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Kyle Richardson's ups have lifted him from a bench player averaging six points a game to one of the nation's top scorers and rebounders.
Plattsburgh State athletics photo by Gabe Dickens

By Rob Knox

With many believing that Plattsburgh State would endure a rebuilding year after losing seven seniors from last season’s 19-win team, members of the Cardinal men’s basketball team didn’t share that same opinion.

After all, when you’ve had 10 winning records in 12 years along with five 20-win seasons and a trip to the Sweet 16, the only “r” word in the Cardinals vocabulary is reloading. Plattsburgh State believed they would have a strong season. That’s the expectation.

With five games remaining, the Cardinals are comfortably cruising to the SUNYAC regular season crown, ranked 22nd in this week’s Top 25 and first in the weekly NCAA Division III East Region rankings. 

“I’d be lying if I said I thought we would ranked this high at the start of the season,” senior Kyle Richardson said. “We knew had something special at the start of the season, but we didn’t know how special. The young guys have caught on quickly. The best part about our team is there are no egos.”

What has helped Plattsburgh enjoy consistent success is the championship culture established by coach Tom Curle. The names and numbers have changed at Plattsburgh, but not the winning. Players take that seriously and hold each other accountable for everything from weights, offseason workouts, practice drills and game performances.

“The thing about this team is we keep it real with each other,” senior Edward Correa said. “We’re not here to baby anybody and you have to accept it. If somebody is not having a good shooting night, we tell them that you need to get into the gym. It has worked well for us because at the end of the day, we’re just looking out for each other. We all work hard in practice and push one another.”

The high-flying Cardinals have packed enough highlights during their first 20 games to make several volumes of best-selling DVDs. While they have thrilled fans with the SUNYAC’s second-ranked offense that averages 83.5 points per game, the Cardinals have earned their living by relying on their championship pillars to make life difficult for opponents on the defensive end.

Plattsburgh State leads the SUNYAC in rebounding (47.1), field goal percentage defense (39.3 percent) and three-point field goal defense (28.4), which is fourth nationally. The Cardinals continue their five-game homestand tonight when they host Cortland in Memorial Hall.

Richardson (19.7 points per game) along with Corerra (13.9) and senior Xavier Thomas (10.4 points per game) have played major roles in helping the Cardinals enjoy a memorable season. They are three of five players along with freshman Jonathan Patron (14.0) and sophomore Eli Bryant (10.1) averaging double figures this season.

“We are playing for each other and it’s been so much fun right now,” Thomas said. “Coming into the year, a lot of people counted us out. People thought this was going to be a rebuilding year. The captains sat down and spoke and told each other, we’ve been too close to the SUNYAC championship and we felt like this was the year to do it. All it took was positive leadership to get us going.”

Richardson is currently 22nd in rebounding nationally with 10.8 per game and 64th in scoring. He has 11 double-doubles this season, including some monster performances against Skidmore (36 points, 15 rebounds) and New Paltz (30, 18).

Correa recently became the program's all-time leader in made 3-pointers. He passed the 205 mark set by Anthony Williams, the 2008 second team All-American whom many to believe to be the best player in program history. Correa also is only 51 points away from the 1,000-point mark for his career. He has 59 triples this season.

“We’ve all learned to accept our roles,” Tin Smith said. “Everybody is happy for each other whenever something positive happens. Our bench is always live and cheering for each other. We treat each other with respect and like all-stars.”

Edward Correa's outside presence has helped the Cardinals average six and a half 3-pointers per game.
Plattsburgh State athletics photo by Gabe Dickens

That same respect carries over into the community for the Cardinals where they have made a lasting impression. Some, like this author, may think Plattsburgh is ‘way up there’ in northeastern New York, but in reality it’s ‘only’ a four-hour drive from New York City up Interstate 87 and an hour south of Montreal. Plattsburgh is part of the Burlington, Vt., television market.

Correa was stopped in Walmart recently as young fans recognized him as the shooter on the basketball court. The student support is tremendous during home games.

Team members regularly interact with World War II veterans. Players greet them when they return from trips from Washington, D.C. They get to hear stories of how the veterans fought for our country, which gives team members a greater appreciation for the sacred opportunity they have of representing Plattsburgh State.

Over the past year, Richardson has devoted much of his time working with Honor Flight, a non-profit corporation that strives to give veterans free, safe transportation to and from Washington, D.C., so that they may see memorials, monuments, and receive the thanks of a grateful nation.

The city of Plattsburgh and Greater North Country area is home to many World War II veterans. Richardson has worked diligently in making sure that all of them are given this opportunity. After the Plattsburgh State men’s basketball team won the annual Bed Races as a part of the 2015 Battle of Plattsburgh Commemorative Weekend in September, it was Richardson’s idea to donate the prize to the North Country Honor Flight to give back to the nation’s veterans.

A public relations major who wants to be a sports publicist, Richardson has also taken a lead in his public relations management class, helping promote the North Country Honor Flight through uses of traditional and new media. This started as a class project for the affable Richardson and developed into a passion.

“They are the reason we are here today,” Richardson said. “It’s a great honor for me to be involved in working with the organization. Getting a chance to meet them and hear their stories is inspiring.”

“It makes me feel grateful to have people like that in our lives,” Correa said. “Thinking about that brings chills to me because that’s hard to do especially knowing you are risking your life. It’s a blessing to be able to interact with them because it helps keeps us humble.”    

Thomas’ arduous journey has been motivational as well. While walking in the empty gym during winter break, Thomas came to a realization that he was three classes from earning his degree in May. It brought a smile to his face especially after having basketball taken from him during his freshman year. He has plans on becoming a sports commentator or a radio DJ.

“Not being able to play because of grades was mind-blowing to me,” Thomas said. “I wanted to give up. That’s what I enjoyed and love to do. So it was tough being away and not being able to do what I wanted to do. Whenever I visited coach’s office, I would ask about the team and he would always change the subject to my classes.

“I felt so far away from graduating. Fortunately, I had a great supporting cast and everybody pushed me. I learned that if you really want something, you have to work. Plus I didn’t want to be a statistic.”

While Curle has coached numerous student-athletes and watched young men make wonderful contributions to society, he is elated with seeing Thomas mature and become a model student-athlete.

“His first year with us, he got his midterm grades and they weren’t where they needed to be,” Curle said. “That’s all it took to motivate him to being a great student. Since then, he’s brought in and is an outstanding student. The basketball has been a bonus and he’s done great things. This is transformational education at its best and athletics is a part of that.”

The Cardinals are now looking to reverse last season’s disappointing ending. They felt they were snubbed last season when the NCAA selections were announced. That unhappy feeling has festered for an entire year and fueled this season’s squad.

The Cardinals aren’t taking anything for granted and are happy that four of their remaining five games are against teams with winning conference records. They believe that will help keep their focus tighter as they begin what they expect will be a long playoff run.

“We have to take care of our business,” Curle said. “It’s about us and what we do. We have to carry on the same message that when others thought we weren’t good, it didn’t faze us. So now that we are ranked, we can’t change our mindset. We’ve been fortunate to win some close games. We know we have our work cut out for us. Our goals are to win our conference, host the tournament, win that and make the NCAA Tournament. We are a long way from that. The good thing, is it’s easy to motivate folks who love to be motivated. We haven’t done anything other than put ourselves in a good position and now our job is to take advantage of that.”

Panther prowl       

Greenville is on a serious roll now and appears to be playing some of its best basketball as the playoffs approach. A scoring machine, the Panthers have taken to the Grinnell System principles installed this season and have won nine of their last 10 games. That includes five in a row following a 124-99 win at Fontbonne on Wednesday night. Greenville is knotted up with MacMurray for the first place position in the SLIAC standings with three games to play. Greenville and MacMurray split a pair of meetings this season with each holding serve at home.

The high-flying Panthers (11-11) lead Division III in scoring offense (114 points per game), assists per game (19.3), steals per game (17.5), turnover margin (10.8) and second in 3-pointers made per game (15.4). Greenville has scored in triple digits 18 times including a current streak of 11 consecutive games.

It’s not much of a shock, then, that the Panthers have five players averaging double figures led by Tim Daniel’s 20.1 points per game. Daniel leads the nation with an insane total of 111 3-pointers, which is more than the entire season output of 30 schools. He averages 5.5 3-pointers per game, which leads Division III. He has made seven or more 3-pointers in a game six times this season. Daniel sank a season-high 10 triples against Fontbonne in a 127-96 victory. And in pure System fashion, he does this while averaging just 21.1 minutes per game.

In addition to leading the nation in steals per game (3.86), sticky-fingered Michael Holm averages 14.3 points per game. Hohm scored a career high 29 points in a win against Blackburn, shooting 12-of-16 from the field, and adding four assists. He also established a single-season school standard for steals.

DeAndre Brown adds 15.5 points per contest for the Panthers. He has scored at least 20 points four times this season. Other double digit scorers for Greenville include Kenny Greene (12.7 per game) and Shane Smith (11.9).

Undefeated Scranton women rolling along

Scranton junior forward Sarah Payonk posted her second triple-double of the season (16 points, 13 rebounds, 11 assists) to lead the fourth-ranked Lady Royals to a convincing 66-44 victory over Susquehanna on Wednesday night at the John Long Center.

The win was significant for Scranton for a pair of reasons.

First, the Lady Royals remained unbeaten on the season, moving to 22-0 overall and 13-0 in the Landmark. Also, Scranton clinched the top seed in the upcoming Landmark Conference Playoffs, which will begin at the Long Center on February 24.

While Payonk is making triple-doubles routine, Alexix Roman just continues to be consistently awesome. She was named the National Jesuit Women's Basketball Player of the Week by Jesuit Basketball Spotlight.

For the season, Roman leads the Lady Royals in the scoring department, averaging 19 points a contest, while also averaging seven rebounds a game. She has scored in double-figures in 21 of the 22 games Scranton has played in for the year, leading the team in scoring in 15 contests.

Nationally, Roman is ranked fifth in all of NCAA Division III in two categories - field goals made (170) and field goal percentage (67.5).

One of four unbeaten teams remaining, somehow Scranton is off to its second best start in school history.

Your help

I am serving as the national columnist this season for for a second season. To help with telling the best stories, delivering fun and insightful nuggets while providing teams the recognition they deserve, please add me to your email list for news releases and postgame releases at Don’t worry about flooding my inbox. Also, feel free to follow me on Twitter @knoxrob1.

Around the Nation was writen by Rob Knox during the 2015-16 season. A former Division III Sports Information Director at Lincoln University, Rob Knox also worked at Coppin State, ESPN, Kutztown and at the Delaware County (Pa.) Daily Times. He was inducted into the Lincoln University Athletics Hall of Fame, named the CoSIDA Rising Star Award College Division winner and won three writing awards for various game stories including the 2007 D-III sectional triple-OT game between Guilford and Lincoln. In the past, he has also written articles for SLAM magazine and the Philadelphia Inquirer. He is a die-hard Philadelphia sports fan, a graduate of Lincoln and is from Chester, Pa.

Ryan Scot

Ryan Scott serves as the lead columnist for and previously wrote the Mid-Atlantic Around the Region column in 2015 and 2016. He's a long-time D-III basketball supporter and former player currently residing in Middletown, Del., where he serves as a work-at-home dad, doing freelance writing and editing projects. He has written for multiple publications across a wide spectrum of topics. Ryan is a graduate of Eastern Nazarene College.
Previous columnists:
2014-16: Rob Knox
2010-13: Brian Falzarano
2010: Marcus Fitzsimmons
2008-2010: Evans Clinchy
Before 2008: Mark Simon