MIDDLETOWN – Freshman George Patsalos registered a double-double with team highs of 17 points and 20 rebounds off the bench, and sophomore Kevin Stein made 5 of 6 free throws in the final minute, to help SUNY Orange defeat Raritan Valley Community College 79-76 Saturday in the East B District Championship game as the Colts punched their ticket to the upcoming National Junior College Athletic Association Division II national tournament.
Ranked sixth in the nation entering the weekend, the Colts (29-1) secured just the second appearance in the national championship bracket in program history. The Division II national tournament will be hosted on March 21-25 by Danville Area Community College, Danville, Ill. SUNY Orange will learn its first-round matchup when the tourney’s seeds and bracket are announced at 2 p.m., Tuesday, March 14.
Down to Raritan Valley by five points late in the first half on Saturday, the Colts used a 12-2 run to take a 37-32 lead into the locker room. The Colts, who defeated the Lions 100-88 on the road in late December, built a double-digit second-half lead before needing to withstand a late surge by the Lions. Stein (Chester, N.Y.) and Romeo Aquino (Newburgh, N.Y.) made clutch free throws to help the Colts retain the lead. Stein, who finished with 15 points and nine rebounds, played all 40 minutes.
In all, five Colts scored in double figures, including Darius Boben (Highland Falls, N.Y.) with 16, Keon Gill (Middletown, N.Y.) with 14 and Aquino with 11.
The Colts’ 29 wins are a single-season record for the program and head coach Tom Rickard’s squad is a combined 48-3 over the past two seasons, making the sophomore class the winningest group of players in program history.
Rickard, whose father Paul led the Colts to the 2006 national tournament, was named this season’s “Coach of the Year” honors in Region XV. Additionally, Aquino (Newburgh, N.Y.), a sophomore, was the Region XV “Player of the Year” while classmates Boben and Stein were named to the Region XV First Team all-star team. Patsalos (New Windsor, N.Y.) was named to the region’s “Sportsmanship Team.”
The Colts, who have a decidedly Orange County feel with their top seven players all hailing from the county, have been ranked as high as second in the country (during the holidays). Rickard picked up his 200th career coaching win at SUNY Orange on Feb. 14 when the Colts defeated Dutchess 106-79.
Aquino, who surpassed 1,000 career points earlier this season, is averaging a double-double for the season. He ranks third nationally in scoring at 23.8 points per game and ranks 16th in rebounding at 10.1 per game. Boben is the only player in SUNY Orange history to have scored more than 40 points twice in his career, including his 42 points against Rockland on Feb. 7.
Through Sunday’s games, the Colts rank among the most prolific teams in the country statistically. They are tied for tops in the nation in scoring (99.7 points per game) and lead the nation in rebounding (49.6 rebounds per game. They also rank second in steals (12.7 steals per game) and tied for third in assists (22.7 assists per game).
In addition to Aquino, four other players score at least 10 points per game, including Boben (17.0 ppg.), Stein (16.6 ppg.), Keon Gill (13.4 ppg.) and Tim Linton (11.1 ppg.). Patsalos is second on the team in rebounding (8.4 per game) while Linton (Middletown, N.Y.) is third at 7.2 per contest.
Jared Smalls (Middletown, N.Y.) ranks 11th nationally at 6.0 assists per game, while Stein is close behind at 5.6 assists per game to rank 15th in the country. Gill (Middletown, N.Y.) leads the team at 2.5 steals per game to rank 17th nationally and Boben is 20th, also averaging 2.5 steals per game.
During their national tournament debut in 2006, the Colts lost their opening round game 75-57 to Penn Valley Community College of Missouri before dropping their consolation contest 64-57 to Triton College of Illinois.