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Bosco’s Corner: Queens has a season

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The team finished 17-11 in a conference that also houses the Adelphi Panthers, the No. 1 Division II...

By Anthony Bosco

The Queens College men’s basketball team lost in the first round of the Division II NCAA Tournament last week, ending a remarkable year for the Knights.

The team finished 17-11 in a conference that also houses the Adelphi Panthers, the No. 1 Division II team in the nation and the only college team still unbeaten in the entire country.

Queens lost in the first round of the New York Collegiate Athletic Conference to New York Tech, 73-71, but played well enough all season against some of the better D II schools around to earn the invite to the big dance, an invite many thought would or should not have come.

Yes, there is controversy on the Division II level when it comes to the NCAA Tournament. Just as Richmond or the University of Connecticut cried foul after Sunday’s Division I tournament selections, so did a few Division II schools, and Queens was the target of some of that ire.

A lot of the thought process that goes into picking schools for the tournament is subjective, to a point. But I believe Queens earned the right, while at the same time I also acknowledge the fact that the Knights were greatly aided by the presence of Adelphi in their conference.

For a long time Queens was the third or fourth college team from the borough likely to be in contention for a national championship, behind St. John’s, Division III’s York College and even Queensborough Community College on the junior college Division III circuit.

And while no one really expected Queens to go all the way, this year was certainly a step in the right direction.

The team has shown steady improvement under head coach Kyrk Peponakis, now in his sixth year at the helm of the team, since taking over for Norm Roberts, now an assistant at Illinois. His job has been made easier by the acquisition of some very talented local players out of Queens high schools.

This year’s team is full of Queens players, including senior Steve Sikiric out of Archbishop Molloy, sophomore Gary DeBerry out of Holy Cross, Jamaica’s Raphael Giraldo and Mike Leonce, Pete Banta, a senior from Queens Village and junior Phil Lyons, a Far Rockaway native out of Bishop Loughlin.

And this is not a recent occurrence, either. Past teams have included such local standouts as Kenny Parker, out of Van Buren, and Dror Gal out of Francis Lewis, two players that many thought capable of playing on the Division I level in high school.

Incidentally, Adelphi also boasts some solid players out of Queens high schools, including Kendell Craig (Holy Cross), Tony Kellman (Edison), Ryan McCormack (Xavier), Ryan Laul (Molloy) and Dwayne Thompson (St. John’s Prep).

This season’s resurgence, however, seems so dramatic on the heels of a less-than-stellar 1999-2000 campaign, after which the Knights stood 10-12 in conference play and 11-16 overall, with no players being named to either the all-conference first or second teams.

Last year’s team was the No. 8 seed in the NYCAC tourney and was ousted in the first round by Adelphi.

Things were different right away this season. The Knights opened up with three straight wins, over Caldwell, Dominican and Molloy before suffering their first defeat, a 77-60 loss at the hands of Concordia.

Queens won its next game against Southampton, 90-76, but then had its worst stretch of the season, losing the next four — to New York Tech, Bridgeport, North Florida, Merrimack — before snapping the streak against C.W. Post with a 71-58 win.

Queens locked horns with Adelphi and pushed the unbeaten Panthers to the brink before finally falling 65-59 on Jan. 10.

Coming off the strong showing against the NYCAC’s top team, Queens rolled off four straight wins against Dowling, Philadelphia, St. Thomas Aquinas and Dowling again. Concordia then handed Queens another loss, dropping the Knights to 9-7.

The Knights bounced back again, rolling off five straight wins against Southampton, New York Tech, Bridgeport, Mercy and C.W. Post before meeting Adelphi again. This time the Knights lost by 20 on the Panthers’ home court, 78-58.

Queens beat Molloy, lost to Philadelphia and beat St. Thomas Aquinas and Mercy to end the regular season with a 17-9 record, good enough for the No. 4 seed in the NYCAC Tournament and the right to host a home game.

But New York Tech scored the upset in overtime, 94-89, a loss that surely had Peponakis and Co. wondering whether the team would play again in the 2000-20001 season.

Then the team got the call last Sunday. For the first time in school history, the Knights were going to the NCAA Tournament, much to the surprise of the whole team and coaching staff, not too mention a couple of unhappy teams on the outside looking in.

And though Queens lost in the first round, to the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, 85-67, the team played well enough to prove it belonged.

The loss will fade away soon enough. It was the journey and the experience of just being there that many will never forget. And, of course, there is always next year.

Reach Sports Editor Anthony Bosco by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 130.

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