I think just sparked us.”
UC shot the ball well on Friday, going 58 percent from the field, 57 percent from long distance, and 55 percent from the free throw line. Freshman guard Seamus McHugh came off the bench and went 2 for 2 from behind the arc contributing to the Pioneers’ efficient offense. Taylor says when they play like this, they can be a dangerous team.
“We turned up our defense, and it reflected on offense,” he said. “We can beat anybody if we play this way consistently.”
Ithaca played most of the game with a small lineup and it allowed UC to use their size to an advantage. Productive shooting from the back court also proved to be effective against the Bombers’ defense.
As for day two of the weekend, the Pioneers did not play their best. UC lost 79-50 to Nazareth College despite outstanding play from Rob Tutein. Tutein finished the game with 23 points and four rebounds. He shot 75 percent from the field, including going three-for-four from long distance for the entire game.
His outstanding play over the course of the weekend earned him Empire 8 Conference player of the week honors. Tutein has been UC’s leader on the court and in the locker room throughout the entire season. He leads the team in scoring, averaging 18 points per game. His season-high 29 points against Ithaca may have been just what he needed to get him going for the remainder of the year as he posted his third highest point total in the loss.
“My teammates and coaches trusted me to take shots and I got going early and they kept giving me the ball,” Tutein said.
UC struggled in the paint against Nazareth. The team had its lowest rebounding performance of the season. Coach Connolly highlighted foul trouble as the lone reason why.
“We have to do a better job of not picking up fouls when playing in the post,” Connolly said.
Nazareth’s Mitch Ford led the Golden Flyers with 26 points and eight rebounds. With Iton and Dylan Drexler on the bench due to foul trouble, UC guard Agim “Iggy” Hamiti was forced to play in the post on defense. According to Connolly, that was a game-changer.
“We came out good, I think it was 19-22, they had a three point lead and then after that point they really kicked it into another level,” Connolly said.
The Pioneers are not going to hang their heads on this loss. They are completely confident that under different circumstances, they could have played a much more efficient game. Connolly also emphasized Nazareth’s defensive intensity and that the guys weren’t prepared for it coming off of a much more relaxed defensive team in Ithaca.
Altogether, the Pioneers have taken a lot from this weekend. Tutein considers these last two games as a spark for the team as a whole.
“Everyone played well and that gives us a lot of confidence going into the last few games of conference play,” he said.
UC hopes to get back on track with an upcoming game against Alfred University this Saturday.