By Evan Slavit
Last season, the Dutchmen struggled to a 4-10 conference record. That record was good for seventh place in the Liberty League conference, a conference that only had a total of eight teams.
This season’s expectations were not much higher. A panel of voters picked Union to finish sixth in the conference out of nine teams, as Bard College joined the Liberty League in the offseason.
The team got off to a hot start, though, as they started the season 7-1. As soon as conference play started, however, the prognosticators looked to be proven right, as the Dutchmen dropped their first three contests.
Their last loss was the most embarrassing: a 61-83 loss to Hobart College that looked to knock Union out of the playoff hunt for good.
“It was a really rough loss, but we never lost faith in ourselves or each other,” said student assistant Joe Cardino ‘12.
Union channeled that faith to a dominant 89-77 win over rival RPI. While Union lost their following two match-ups, they were both close contests. Their first was an 80-82 loss in overtime to Clarkson, and their second a 66-68 loss to St. Lawrence.
More importantly, those games preceded the Dutchmen’s best stretch of the season, as they went on a five-game winning streak. They won those games by an average of 15 points a game.
The following game was against Hobart, the top team in the conference. In the first half Union looked like they were going to extend their winning-streak to six games. Unfortunately, the second half didn’t go as well.
Hobart battled back and took a seven-point lead before Union looked to stage a comeback of their own. With 20 seconds left in the game, Union had a 60-59 lead. Despite good defense, a dagger of a three-pointer gave Hobart the 62-60 win and a bad taste in the mouths of the Dutchmen.
Great teams have short memories, though, and Union would need one. They needed to win their next two games to have any chance of making it to the playoffs.
Their first test was against RIT. Led by Joe Mason ‘13, who played all 40 minutes and almost recorded a triple double (20 points, nine rebounds, eight assists), the Dutchmen were able to pull out an 82-73 victory.
Three days later, the Dutchmen faced their biggest test of the season. They were hosting Clarkson, and a win for either team would ensure a playoff berth for their club.
“Rusmir and Hank are important members of this team. Their fans and family came out in full force, and it meant a lot to the guys,” added Cardino.
With their backs against the wall, the Dutchmen had arguably their most complete effort of the season.
The game ended with a 17-point victory, a low figure considering the Dutchmen lead by more than 20 for most of the night.
While the following night they lost to Skidmore, they had already locked up the fourth seed the night before.
This season has truly been a great one for the team. While everyone on the team has had great seasons, three players stand out: Rusmir Dzanko ‘12, Joe Mason ‘13, and Kevin Donohue ‘13.
Dzanko averaged 13.8 points a game on a sky-high .583 shooting percentage. He was second on the team in free throw attempts shooting .815 in those situations, and hauled in 5.2 rebounds a game.
Donohue led the team with 15.3 points a game, with a solid .324 shooting percentage from behind the arc. He led the team in free throw attempts and rebounds, and was top-five in pretty much every statistical category you could come up with.
Mason ran the point for the Dutchmen and was third on the team with 11.5 points a game. He led the team with 5.2 assists a game, and was second in rebounds with 5.2.
Prior to publication of this story, the Dutchmen have a chance to avenge their last second loss to Hobart. While Hobart is an impressive 21-4 on the season, the Dutchmen have shown that they can stick with them. Hopefully this time the Dutchmen get the last shot.