When the Farmingdale State Rams visited Riverdale last Thursday night to face off against Mount Saint Vincent, all that was riding on the game were exclusive rights to the Skyline Conference penthouse.
Each team entered the contest with 10 overall wins and identical 8-2 conference records, and the Dolphins looked to make another statement in a surprising turnaround season.
And thanks to identical 14-point, seven-rebound outings from Ammad Alkhulaidi and Andrew Curiel, the Dolphins are now sitting alone on top of the Skyline heap after a 73-62 victory.
The game was all the more meaningful for the Dolphins who had not beaten the Rams since the 2014-15 season.
“This win feels great,” Dolphins first-year coach James Mooney said. “We’ve had our tests — Mount Saint Mary, Purchase — but this is the one where the stars aligned.”
Freshman guard Makai Johnson also shared in the euphoria of the victory, saying it “feels great.”
“Coming to practice, coach is always preaching how we have to hustle and how we have to rebound,” Johnson said. “If we do those things, we’ll be able to win the game. And that’s what we did today.”
Johnson ended the game with 10 points, six of those coming from a pair of three-pointers.
The rare victory over Farmingdale proves the Dolphins are a player in the Skyline Conference this season.
“We’re playing for first against Farmingdale on our home court, and this was our validation game,” Mooney said. “We have to show guys that we’re for real. I’m just so happy how resilient our guys are — and we’re two stars short.”
Those two stars were without senior guard Matthew Sowah — sidelined with a concussion — and sophomore guard Raiquis Harris, currently ineligible because of financial aid complications.
Sowah — who is averaging 9.7 points per game this season — noted after the game he was in his fifth day of concussion protocol, and that he’ll back on the court soon.
“Once they’re back in, we’re going to be dangerous,” Mooney said. “We’re a dangerous team and we’re clicking. We need to keep controlling what we can control. If we deviate from what we have to do, then we’re in trouble.
“But if we control what we can control, I think we’re a dangerous team.”
Although the scoreboard read an 11-point victory for the Dolphins, the team had much larger leads throughout the night. The Rams made a valiant comeback effort in the final minutes, but late-game free throw shooting by the Dolphins kept Farmingdale at bay.
The key to sealing the victory for Mount was switching defensive coverage.
“We went zone, and it’s one of those things where when a team is shooting well, you don’t want to go zone,” Mooney said. “But it killed clock, it broke rhythm, and they had to readjust.”
The Dolphins also found victory thanks to their sharpshooting outside senior threat, Jose Maestre. The guard had 11 points on the night, but his ability to convert from behind the arc made the Rams tighten their perimeter defense. That allowed the Dolphins to feed the ball to the post, helping Alkhulaidi score his points.
“If I’m open I’m letting it go, there is no hesitation,” Maestre said.
“As soon as I catch it and I feel like I got the shot, I’m taking it, no matter what.”
Maestre is still sporting a wrapped left thumb, an injury that sidelined him earlier in the season.
“My thumb is fine now, but I have to keep wearing this wrap in case I hit it because my thumb might get knocked back out,” he said. “It feels great to get playing time back though. I just want to come out here, feel the energy, and be a leader for my teammates. I want to help us win, that’s what it’s all about.”
The Dolphins just need to remain focused on each game as it comes, Maestre said, and not look too far ahead on the schedule.
“We need to keep taking every game one game at a time,” he said. “Every game matters. It’s a one-game season every game.”
Which is exactly the approach the Dolphins took last Saturday afternoon when they completed a 2-0 week with a 71-57 road win at Mount Saint Mary’s.
The Dolphins got a game-high 18 points from Jason Barrera and 14 from Curiel as Mount won its eighth straight, and improved to 12-5 overall and 10-2 atop the Skyline.