By JOHN CORYER
---- — PLATTSBURGH — A year removed from an 8-18 season, Plattsburgh State’s remarkable turnaround in 2012-13 has earned Tom Curle’s basketball Cardinals an at-large berth in the NCAA Division III Tournament.
The Cardinals (19-8) found out Monday they were one of 62 teams chosen for the event. They will host Husson University at 7 p.m. on Saturday at Memorial Hall in a first-round game.
Husson (20-8), from Bangor, Me., captured the North Atlantic Conference Tournament championship this past Saturday with a 74-68 win over Castleton State. The Eagles have won their conference three of the past five years.
“I definitely felt we had a chance to get in,” said Plattsburgh sophomore guard Mike Mitchell. “We were a little down after we lost on Saturday at Cortland (75-61) in the conference title game. But, despite the loss, I felt we could get in.
“It would have been exciting for us just to make it. But it was huge when we found out we were playing at home in the first round.”
Plattsburgh coach Tom Curle was hoping for the best, but wasn’t counting on it being a done deal.
“I felt we had done enough to get in,” he said. “But the way the system works, you have to get to the table to be considered and that’s what I was worried the most about. I felt if we got to the table, we had a pretty good resume.
“Stevens and Rochester are ranked ahead of us in the region and they didn’t win their conferences. So they got to the table ahead of us. If they didn’t get in, we didn’t have a chance to do so. But, no question, our strength of schedule was strong and our conference was very strong.
The home game was an added thrill.
“I was ecstatic we got a home game. I think we’ve kind of crept up on area fans this year and this gives us another game at home. I’m happy for the players.”
The Cardinals knew a month ago that capturing the SUNYAC title and automatic berth would be an uphill battle and that to be in position to be considered for an at-large bid they couldn’t afford any more losses.
“When we played our last five home games, four of them were against teams with very good records,” Curle pointed out. “We couldn’t afford to lose any the rest of the way. The old cliché of winning one game at a time really did apply in this case.”
A young Plattsburgh team paid its dues last year and has worked hard this season to turn it around.
“We’ve come together and executed as a team,” said Mitchell. “When the going got tough, we were able to respond. We wanted to build some momentum going into the playoffs and we were able to do so.
“We didn’t want to win just our first game in the conference tournament — our goal was to win the championship. We have been a resilient team.”
Curle said the Cardinals have grown both physically and emotionally this season.
“We had talent last year, but we weren’t physically and mentally mature,” he said. “We didn’t handle adversity well. But we responded this year, both physically and mentally.
“I saw promise last year, but the team let little things bother them. We’ve shown maturity this season.
“We had a tough time in two games at the Franklin & Marshall Tournament (earlier this season), but we didn’t let it bother us. And we lost a tough game at New Paltz where we should have won. But we didn’t let that bother us.
“The team has bounced back when it has needed to. It also helped bringing in transfers Chris Manning and Kalik Parker — along with our other players being a year older.”
Plattsburgh also managed to make the NCAA tourney despite losing second-leading scorer and leading rebounder John Perez to an injury late in the regular season.
“John Perez was a big loss for us when he got hurt,” said Mitchell. “We needed someone else to step up, especially rebounding. John’s a great rebounder.”
The Cardinals, who have won 12 of their last 15 games, are making their fifth appearance in eight years to the NCAA Tournament.