By James Bailey, Staff Writer
The St. John Fisher men’s basketball team made it out of the first round of the NCAA Tournament due to the offensive contributions of its big man, but not the one you are thinking of.
Backup center Sammy Robinson led the Cardinals with 20 points in a 77-72 victory over the St. Lawrence Saints. The game will be remembered for the play of the Fisher bench. One of the questions going into the game was if Fisher would continue to rely on its bench even with almost a week off, and head coach Rob Kornaker did not shy away from relying on his bench like he has all year.
Senior backup point guard Michael D’Amico added 12 points and a pair of timely three pointers to contribute to the Fisher win.
“I thought that they were taking it to us and we weren’t playing super tough,” said Kornaker. “Our bench guys are tough.”
The Saints were led by the contributions of their own big man, Riley Naclerio. The junior ended up with a double double, 15 points and ten rebounds, and played a crucial role in a defensive scheme designed to stifle Fisher’s star big man Keegan Ryan. St. Lawrence routinely forced the big man out of the paint and put several double and triple teams on the Empire 8 Offensive Player of the Year.
The Saints used this defense and a balanced offensive attack to build up a double digit lead in the first half. With four minutes to go until halftime, the Cardinals saw themselves down 34-22. Cue the senior D’Amico, who hit back to back threes to help Fisher and their home crowd regain momentum. The Cardinals went to the half with a 38-32 deficit.
In the second half, the Cardinals caught fire with a lineup of Ryan, D’Amico, Robinson, and the defense oriented duo of Jordan Gilman and Daniel Morales. Fisher managed to take its first lead of the second half with just over 11 minutes remaining in the game off a strong Robinson bucket over Naclerio. Fisher would never trail by more than a point from there.
Key plays down the stretch of the game included a key steal from the freshman Gilman with under a minute to go in the game, a key Ryan offensive rebound and subsequent free throw, and four Ryan Henderson free throws to ice the game. Despite his struggles, Ryan still ended up with a double double of ten points and ten rebounds. It was the whole team effort that led the Cardinals to the win.
“It’s all on my teammates,” Robinson said of his performance. “I didn’t shoot well from three (1/7 from behind the arc), but my teammates kept saying, ‘keep your head up.’ I’m blessed to have a great team.”
The Cardinals will now face Tufts College in round two of the tournament. The Jumbos head into Saturday’s matchup after defeating Salem State 84-81 in the night’s early first round game.