(Oswego, N.Y.)─ The Wells College men's basketball team (17-12) came up just short in the first round of the NCAA Division III men's basketball tournament, falling to the Oswego State Lakers 64-58 on Friday evening in Oswego, N.Y. The Lakers (24-4) will move on to play Rhode Island College tomorrow at 7 p.m. in Oswego.
The Express showed the crowd of over a thousand, not only why they had earned a trip to the Big Dance, but why they belonged in the field of 61. Oswego, nationally ranked during the season, had all they could handle from the Express, who refused to lay-down.
Feeding off an electric group of Express fans who traveled to see their team, the Express jumped out to an early 17-10 lead, which included a 9-2 run to pull away. The Lakers continued to battle inside, answering with a 7-0 run to tie the game at 19-19 with 9:30 to play in the half. The two teams played neck and neck the rest of the way with Oswego taking a slim 26-24 lead heading into the break.
The Lakers came out and quickly scored six straight points to take a 32-24 lead early in the second half. The Express continued to chip away at the lead and would climb to within three (36-33) on a lay-up by Terry Harrison but, the Lakers responded; a jumper by Chris Gilkes and a lay-up by Chad Burridge sparked Oswego on a 9-0 run, extending their lead to 12 (45-33) with just over ten minutes to play.
Just as they had done earlier in the half, the Express refused to give in, climbing to with one (53-52) on a lay-up by Dave Foltz with 3:03 to play. A 3-pointer by Sean Michele extended the Lakers' lead to four. Mabior Mayen would hit one of two free-throws on the subsequent play, pulling the Express to within one possession 56-53 with 1:43 to go.
After the Lakers missed two attempts on their end of the court, the Express raced down the court but Burridge drew a charge in the paint and would hit both free-throws, giving the Lakers a 58-53 lead with 26 seconds to play. The Express would hit shots in the waning seconds but the Lakers were perfect from the line (6-6) in the final minute to seal the victory.
Mabior Mayen led the Express with 16 points, 11 rebounds and five blocks. Terry Harrison added 11 points and eight rebounds; Dave Foltz chipped in with 11 points and five rebounds, and Benito Perez added 10 points to round-out the scoring for the Express.
SUNYAC Player of the Year Chad Burridge paced the Lakers with 27 points and nine rebounds.
Oswego State owned a slim 40-38 advantage on the glass, but the Lakers came away with 22 offensive boards resulting in 20 second-chance points. Oswego State also went a perfect 12-for-12 from the charity stripe, while the Express finished 5 of 9.
It was a historic run for the Wells Express. Not only was this the first NCAA appearance of any team from Wells College, but the men's basketball team has been a varsity sport at the school for just three years. Even more impressive, the Express have appeared in the North Eastern Athletic Conference Championship game in each of those first three years.
After starting the season 3-9, the Express closed with a 14-3 record that included an eight game winning streak, a NEAC Championship, and an appearance in the NCAA Division III men's basketball tournament.
The Express will graduate one senior, Terrance Wright, and will return four of five starters from this season's championship squad. Asked about the future for Wells basketball during the post game press conference, freshmen Mabior Mayen answered, "high hopes…high hopes."