The Mighty Oaks men's basketball team finished 2016 on a winning note, knocking off the Vikings of Villa Maria College, 86-74.
The weather outside was in the single digits but it didn't feel any warmer inside Allyn Gymnasium on the OCC campus as both teams got off to a cold start. A combination of baskets by senior Jared Bard and junior Cory Rogers gave ESF an early six point lead, 19-13 with nine minutes remaining in the first half. The end of the first half ended in a flurry of scoring and steals highlighted by a missed breakaway slam dunk attempt by freshman center Ben Russ IV that went halfway in before it popped out for the miss. Russ made up for the mishap with a layup at the buzzer to give ESF a 42-31 lead. Senior Ryan Caldwell led ESF with 10 points.
The Vikings pulled within two early in the second half and had an advantage when junior center Tyler Kuhn went to the bench after picking up his fourth foul. Strong play by Russ, Caldwell and sophomore Justin VanDuLuitgaarden kept ESF's lead alive as the Mighty Oaks scored timely baskets each time the Vikings got close. Villa Maria pulled within three, 74-71, with five minutes remaining. The Mighty Oaks kept their cool, breaking the Vikings' defensive press and hitting several key free throws down the stretch to come away with the 86-74 win.
Caldwell led ESF with 21 points and nine rebounds. Russ continued his strong play with 17 points and 12 rebounds. VanDuLuitgaarden scored a career-high 11 points and had five rebounds and four assists. The Vikings were led by freshman Eric Waters' 28 points. Villa Maria was coached by former Syracuse University basketball standout Damone Brown.
"We were motivated to finish 2016 with a win" said Russ. "We are always working hard, pushing hard and playing hard." Regarding his missed dunk in the first half, Russ said, "I jumped weird. All I know is it won't happen again."
The Vikings fall to 6-7 overall. The Mighty Oaks end the year with a 6-4 record. They will be back in action vs Onondaga Community College Jan.4.