Warriors Clinch PSAC East Title With Senior Night Win

Photo Credit / Ronald Hanaki Senior guard Nick Giordano (20) lines up for a three-pointer against the Kutztown Golden Bears in a convincing thirty point victory on Feb. 27.

Ronald Hanaki

Staff Writer

ESU Men’s Basketball won its eighth consecutive game by defeating the Kutztown University Golden Bears 112-92 on Wednesday, Feb. 27. The victory helped ESU clinch the top seed in the PSAC East.

It was also Senior Night for the Warriors. Forwards Steven Stoney and Josh Williams along with guards Jakwan Jones and Nick Giordano were the four seniors who were recognized before the start of the game against Kutztown.

For their part, the Golden Bears came into this game fighting to make the postseason PSAC Tournament. The first half was highly competitive as the score was tied five times during the period.

Strong three-point shooting by Kutztown kept the Golden Bears in the game. KU hit 7-of-9 shots from beyond the arc in the first half to only trail ESU by five points at halftime.

However, it was a different story in the second half.

ESU’s trademark pressure defense began to wear down Kutztown as the Golden Bears only shot a paltry 3-for-9 from three-point land in the second half. Two back-to-back three-point shots by Giordano early in the second half fired up the crowd and gave the Warriors a solid eight-point lead that they would never relinquish.

The combination of defense and good shooting enabled the Warriors to lead by as many as 22 points in the second half. Freshman guard Ish Horn’s thunderous dunk in the closing minutes of the game capped another big win for the Warriors over a conference rival. Another freshman, forward Ryan Smith upstaged the seniors by scoring a game-high 31 points.

Smith said, “My teammates kept feeding me the ball, and our hot shooting from the outside drew the defense out. So I had a little more room to work.

Head Coach Jeff Wilson said, “Ryan has exceeded expectations, and that is not a slight. The growth from him from October 15 to now has been tremendous.”

“Every practice is a way to get better,” Smith said. “I keep working hard, and it is starting to pay off.”

Giordano had 23 points in the game. He also became the 32nd player in ESU men’s basketball history to score 1,000 points for his career.

Wilson attributed the senior guard’s 1000 pointcareer to his steady play throughout his career as a Warrior, demonstrating a high level of consistency.

Senior forward Nick Williams was his usual efficient self with 19 points in only 25 minutes of play.Williams said, “I love how we play together. Wespeed things up [with our pressure defense] and blow teams out,” Williams said. “That’s the best part of it.”

Wilson demurred, lamenting an inconsistent first half.”But guys did a good job of making adjustments,” stated Wilson. “We turned them over at a higher rate in the second half.”

These defensive adjustments allowed the Warrior offense to score easy buckets in transition. Of course, Wilson praised his four seniors. He said that each of the four seniors honored before the game played an integral role on the team during their time at the university.”

“More importantly as a coach, I am proud of the way those four guys have grown throughout their careers as men,” stated Wilson.

“They are leaving ESU way different and way more mature people which is what you are looking for in life,” Wilson said. “They have been great ambassadors for our university.”

Stoney had to leave the team for a year to deal with some personal issues but he came back to play his final season with the Warriors.

The transition was hard for the senior, but he expressed his gratitude to be back at the university. He had taken a year off to go home, but was able to return to play his final season in a Warrior uniform and graduate this semester.”

I started school here, and I ended school here. It’s just been a blessing,” said Stoney. Wilson said, “We’ve grown [as a team.] That’s not just a tribute to the seniors who will be departing, but also the freshmen who are following.”

Looking back at November, Wilson sees a lot of improvement in this Warrior squad.

“We weren’t ready in November,” Wilson said. “We took two losses right away.”

However, the head coach cited veteran leadership as an essential part in the team’s turnaround this season, as the Warriors are now in prime position to repeat as PSAC champions.

ESU became the top seed in the PSAC East when they beat Millersville University 85-77 last Saturday. The defending conference champion Warriors received a first-round bye in the PSAC Tournament that began last Monday and hosted a quarterfinal game last night.

The PSAC Tournament will conclude this weekend at the highest remaining seed in the PSAC West.

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