Tanner Swan, Editor-In-Chief
The St. John Fisher men’s basketball program won its second Empire 8 title in the last three years, and advances to the NCAA Tournament to take on St. Lawrence in a first round matchup on Friday.
The Cardinals endured physical battles with both Nazareth and Stevens to uphold their label as the favorites and cap off a dominating season in conference play, only losing one game to Nazareth in the first of their three meetings.
This is Rob Kornaker’s seventh Empire 8 title in his 16 years as head coach.
“I knew Saturday was gonna be tough because Friday was such an emotionally draining game,” Kornaker explained. “Back to back games are hard.”
An instrumental factor for the Cardinals was their home court advantage as the students showed up in copious numbers ready to inflict their presence. And they did just that.
“It reminded me of all the years back in ‘05, ‘06, ‘07 when the place was packed,” Kornaker said. “Our guys love playing in that atmosphere and it was a huge advantage for us because it was loud.”
Kornaker was noticeably joyous pumping his fists and waving an Empire 8 t-shirt at the exuberant crowd following the 80-69 victory that was back-and-forth for much of the game.
Tyler English delivered another clutch performance with the Duck defenders doubling and sometimes tripling the star Cardinal center, Keegan Ryan. English finished the day with 21 points, five rebounds and three assists. Alex Sausville added 13 points, and Sammy Robinson delivered a couple crucial 3-pointers off the bench that helped end his day with 11 points.
As Robinson demonstrated on Saturday, one of the keys to Fisher’s success is the amount of depth the team has. Despite the team playing in the biggest game of the season, Kornaker still feels comfortable going as deep as 12 players.
“I always try to go about 12 players deep,” he said. “I feel pretty confident when someone is in foul trouble that other guys can come in and step up.”
That seems to be what differentiated the Cardinals from the rest of the Empire 8 this year. While Ryan and English seem to deliver on a consistent basis, there always seems to be a third or fourth player that steps up to help finish a game. On Friday night against Nazareth, it was Jake Haight with 16 points and 12 rebounds, while on Saturday it was Sausville and Robinson.
After the win, senior Dan Vaulman and Kornaker exchanged a hug in pure joy of the Empire 8 championship victory. Vaulman hasn’t played as much as he probably would have liked this season, but his leadership and energy off the bench is clear as day to anyone that watches a Fisher basketball game.
Now as the Cardinals prepare for the first round round matchup with St. Lawrence, here are some keys to the game as Fisher hopes to continue its run.
- Can St. Lawrence slow Ryan down without opening up the perimeter for guys like English, Sausville and others? And vise versa for Fisher with St. Lawrence star big man Riley Naclerio.
- Can Cardinals slow down St. Lawrence’s Naclerio and Kyle Edwards? Both average 19.1 and 16.8 points per game respectively.
- How will the two big men, Naclerio and Ryan matchup?
- Can Fisher have four players in double-digits? Who will contribute besides Ryan and English?
- Will Fisher continue with the 11-12 man rotation that got them this far?
- Will the decreased student attendance due to spring break have an impact on the game?
Fisher and St. Lawrence tip off at 7:30 p.m. at the Bobby Wanzer Court. The winner will face the winner of Tufts and Salem State, which is also going to be played at Fisher tipping off at 5:30 p.m.
*all photos provided by St. John Fisher athletics.