Pat Rivers, Assistant Sports Editor
The Utica College men’s basketball team had an interesting weekend with games against Elmira and Houghton. On Friday, the Pioneers were visitors to Elmira College in a game that the team will remember forever. Final score: Utica 75, Elmira 74.
Down two points with one second remaining in the contest, head coach Chris Connolly called a timeout to draw up the final play. Sophomore guard Mike Cannizzo made a great pass from the opposite baseline on target to senior Robert Tutein, who made a miraculous shot from beyond three-point range to give the Pioneers the one point victory. The shot was good enough for second on SportsCenter’s top ten plays, which put Utica College basketball on national television.
Yet Tutein remained particularly humble about the specific play and more pleased with their overall accomplishment as a team.
“I’m just happy we were able to get a conference win on the road,” he said.
Putting the team’s accomplishments ahead of his individual successes says a lot about the character of UC’s senior leader.
When it comes to pulling out victories in tough games this season, UC has been very familiar with coming out on the losing end. Not this time around. It was a hard fought game with the lead going back and forth numerous times, but the Pioneers made way for a win.
Tutein scored UC’s last six points, ending the night with 14. Cannizzo and fellow sophomores Ivan Iton and Carl Taylor helped propel UC with 41 combined points. Both Taylor and Cannizzo had career-highs with 15 and 10 points respectively.
“It felt good to have a career-high. I just wanted to do whatever was needed of me,” Cannizzo said. “I was lucky enough to be open and guys had great vision to me for my threes. The threes are what got me going offensively.”
The Pioneers had very little time to reflect on the incredible game against Elmira as they were visitors to Houghton the very next day. Houghton came away victorious in the game 92-82. Some suggested that maybe the team was still caught up in the emotion from the previous night and let this one slip away. Yet Connolly says it wasn’t about that.
“I think anytime you have a big moment like that, it kind of hangs around a little too long,” he said. “We talked about it, we told them they have to refocus; but I think the biggest thing was Rob getting hurt.”
After making the game-winning shot against Elmira the night before, Tutein sprained his ankle four minutes into the game against Houghton and did not return. Therefore, the Pioneers were forced to play the remainder of the game without its top scorer.
UC needed someone to step up in Tutein’s place and Iton took the challenge and performed very well. Iton finished the game with a career-high 24 points to go along with 12 rebounds on the night.
“I didn’t even notice I had a career-high, but it was nice to compete. We showed up and fought hard every second of this weekend,” he said. “I was just trying to do anything possible to help our team win.”
Agim Hamiti also had a double-double for UC with 19 points and 10 rebounds. The strong efforts just weren’t enough for the Pioneers as Houghton played consistent the entire game and came out with the win. Houghton had a strong offensive night and ended with five players scoring in double figures.
The struggles continued into this week as the Pioneers lost Tuesday to St. John Fisher College 77-52 in another game without Tutein. They’ll look to bounce back in their final three games against Stevens Institute, Ithaca College and the finale against Nazareth. The Pioneers host Steven Institute on Saturday at 2 p.m.