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Pioneers head to Hamilton tourney with defense on their minds

By WKTV SPORTS/UC ATHLETICS

UTICA, N.Y. (WKTV) - The Utica College men's basketball team is off to a 1-1 start after falling at home to Cortland last weekend, then beating SUNYIT Tuesday.  Much like the football team entering the fall, the Pioneer hoopsters know they can score, but getting better on defense is the key to their success.

Utica finished its 2011-12 campaign with a 9-16 overall record and the Pioneers return four of their top five leading scorers from one year ago.  Senior shooting guard Matt Baldwin (Gloversville, NY/Gloversville) returns for his senior campaign after averaging a team-best 16.2 points per game last season.  Baldwin is a proven shooter from 3-point land, having knocked down a team-best 70 3-pointers in 23 games last year. 

All-Conference forward Jeff Ward (Ossining, NY/Ossining High School) returns for his senior season after posting 14.7 points and 8.3 rebounds per game last season.  Ward currently ranks ninth on the College's all-time rebounding list with 478 over the course of 74 career games.  He needs just 22 boards to become the sixth player in program-history to reach the 500 rebound plateau. 

Sophomore point guard Aaron Nevins (Buffalo, NY/Canisius) returns after a successful freshman season which resulted in Empire 8 Conference Rookie of the Year and D3hoops.com East Region Rookie of the Year accolades.  Nevins is the first player since All-American Ray Bryant '07 to earn one of D3hoops.com's two major post season awards (Rookie of the Year/Player of the Year).  Nevins, who was a three-time conference rookie of the week selection, started 24 of 25 games and poured in 224 points, good for an average of 9.0 per game.  He also finished in the top-5 in three key Empire 8 statistical categories; assists, assists/turnover ratio, and steals.  Nevins totaled a team-best 91 assists and just 61 turnovers on the year, amounting to a 1.5 ratio, all while averaging 1.3 steals per contest.

One of the key components to the Pioneers success will be the workmanlike play of junior forward Chris Jeffers (Albany, NY/Bishop Maginn).  Jeffers returns after leading the team with an average of 8.9 rebounds per game last year.  He also chipped in on the offensive end with an average of 7.0 points per contest. 

Head Coach Chris Connolly enters his fifth season at the helm and he currently has 46 victories under his belt at UC. Local product Sean Burton is Connolly's assistant for the second straight year.

The Pioneers will play two games this weekend at the Hamilton tournament, with NYU their first opponent, Saturday at 5 p.m.

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