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Dakoda Smith Had Quite the Run With SUNY New Paltz Men’s Basketball This Season

via 27East

It was a season to remember for Dakoda Smith and the SUNY New Paltz men’s basketball team.

After winning the program’s first-ever SUNYAC Championship over top-seeded Oswego State, 85-80, on February 24, Smith, a 2020 Southampton graduate, and the Hawks entered the NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Championship, which they lost, 85-81, in the first round to John Carroll University on March 1.

New Paltz entered the SUNYAC tournament as the second seed and had defeated Oneonta, 80-59, in the semifinals on February 23 after a first-round bye. The New Paltz/Oswego matchup featured the top two teams in the conference, record-wise, but based on recent history, the Lakers, ranked fifth in the nation and having won the championship the past two seasons, was the favorite. Meanwhile, New Paltz was making just its third appearance in the championship with its last being 2003.

Oswego, which featured a former East End player in Ahkee Anderson, who starred at Greenport and was also coached by Bridgehampton alumnus Nick Thomas at Center Moriches, led by 14 points at one point in the second half only to see New Paltz mount a second-half comeback, helped in part, by Smith. With the Hawks trailing, 60-46, with about 14 minutes remaining in the game, Smith pulled down an offensive rebound off a missed three-pointer by Alex Krupinski, with his put-back ending Oswego’s 11-0 run that was carried over from a strong finish to the first half.

Later on, Smith answered a Lakers free throw with a make in the paint off an assist from A.J. Knight before Knight responded with points in the paint following a three-pointer by Oswego midway through the half. Julien Crittendon brought the lead back to nine for the Lakers, but the Hawks countered with nine-straight points to get within one. Kobe Bogart, who was named tournament MVP after the game, officially gave SUNY New Paltz the lead after getting fouled behind the three-point line and earning three free throws, where he hit on all to push the Hawks ahead by one at 69-68 with just less than six minutes to go.

Smith had another key offensive board, allowing teammate Rylan Blondo to capitalize with a bucket in the paint to keep New Paltz’s lead intact. Blondo put the finishing touches on the win as he laid in two to solidify the 85-80 score. Smith scored six points, had two assists and all four of his rebounds came on the offensive end as he played a crucial part in the Hawks’ success, leading to him climbing the ladder and helping his teammates cut down the nets.

“It was a great experience, one I’ll always remember the rest of my life,” Smith said of winning the conference championship. “To do it with the group of guys that we had, everyone was looking forward to the same goal of trying to win a championship. It came down to the wire, but we were able to do so.”

Playing against another player who hailed from Suffolk County, and specifically the East End in Anderson, who was named to the All-Tournament Team, was also special, Smith said. Smith also played against fellow Southampton graduate Derek Reed and Naejon Ward, who played for SUNY Fredonia this season.

“Ahkee and I would have our talks before the game, which is always fun, but honestly, it is surprising to play against these guys that I used to play with and against in high school,” he said. “It’s something that I’ve come to look forward to and enjoy because not many people from our area play at this level. They don’t follow through with the sport for one reason or another. Seeing people I know on the court, it helps because I know it’s going to be a battle with them and it always brings back memories of high school.

“That conference championship was a tough battle, though,” Smith added. “We never gave up, we kept competing. Jeremiah Sparks hit a buzzer-beater before halftime for them and we just said we have to come out harder in the second half. It was a back-and-forth battle, but we stuck together as a team and ended up cutting their lead down to pull away.”

Less than a week later, Smith and Hawks found themselves at the Tony DeCarlo Varsity Center in University Heights, Ohio, to play host John Carroll University, the second seed in the tournament. Where there are neutral sites used for the Division I tournament, the higher seeds host games on the Division III side, so New Paltz had to play John Carroll in its home arena. That made things a little difficult, Smith said, but it was also nice seeing his father, Ethan Smith, uncle Brian Bess and other family and friends make the trip. But John Carroll proved to be a tough opponent.

Smith once again scored six points in just 12 minutes played, and had another offensive rebound that led to additional points for the Hawks, who found themselves in a similar predicament to their conference championship victory, this time needing to dig themselves out of a 17-point deficit early in the second half. They did all they could to mount another comeback, but this time fell short.

“Being able to travel, since we had to play in Ohio, was pretty cool. We don’t typically have to travel that far during the season,” Smith explained. “But we went in there knowing we had to make a statement. They thought they’d be able to walk all over us, playing on their home court in what was a loud atmosphere. But we had the energy and confidence to give them a battle.

“But just the atmosphere with their crowd and the few supporters that we had, it was just a fun experience to be a part of,” he added.

John Carroll wound up losing in the next round, 71-66, to Calvin University. Anderson’s Oswego State team defeated Babson, 74-63, in its first-round matchup, then lost a close game, 79-77, to Williams College. Luke Reese, who just graduated from East Hampton last year, also made a trip to the tournament with Baruch College, which lost its first-round matchup, 77-45, to Randolph-Macon.

New Paltz concluded its season with a 20-8 overall record, the most wins in program history, something Smith can proudly say he was a part of and contributed to. Despite losing both Bogart and Blondo to graduation, the bulk of the team will be returning, along with Smith, who will be looking for an increased role in 2024-2025.

“We’re graduating a few players this year, but we still have a strong core coming back,” Smith said. “With the experience that we have, and our knowledge of the game, I definitely have a feeling of us going back to back. But it’s definitely going to take work and dedication. It’s not going to be a walk in the park. We’ll have to come in ready to compete from the first day of practice, and then do the same thing all over again.”

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