Queens gets boot in first round of NCAA

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A season ago, the Knights earned their first-ever NCAA tournament bid and was seeded sixth in the six-team Northeast Regional, hosted by top-seeded...

By Dylan Butler

What was foreign last year was familiar for the Queens College men’s basketball team last Thursday.

A season ago, the Knights earned their first-ever NCAA tournament bid and was seeded sixth in the six-team Northeast Regional, hosted by top-seeded Adelphi at SUNY-Old Westbury.

Fast forward one year and Queens was back in the same scenario. Back at SUNY-Old Westbury, back as the No. 6 seed.

And for a second straight season, the Knights lost their opening round game, this time to No. 3 Pace, 92-88.

Yes, everything was the same.

Even the last name of the Knights’ leading scorer was the same, as Steve Sikiric scored 22 points in last year’s 85-67 loss to UMass-Lowell while younger brother John Sikiric led Queens against Pace with a game-high 28 points.

Everything but the team’s attitude following the loss was the same. Gone was last year’s, “we’re just happy to be here,” sentiment, replaced by genuine disappointment.

Maybe it’s because the team was coming off winning its first-ever New York Collegiate Athletic Conference title. Or maybe it was that Queens had a 13-point first-half lead against Pace. Whatever the reason, there were no happy faces when the Knights walked off the court this time.

“This year we came in confident that we were going to win,” said Queens coach Kyrk Peponakis. “Our goal today was to play tomorrow. The NCAA tournament is a really wonderful experience and we wanted to win this game. We had every opportunity to do so, but we didn’t finish.”

Unlike last year’s game, Queens (19-11) was not intimidated by a bigger Pace team. After trailing 13-6 early, the Knights went on a 14-0 run, highlighted by a rare four-point play by Gary DeBerry, to take a 20-13 lead.

Sparked by a red-hot DeBerry, who scored 15 first-half points on 6-of-10 shooting, Queens extended its lead to 38-25 on the second of Sikiric’s six three-pointers.

The Knights shot 52.8 percent in the first half and went into the second half leading 46-38.

But before Peponakis knew it, things started to unravel for the Knights.

On his way to the locker room at halftime, DeBerry felt cramping in both calves. After a made free throw and a three-pointer five minutes into the second half, the cramps got worse and the junior guard from St. Albans asked off the court.

DeBerry gave it another try midway through the half, but he was forced to succumb to his injuries with about six minutes left in the game.

“I was more harmful than helpful to my team,” DeBerry said. “It was tough to stick [Pace leading scorer Al] Elliott. It was tough to get elevation on my jump shot.”

After shooting just 1-of-11 from three-point range in the first half, Pace (21-7) hurt Queens first from outside and then inside in the second half.

During a 21-7 run, it was the Setters’ perimeter shooting that did the job as Jay Carlington (25 points), Tyrone Johnson (18 points) and Daniel Campos all connected from beyond the arc to push Pace, a team that made 227 three-pointers this year, ahead 63-58 with 12:22 left in the second half.

“I felt we were getting some good shots, but we were just not knocking them down,” said Pace head coach Jim Harter. “I just told our guys to keep shooting. These are guys who have stepped up all year. They pulled the trigger and took big shots.”

Sikiric, a freshman forward from Maspeth, answered with a pair of three-pointers to put Queens back ahead, 64-63 with 10:34 left.

But that would be the Knights’ last lead.

With the game tied at 66, Pace sophomore forward Atiba Lyons scored nine straight points during an 18-8 run that gave the Setters an 84-74 lead with 3:57 left.

Lyons, who averages 8.9 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, scored a career-high 21 points and grabbed nine boards to help lead Pace to its first-ever NCAA tournament win.

The Setters struggled in the final minute and Queens had its chances to cut into the lead. But Alex McLean (12 points, game-high 16 rebounds) missed a layup and Dave Trani (12 points) forced a cross-court pass that was intercepted by Elliott, who made up for missing a pair of free throws seconds earlier.

Trailing 91-86 with 16 seconds left, Sikiric barely missed a four-point play of his own, but his three-point attempt while being fouled by Elliott bounced off the back rim.

Sikiric made 2-of-3 foul shots to get within three, 91-88. But Lyons capped the game’s scoring with a pair of free throws with 8.8 seconds left.

“Not too good,” were the words Sikiric used to describe his first NCAA tournament experience. “We needed to win for [seniors] Phil [Lyons], Will [Hooks] and Jurell [Bonaparte] and we came up short.”

While Sikiric has three more chances to get back to the Big Dance, the loss to Pace marked the end of Phil Lyons’ solid collegiate career at Queens.

The former Bishop Loughlin standout, who was the MVP of the NYCAC tournament a week earlier, finishes his career with 968 points and finished third on the Queens all-time assist list with 426 in 111 games.

“The last couple of years have been great,” said Lyons. “We were able to accomplish some things we’ve never accomplished before.”

“You can’t take away the 19 victories or winning the NYCAC, but we’re starting to get to a point in this program where there are no moral victories,” Peponakis said. “This is a letdown for us. We’re disappointed because we felt we should have won.”

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.

Updated 7:02 pm, October 10, 2011
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