A solid winter break for the men’s basketball team has them poised for a three-game home stand that will decide if they deserve to be counted among the elite teams in the region.
The Blue and Gold, winners of six of their last seven games, will host 24th-ranked Stevens Institute of Technology on Friday, a Hartwick team that just beat Stevens on Saturday and a Scranton team that reached the Elite Eight in last year’s NCAA Tournament on Tuesday. All three games are critical in-region matchups whose results are evaluated by the selection committee in their process of selecting at-large teams for the NCAA Tournament, something the Blue and Gold would have to rely upon if they fail to win the Empire 8 Tournament.
The team looks to compound on recent success and carry it into the crucial stretch. One player who has been instrumental behind the Bombers’ winter success is senior forward Travis Warech, who was named the Empire 8 Player of the Week this week after averaging 22 points over the last three games. He said he is thriving under the team’s close chemistry.
“I really just found my niche in the offense,” Warech said. “I would say that we’re playing well on offense, but we still haven’t reached our full potential.”
The South Hill Squad has the second-best points per game in the Empire 8 this season at 74. They are also the second-best shooting team in the conference, shooting just more than 46 percent from the field. Despite their offensive success, Warech said the team needs to work on closing teams out.
“We’re making the games close when they shouldn’t be,” Warech said. “When we’re up by nine or 10, we’ve let the other team creep back into it and make it close at the end. We need to focus on putting away teams that don’t belong on the floor with us.”
During the winter break, senior guard Sean Rossi recorded his 1,000th career point. However, Rossi is well off the pace he set in the last two seasons by only averaging 6.6 assists per game with just more than half the season finished. He said the team needs to remain true to its offensive game plan in order to play well this weekend.
“Sometimes, we tend to go too much one on one,” Rossi said. “When we’re at our best is when we’re moving the ball and everyone is being unselfish, especially against a team like Stevens or Hartwick. We can’t have any moments in the game where someone is trying to be the hero.”
With the Ducks losing to Hartwick on Tuesday night, the Bombers are back on top of the Empire 8 standings with a 6–1 record. Stevens sits right behind them at 5–1. While the Hawks have a modest 3–3 record in the Empire 8, they have the conference’s leading scorer, junior forward Jared Suderley, who averages 19 points per game and led all scorers with 21 points in the Hawks’ win against Stevens on Tuesday. Rossi said the team must remain aware of the other four players on the floor when they try to shut down Suderley. The Hawks have other effective options like junior forward Mike Geisser, who has hit 50 percent of his 3’s in conference play.
If the Bombers win the next four games, they will likely hold a one-and-a-half game lead atop the Empire 8 with five conference games remaining. If the team has a successful week ahead, the Bombers look poised to take the E8, as their final three opponents have a record of only 17–35. Assistant Coach Jon Tanous said the next four games are the most important of the season.
“We’re playing some of the top teams in the conference,” Tanous said. “This stretch will basically determine the outcome of the playoff scenario.”