Twice this season they had met Purchase and twice they were victorious. I was there for their first win, a 78-64 home win. In the last regular season conference game, the Eagles rallied from a ten point second half deficit to defeat the Panthers on the road 92-89. In that game, St Joseph's shot a ridiculous nineteen of forty six from beyond the arc.
Now it's hard to beat a team three times in one season. It's especially hard when that team, Purchase, is the two time defending Skyline Champion. Thus, St Joseph's had a tough task ahead of themselves last night in front of their home crowd in the Danzi Center.
As Coach Mateyko noted to me in a previous article on the Eagles, they are a very good shooting team, but they are quite small, as they play four guards for the most part. At the beginning of the game, the Panthers went straight at that weakness by looking inside to six foot eight behemoth Craig Davis, who looks like the Division III version of Jai Lewis (know your CAA legends, folks). Davis scored six of Purchase's first nine points as the Panthers went up 9-2 early.
But once again, St Joseph's would rally. The Eagles outscored the Panthers 14-7 over the next three and half minutes and would be down only two, 28-26 with nine minutes left in the first half. It looked like St Joseph's was going to go on a serious run.
The Eagles had no answer for Davis in the first half. Davis is six foot eight and I think fair to say, three hundred pounds. St Joseph's biggest player is Shahab Syed who is listed at six foot six and maybe about 230 pounds. After seeing early on that it was impossible to guard Davis if he posted up, Mateyko would try to double team Davis, as he had one Eagle player front Davis and one would help out underneath if he got the ball. But the Panthers did a good job lobbing it into the big man and Davis was unstoppable, even with two guys on him. He scored seventeen first half points.
Time was running out on the regular season champions. However, the Eagles didn't quit. They were able to cut the lead down to fourteen 75-61 with about nine minutes left. Eric Klingsberg, whose three pointer cut the lead to fourteen, had a chance to cut the lead even further. But he missed the first of the one and one free throw attempt. Purchase then scored the next eight points and the game was over.
St Joseph's was led by Klingsberg, who came off the bench to score nineteen points. However he was the only Eagles' reserve to score points for his team as the Purchase bench outscored the St Joseph's Bench 38-19. It was likely the difference in the game as points off turnovers (St Joseph's 22-8) and second chance points (Purchase 19-5) evened out.
Hopefully it's enough to give them their second Division III NCAA Tournament bid. Based on their resume, they certainly deserve it. Cross your fingers.