Friday, February 24, 2012

The Third Time Is Not the Charm for St Joseph's

The St. Joseph's Eagles entered Thursday night as the number one seed in the Skyline Conference Tournament. They were the top seed based on a 17-1 conference regular season.   The Eagles had only lost two Division III games on the season as one of their three losses had been to Division I Yale.  St Joseph's was looking for its twenty second win on the season in the semifinals of the Skyline Conference Tournament vs. Purchase.

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.

My son Matthew joined me on the drive to the St Joseph's campus in Patchogue.  We got to the Danzi Center about a half hour before game time.  Before the game, the Eagles had a special ceremony as Coach John Mateyko gave an 1000th career point ball each to Trey Black and Olivier Laurent.

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.

Purchase was still up seven, 12-5, when St Joseph's rallied, scoring seven straight points.  An Olivier Laurent layup tied the game at twelve.  But the Panthers responded with a 9-0 run.  Andre Dixon, a second half of the season addition, just like Davis, scored the last two points of that run to put Purchase back up 21-12 with about twelve and a half minutes left in the first half.

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.

However, it was Purchase that was going to end the half on a serious run. Over the last nine minutes of the first half, the Panthers outscored the Eagles 23-8 as they hit ten of their fifteen shots in that span.  Meanwhile, St. Joseph's went cold from the field shooting three for twelve. As a result, Purchase went to the half leading 51-34.

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.

If St Joseph's was going to come back in the second half, it would have to be a Herculean effort.   But Purchase actually extended the lead to twenty, 64-44 with fifteen and a half minutes left.   St Joseph's scored the next six points to cut the lead to fourteen, 64-50.  But a Davis layup started a 7-0 mini run for the Panthers and the score became 71-50.

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.

Purchase would go onto win 105-81.  St Joseph's had no answer for Davis who had twenty nine points, fourteen rebounds and shot fourteen of nineteen from the field.  The Panthers as a team shot sixty two percent from the field and out-rebounded the Eagles 52-19.

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.

It was also a cold shooting night for the best three point shooting team in the Skyline.  Chris Jimenez, Black and Laurent combined to shoot two of fifteen from beyond the arc as the Eagles shot only ten of thirty four from beyond the arc and twenty seven of sixty four from the field (forty two percent).

Now Coach Mateyko and his Eagles must wait out Selection Monday for Division III teams (the NCAA Division III field is decided next Monday).  Only sixty two teams make the Division III NCAA Tournament.  The Eagles have the fact that they are 21-4, went 17-1 in conference and were the regular season Skyline Conference champions.  They also defeated Purchase twice in the regular season, as well as twice defeating Farmingdale State, the other tournament finalist and have a big road win over a once ranked Eastern Connecticut team.

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.

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