When City College’s Mark Richards missed a potential game tying free throw with five seconds remaining in the City University of New York Athletic Conference (CUNYAC) semifinals against the Lehman College Lightning, it seemed that the Lightning would finally get over the hump.
The Lightning would just need to secure the rebound, knock down a pair of free throws and would end a stretch of three consecutive eliminations in the CUNYAC semifinals.
Except that things didn’t go according to plan.
The Lightning batted the missed free throw out of bounds, giving the Beavers, who were down 71-70, a final chance to win the game with three seconds to play. CCNY’s David Solano then came off a screen on the left side of the court, and after the Lightning players failed to make the defensive switch, Solano was left wide open and he knocked down a game-winning 3-pointer that gave the Beavers the dramatic 73-71 win.
“It’s frustrating,” said Lehman head coach Steven Schulman. “Extremely frustrating. Very frustrating. But I’m proud of the team. Way back in November I had no dream that we would be here. We were 5-6 and one time 8-8. I don’t think any of the coaches thought we were really this good. This will just be motivation for next year.”
For the Lightning, the loss marks the fourth consecutive season in which the team has failed to advance past the semifinals of the CUNYAC Tournament. The game against CCNY was perhaps the best chance the Lightning have had to reach the finals as they led by 11 points with just nine minutes to play.
But the Beavers slowly crept back into the game, and after switching to a half court press, the Beavers limited the Lightning to just 3-for-14 shooting from the field over the last nine minutes and outscored the Lightning, 23-10, to end the game.
Of the Beavers’ final 23 points, Richards scored 11. The 6-foot-4 forward had a monster performance, scoring 24 points and grabbing 16 rebounds. The Beavers went to Richards late in the game as the Lightning had no one with enough size to guard him.
“We don’t have an answer for Richards,” Schulman said. “We knew that before the game. We just picked our poison, Richards for two, or Solano for three.”
For most of the game, Schulman’s strategy seemed to work. While Richards kept dominating, the Lightning maintained a lead, and Solano, CCNY’s leading 3-point shooter, was held in check with just three 3-pointers on 10 attempts.
But Solano found some space on the final play and buried the three that sent Lehman home in the semis yet again.
“We played our hearts out,” Schulman said. “We put ourselves in a position to win a tough road game against a team that had superior size to us. And we had a couple of plays we needed to make that we didn’t make and then City made a tough shot.”
For the Lightning, Luis Hernandez led the way with 20 points and three steals and Jean Marcial recorded 11 points and eight rebounds. The Lightning shot 41 percent from the field, and left several points on the free throw line, where it went 17-of-28.
Despite the loss, the Lightning’s prospects for next season are bright. Lehman returns a core group of players in Hernandez, Marcial, Andrew Utate, and Mylo Mitchell, who all averaged double-digits scoring this season.
Schulman hopes the team uses the loss as motivation.
“They live the moment, and they know they have to work hard if they want to try to get back into the same spot,” Schulman said. “I’m pretty sure they will. They’re hard working guys. We’ll be back.”