By Dylan Butler
Fitzgerald Gymnasium has been the site of the New York Collegiate Athletic Conference tournament semifinals and finals for three years and each year Queens College senior point guard Phil Lyons has watched the games from the stands.
For 32 minutes of the Knights’ quarterfinal game against sixth-seeded Dowling Tuesday, it looked like Lyons and company would again be spectators instead of participators, as the visiting Golden Lions completely outhustled No. 3 Queens.
Trailing 61-56 with eight minutes left, Queens head coach Kyrk Peponakis called timeout and the PG version of what he said was that his team was giving the game away. And finally something clicked, as the Knights rallied for a thrilling 78-73 win.
Queens (17-10) advances to face No. 7 Bridgeport, which shocked second-seeded Philadelphia University, 66-61, Tuesday in Philadelphia. Friday's tip-off is slated for 8:30 p.m. Top-seeded Adelphi will face No. 4 New York Tech in the other semifinal at 6 p.m. The winners meet in the NYCAC title game Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
“It’s crazy, we always lose in the first round,” said Lyons, who, along with fellow senior Will Hooks, faced the reality of playing their final collegiate game. “I still can’t believe we’re in the semifinals.”
Lyons is a major reason why Queens advanced to the conference semifinals for the first time in five years. With guards Gary DeBerry and John Sikiric struggling, Lyons became more aggressive offensively. He finished with 15 points, four assists and three steals, including two thefts during the Knights’ decisive 11-2 run late in the second half.
While Lyons was clutch from the perimeter, junior Alex McLean was equally huge from the low post. The 6-foot-7 forward had a game-high 26 points, including seven straight following Peponakis' aforementioned timeout, and 11 rebounds.
“I knew we had an advantage in the post from the last two times we played them,” McLean said of the Knights’ two regular season wins over Dowling. “This is big. I’ve never won a playoff game in my whole life.”
Even with seven straight points from McLean, Queens still trailed 65-63 with 5:28 left. But then Lyons stole the ball from second-team All-NYCAC guard John Redding (14 points) and DeBerry nailed a 12-foot jumper to tie the game at 65.
Lyons again stripped Redding and found a wide-open Sikiric in the corner. The freshman guard, who earned NYCAC Player of the Week honors after scoring a career-high 36 points in a 78-69 win at Molloy in the Knights regular season finale, buried his lone three-pointer of the game to put Queens ahead, 68-65, with 4:24 left.
After chasing Dowling (14-13) for 32 minutes, the Knights would not relinquish its first lead of the game.
“People say its not such a good year [compared to last year’s NCAA tournament bid season]. But we won this game this year,” Peponakis said. “We’ve taken another step. I always think the first game is the toughest. Let’s roll now and get to Friday.”
Carnell Campbell added nine huge points off the bench for Queens, all from long-range. Dowling was led by Angel Figueroa, the nation’s leading scorer. The sophomore from Puerto Rico, who was named All-NYCAC first-team, had 20 points and 10 rebounds, but was held to just three points in the second half as he picked up his fourth foul with 12:08 left and sat for nearly eight minutes.
Dowling 50, Queens 44. Freshman Shonda Holder led the Lady Knights with 14 points and 15 rebounds and senior Theresa Dollard, who was named second team All-NYCAC, added 13 points, but it wasn't enough as No. 7 Queens (10-17) fell in the NYCAC quarterfinals at second-seeded Dowling (20-7) Tuesday.
Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.