The men’s basketball team’s 2011-12 season was not for the fainthearted. As agonizing as some stints of the season may have been, the Bombers capitalized their campaign by winning the Empire 8 Conference Tournament for the first time in the program’s history.
The South Hill squad came into the year hot off a 20-win season in 2010-11, needing to replace two impact players who had graduated — Empire 8 Player of the Year center Phil Barera ’11 and guard Chris Cruz-Rivas ’11.
The Blue and Gold struggled in the preliminary stages of the season, going 3—8 in non-conference play. Six of those eight losses were by five points or less.
Once the new calendar year arrived, so did the Bombers’ victories. Ithaca went 9—5 in conference play, earning them the fourth seed in the Empire 8 Tournament where they upset the top-seeded Hartwick Hawks 79-67 in the first round semifinals on Feb. 24. The Blue and Gold continued their win streak the following day with a 71-55 rout of Nazareth College to capture the conference. The victory against the Golden Flyers earned the Bombers an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, which marked the college’s third national playoff appearance in four years.
In the first round of the NCAA Championships, Ithaca fell to host College of Staten Island, 98-73, to finish the season with an overall record of 14—14.
The Bombers were not specifically carried by one player. Sophomore forward Frank Mitchell averaged 16 points per game, while junior guard Andrei Oztemel sunk nearly 14 points per game and senior guard Jordan Marcus scored 12 points per game.
Junior point guard Sean Rossi led Division III in assists, finishing with a total of 259. He also scored fewer than 10 points per game and was named Empire 8 Tournament MVP.
The South Hill squad will graduate Marcus, guard Sha Ali and guard Joe Zenz.