James McClendon, Editor-in-Chief
For the Utica College men’s basketball team, it was time for a change. Following a 7-17 season, Sean Coffey was hired to bring that change.
Coffey wanted to bring a new culture to the program. He wanted to create a winning culture. Defense was the name of the game and Coffey knew that building his program would require starting on the defensive end.
“I came in with a certain of vision of what I wanted this program to be about and our coaches and players have all bought in collectively,” Coffey said. “I really just wanted to work hard, do things the right way, care for one another and build from the defensive end up.”
One clear indication of his vision coming to fruition is the fact that junior Ivan Iton was selected as the Empire 8 defensive player of the year.
Iton led the Empire 8 in rebounding with 9.9 and blocks with 2.3 per game. He also recorded nine double-doubles on the season.
Things were not easy from the start, as the team began the season with 10 straight loses. They did not earn their first victory until Jan. 5.
“It obviously took us some time to figure ourselves out and learn how to win close games,” Coffey said.
Once the Pioneers entered conference play it seemed like a switch had been thrown. They won 10 of their 16 conference games, which was the most since the 2008-09 season.
“We figured some things out from an X’s and O’s point of view and figured out what pace we are successful at,” Coffey said.
Utica led the Empire 8 in three defensive stat categories, including opponent’s points per game, opponent’s field goal percentage and blocks per game.
“The fact that we are the best statistical defensive team in the conference is a tremendous accomplishment for these guys and our program,” Coffey said. “We knew we had to guard in order to be competitive. They’ve been great.”
Utica entered the Empire 8 conference playoffs with the No. 3 seed. They were matched up with Stevens Institute of Technology.
As the Pioneers took the Bobby Wanzer Court, Coffey knew that they would have to control the pace of the game to be successful.
“Stevens is very tough to guard,” Coffey said. “They have several undersized guards that are quick, shifty and really skilled. They play very fast and we are going to try and control the pace as best we can. That will involve us being patient and making it a time of possession game in our favor.”
The Pioneers played a tough game but were defeated by Stevens in the conference semifinals 71-79. They finished the season with an overall record of 10-16.