By Dylan Butler
John Sikiric thought it would be an annual excursion.
As a freshman, the former Archbishop Molloy standout followed his older brother Steve’s footsteps and helped lead the Queens College men’s basketball team to its second straight Division II NCAA tournament berth.
Two years later, not only has Sikiric not returned to the Big Dance, but after falling in the NYCAC quarterfinals last year, the junior and his Knights teammates failed to make the conference tournament after a 70-59 loss to New York Tech at Fitzgerald Gymnasium Saturday night.
“I thought I could do that every year,” said Sikiric, who had 17 points in the loss. “Now my junior year not even making the playoffs makes you realize you can’t take anything for granted. When you have it it’s great, but when you don’t it’s that much worse.”
With three teams vying for the final two tournament berths on the final day of the regular season, Queens (12-15, 11-13 NYCAC) found itself on the outside looking in after St. Thomas Aquinas rallied to defeat New Haven, forcing the Knights into a must-win situation.
Because of the Queens loss, Molloy captured the eighth and final tournament berth while St. Thomas Aquinas earned the seventh seed. The Knights miss the NYCAC tournament for the first time in eight years.
“It just hurts so much because for the seniors, they don’t play anymore,” Sikiric said. “Just like that, it’s over, not even one playoff game.”
After falling behind New York Tech (20-7, 18-6) early, Queens spent the entire game trying to overcome its deficit. After falling behind by 14 points early, the Knights scored all but one of their field goals from inside the paint and got within 34-32 on a bucket by Shaun Bertin, capping an 18-6 run.
Rob Villanueva, one of five seniors honored before their last home game, had 11 points and 12 rebounds and also scored at will inside in the first half.
But the Bears scored the final six points of the half to lead 40-32 at the break.
Bertin dominated in the first half, scoring 15 of his team’s 32 points, but New York Tech tightened up its interior defense and the sophomore forward was limited to seven second-half points.
“Defensively we adjusted well at halftime to their high-low and it helped tremendously,” said New York Tech coach Sal Lagano. “I think we started pressuring the ball better as well.”
With New York Tech clamping down on the low post, Queens struggled from the outside, shooting 13.3 percent (2-for-15) from three-point range.
“Our decision-making killed us,” Bertin said. “We were making good decisions but when it came down to crunch time, our decision-making went out the window.”
On another Bertin basket from the left blocks, Queens was within 47-44 with 12:41 left. But led by Patrick Tunstead (17 points) and Jamel Moye and Manix Aurianthal, who scored 16 points apiece, New York Tech quickly reeled off 10 straight points to extend its lead to 13.
As was the case through much of the season, including a devastating nine-game losing streak, the effort was there for Queens. But effort and execution, especially in critical junctures, are two completely different things.
“I feel bad for my guys because I felt our effort was good enough to win tonight, but we just kept shooting ourselves in the foot,” said Queens College coach Kyrk Peponakis. “We’d turn it over or take a bad shot or have no concept of what we wanted to do.”
Queens women rout NYIT. Erin Dollard has been part of enough Senior Nights to know there has been a disturbing trend. The Knights honor their seniors before their last home game, promptly go out and lose their final regular season game and then fall in the NYCAC quarterfinals (the last two years at Dowling).
This year was different.
Queens avoided another three-game losing streak with a dominating 67-49 win over New York Tech Saturday. After flirting with the possibility of hosting a NYCAC quarterfinal game, the Knights earned the No. 5 seed and will play at fourth-seeded Adelphi in a game scheduled for Wednesday night.
“We needed to get back focused because we kind of drifted away at Molloy,” Erin Dollard said of the Knights’ 97-91 double-overtime loss at Molloy Feb. 25.
After leading 31-24 at the half, Queens blew the game open going on a 21-6 second-half run to take a 20-point lead.
Shonda Holder had a game-high 19 points and 17 rebounds, Lauren Tartamella had 12 points and Erin Dollard, one of four seniors honored before the game, added 11 points.
“We’ve been talking since Wednesday night about how important it was to play well,” Queens coach Denis Conroy said. “I wouldn’t want any other group going into the (NYCAC tournament) because I think we’re a very dangerous team when we’re playing well.”
Lindsay Klimkowski had 13 points and seven rebounds, and Georgia Gordon added 12 points and nine rebounds for New York Tech, which fell to 9-17, 9-15 in the NYCAC.
Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by email at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.