Men’s Basketball team reaches Empire 8 Conference Championship after crucial win over Nazareth

Image of the mens basketball team roster for the 2022-23 academic year.

Image of the men’s basketball team roster for the 2022-23 academic year.

Jasaun Huff, Contributing Writer

The energy in the Miga Court was explosive last week when the top two teams in the Empire 8 faced off on Wednesday, Jan. 31. The Pioneers secured a win against the Nazareth Golden Flyers for the second time this season. They improved their in-conference record to 12-0 after winning the game 68-66.

The Pioneers were led by Darius Hopkins who played for 33 minutes, scoring 19 points. Senior Thomas Morreal also had an amazing game, scoring 15 points for the team and having 6 rebounds. Dayion Thomson also reached double digits scoring 11 points.

Starting the game, Hopkins, a grad student, shot a mid-range jumper, putting the Pioneers in the lead. Griffin Barasa, a sophomore, contributed to the scoreboard giving them a 5-0 lead, causing Nazareth to use a timeout in the first half.

After the time out, the Golden Flyers rebounded and went on a 6-0 streak, causing Utica’s head coach Sean Coffey to call timeout with Utica losing by one point with 16:25 remaining in the first half.

The teams went back and forth during the rest of the first half. There were six lead changes and five ties throughout. With the score tied at 25 with over a minute left in the first half, Utica scored six straight points, including two, three jumper shots by Morreale.  The Golden Flyers scored a late basket and the score at the end of the first half was 31-27 with Utica leading.

The Golden Flyers scored five early points to start the second half. With 16:10 remaining in the second half, Justice Brantley, a senior at Utica, hit a jump shot giving the Pioneers 35-34 lead. Hopkins then scored 25 points , making the lead 60-52 with 5 minutes remaining.

With 2:45 left, junior Damien Call made a layup, keeping the Utica lead going by increasing the score to 66-58. The Golden Flyers put up a fight going on a 6-0 run in the next minute and 23 seconds. With under a minute remaining, freshman Dayion Thompson cashed a mid-range jump shot giving Utica a four point lead with 59 seconds remaining.

Nazareth scored a basket with 25 seconds remaining. Avery Costen was fouled and was sent to the free throw line. He missed one shot, dashing the Golden Flyers a chance to win the game with 20 seconds left. Nazareth player Zack Stenglein shot a three and missed, causing Utica to catch this victory.

After the game, freshman Dayion Thompson said the Pioneers have good chemistry on and off the court.

“What makes us a good team is hard work, combined talent, and role models from the upperclassmen,” Thompson said. “Practicing at practice like it’s an actual game to always be ready and never stay complacent also.”

The Pioneers face Keuka College at home on Saturday, Feb. 4 at 4 p.m. and then will travel to St. Fischer University on Tuesday, Feb. 7 at 7:30 p.m.