Hamilton-Lopez Leads York to 88-84 Win over Hunter in CUNYAC Semi’s
York jumped out to an early advantage, taking a 17-8 lead after Ryan Exum drained a three-pointer with 14:40 to play. Four minutes later, the Cardinals extended their lead to 13 points after Hamilton-Lopez connected on a three-pointer to give York a 34-21 advantage. York then added to its lead with authority, scoring on dunks on its next three possessions (two by Shamir Wilkinson, one by Marcel Esonwune) to take a 40-25 advantage.
However, shortly after the dunks, Esonwune picked up his second foul and was forced to check out of the game. The Hawks would take advantage and cut into the lead. A three-pointer and a lay-up by Maxwell DuBois capped off a 19-4 run and cut York’s lead to 44-42 a few minutes before halftime. The Cardinals closed out the half strong and went into the locker room with a 49-44 lead.
In the second half, Hunter seemed to be gaining momentum after DuBois drained another three-pointer to make the score 54-52 in favor of York. However, on the ensuing possession, DuBois picked up his fourth foul with just a little over two minutes into the second half. He had 17 points prior to coming out of the game.
York took control in Dubois’ absence and took a ten-point lead after Hamilton-Lopez converted a three-point play with 10:40 left, making the score 70-60. York then got into some foul trouble of its own when Esonwune picked up two quick fouls and was forced to leave the game with four fouls and 11 minutes remaining. Shortly after, Hamilton-Lopez was charged with his fourth foul. Hunter took advantage with York’s two star players out of the game and closed to within three points (72-69) after a three-pointer by Mark Courtien with a little over six minutes to play.
“We got into some foul trouble with Nick and Marcel,” said York head coach Ronald St. John. “But Ryan Exum and our other guards stepped up and controlled the game until we could get them back in.”
York picked up a more comfortable lead after an Esonwune lay-up put York up by five points (81-76) with under three minutes to play. After two made free throws by Hunter, the Hawks then tied the game (81-81) after Rocco Rubbino hit a three-pointer with 1:00 to play.
However, Hamilton-Lopez came up big for York once again, hitting a lay-up and then drawing the foul with 45 seconds left. He hit the free-throw to put York up 84-81. On the next Hunter possession, Esonwune, the nations leading shot-blocker, came up with his biggest block of the season, giving the Cardinals back the ball.
With only 23 seconds left, Hunter was forced to foul and York went to the line. The Cardinals failed to make both free throws and a loose ball foul on the rebound sent DuBois to the line for two shots. Dubois made both free throws to make it 84-83 in favor of York. York’s Elijah Evelyn was then fouled and sent to the line with 14 seconds remaining. He also hit both shots to put York back up by three points. Hunter was fouled on its next possession but was only able to hit one free throw, making it a two point game (86-84). Hamilton-Lopez was fouled on the next possession with nine seconds left and hit both shots to ice the game.
York did its best to allow Hunter into the game, shooting just 47 percent from the charity stripe including a number of key misses in the second half. However, York was able to hit the free throws in the final minute when they needed it most. “We struggled in that area all night but we were able to get the ball in the hands of our best free-throw shooters, in Nick and Elijah, when we needed them most, added St. John.”
Esonwune finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and four blocks but saw his double-double streak come to an end at 15. Ryan Exum added 13 points, six boards and eight assists and Evelyn finished with nine points and four boards.
For Hunter, Eric Klingsberg scored a team-high 22 points, while Dubois recorded 21 points and a game-high seven boards. Rubino added 20 points for the Hawks who finish the season with a record of 13-14. It is the third straight year York has eliminated Hunter. The Cardinals defeated the Hawks in the semi-finals in 2008 and the quarterfinals in 2009.
“We knew Hunter was going to make charges,” added St. John. “Our guys held up and we didn’t crack under the pressure. At no time did we allow them to take the lead.”
York (21-6) will now take on the winner of Brooklyn College and Baruch College in the championship game on Saturday at 5:00 p.m. at the City College of New York. Tickets are FREE and will be available for pick-up in the York College athletics office.