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Queens College enjoying march to Madness

After winning the NYCAC championship Sunday and advancing to the Division II NCAA tournament for the third time in five years, the Knights have thoroughly been enjoying March Madness.Peponakis has received congratulatory phone calls and e-mails from former players, co-workers at Cardozo High where he is a physical education teacher, as well as local coaches.When Peponakis and his staff attended the PSAL Class A semifinals at St. John's Tuesday night, Long Island University coach Jim Ferry, St. John's assistant coaches Glenn Braica and Fred Quartlebaum, former St. John's director of basketball operations Alex Evans and Providence assistant Steve DeMeo all offered good wishes.In preparation for Saturday's first round game at Bentley College in Waltham, Mass., Queens was scheduled to practice Tuesday afternoon, but the quick moving snowstorm derailed those plans. Instead the players followed Peponakis into his office to watch the final minutes of the NYCAC championship game. Peponakis said he's already watched the tape about 40 times."They were all ready to practice, which I was obviously happy with, but I was so concerned about the road I told them to go home," Peponakis said. "We're going to go hard (Wednesday), Thursday, Friday and we play Saturday so I'm not concerned (about not practicing Tuesday)."The last two times Queens played in the NCAA tournament, Adelphi served as the host school and the games were played at SUNY-Old Westbury. But this time Bentley is hosting the Northeast Region and the Knights will depart for the Boston area Thursday.Unlike many road trips during the year, Queens will board a charter bus rather than cram into school vans. They'll stay in a hotel and will play in front of what should be a hostile crowd, although a fan bus will leave Flushing around noon Saturday to ensure there will be some vocal support for the Knights.It will be the type of college basketball experience often seen on ESPN, but rarely experienced in the NYCAC."This is more special," Peponakis said compared to the Knights' other two NCAA appearances. "This is big time. It's a step up (from what we're used to) and it's going to be very special. We have one guy I can tell who doesn't want it to end."That one guy is John Sikiric, the Knights undisputed senior leader who was named NYCAC tournament MVP after scoring 29 points in an 82-74 win over Philadelphia University Sunday.The former Molloy standout is the lone player left from the last team to appear in the NCAA tournament. That was in 2002 and Sikiric scored 28 points in a tight loss to Pace. The year before Queens lost to UMass-Lowell.While the setting has changed, the odds are still stacked against the Knights. Led by junior guard Tim Forbes, Bentley is currently ranked No. 10 in the country but owned the top spot in the nation last month.The Falcons, which are making their 11th straight NCAA appearance, have spent the past nine weeks ranked in the top-10. They lost to St. Anslem in the Northeast-10 championship game, 79-74 Saturday.The winner plays either fourth-seeded Southern New Hampshire or No. 5 St. Rose in the second round Sunday at 7:30 p.m."They're very good," Peponakis said of Bentley. "They can shoot it, they can get up and down, they're solid man-to-man. They're a little different than we're used to because they spread the floor, shoot the three and are physical."But the Knights spent most of the year not worried about their opponent and Peponakis says that's not going to change now."Ultimately it's going to come down to us being who we are. We don't want to change things," he said. "It's not fair and it's not good policy to ask them to be different."Reach Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.

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