|Curle's players have bought in to their roles, and a deep Cardinals squad is rolling.
Plattsburgh State Athletics photo
By Andrew Lovell
It's been a special season for the Plattsburgh State men's basketball team. Not even head coach Tom Curle can deny that.
The Cardinals (18-4, 15-1) will enter the final weekend of the regular season on a 15-game winning streak and having already clinched the SUNYAC regular season crown. Plattsburgh has already locked up a first-round SUNYAC tournament bye, and will host the tournament semifinals and final, if it advances that far, in its home gym.
"The proof is in the pudding," Curle said. "It's been a special year, I will say that. But to say a special team, I think they've still got some area to cover."
Curle has seen some special teams over his 15 seasons at Plattsburgh, a tenure that includes four SUNYAC championships and seven NCAA tournament appearances, highlighted by a run to the Sweet 16 in 2008.
The foundation for this year's team was laid last season during a disappointing 13-12 campaign. A 2-7 start in conference play, a stretch that included six straight losses last January, doomed the Cardinals, as they lost the tiebreaker to Geneseo State for the final seed in the conference tournament.
Since losing seven of their first nine SUNYAC contests last season, the Cardinals are a staggering 22-3 in conference games.
"A lot of our success is based upon our failures last year, to be honest with you," Curle said. "Learning from them and overcoming them."
Plattsburgh's current 15-game winning streak which began back on Dec. 9 is impressive, but the season began on an unsteady note with four losses in its first seven games. The caliber of opponents, particularly Middlebury, Keene State, and Brockport State certainly played a role, but Plattsburgh hurt itself with too many turnovers. Players were forcing the issue, simply trying to do too much, Curle said.
Once Plattsburgh got back to its formula for success—solid defense, consistent rebounding, and unselfish offensive play—the momentum shifted. Of course, the return of the team's most productive player also helped.
"A lot of it is players that are willing to sacrifice some of their personal goals or personal skills for the benefit for the team," Curle said. "It starts there. And then when you add a guy that can average 20 points and 10 rebounds, now all of a sudden it starts to click a little bit."
Junior forward Jonathan Patron, an all-SUNYAC standout last season, didn't suit up for the Cardinals during the fall 2017 semester, due to the NCAA's "10-semester rule" that requires athletes to complete their four seasons of eligibility during the first 10 semesters they are enrolled as a full-time student. By taking this past semester off, Patron ensured he'll be eligible for the rest of his junior season and his entire senior season.
The bruising 6-foot-2, 245-pound Patron immediately returned to his role as the Cardinals' go-to player. He's tallied double-doubles in nine of his 14 games, and topped 20 points in 10 of those games. Patron stands out on a team that boasts both depth and versatility.
"It's a team that very much understands what their role is and what their teammates' roles are," Curle said.
Consider players like senior guard Zack Coleman, one of the team's premier perimeter defenders; junior forward Ian Howard, who Curle called "probably the best offensive rebounder" he's ever coached; and junior guard Brandon Johnson, who has evolved into an excellent defensive leader.
Two of Plattsburgh's top scorers, senior guards Eli Bryant and Eric Mack, along with Johnson have all predominantly come off the bench this season. All three have thrived in that role, to the point where none jumped at the opportunity to start.
"When Zack Coleman got hurt with a sprained ankle, we had to start one of those three," Curle said. "None of them wanted to start."
Add junior guard/forward Chris Middleton, a uniquely-long 6-foot-7 defender and the only player to start all 22 games this season, and sophomore guard Nick DeAngelis into the mix, and Plattsburgh has 10 players with at least one start this season. Nine players average at least 10 minutes per game.
The Cardinals roster is also as diverse as it is versatile. Junior forward Wayne Shih (Taiwan), senior guard Tim Smith (Australia), and freshman guard Pascal Klaehn (Germany) all hail from outside of the United States.
"That adds to the personality of our team and the strength of our team a great deal," Curle said. "To see a kid from Brooklyn (freshman Travis Cox) and a kid from Germany hanging out all the time, really that's a real testament to what sports and athletics and men's basketball can do."
Plattsburgh wraps up its regular season with home games against Oneonta and New Paltz this Friday and Saturday, respectively. The SUNYAC conference tournament kicks off next Tuesday, but Plattsburgh won't be in action until the semifinals the night of Feb. 23.
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