BOSTON, Mass.— The University of Saint Joseph (USJ) men's basketball team battled back from a 14-point second half deficit, but could not convert in the final seconds, falling to Suffolk University (SU), 79-77, inside Regan Gymnasium Thursday night.
The Rams (18-6, 9-1 GNAC) have made it seven straight wins, while the Blue Jays (13-11, 4-6 GNAC) have lost three of four. USJ is tied for seventh in the GNAC Standings with Regis, who they play in their final game of the year Saturday (eight teams make the single elimination conference tournament). SU has clinched at least the two seed, but currently holds the top spot over Emmanuel. Saint Joe's will clinch a spot in the GNAC Tournament with a win on Saturday, or a Lasell loss.
Senior guard Michael Hagopian (Watertown, Mass.) led the way for the Rams with 21 points (8-15 FG), four rebounds and four assists. Junior forward Steven DiPrizio (Medford, Mass.) made his presence known throughout (17 PTS, 8 REBS, 6 ASSTS, 2 STLS), while sophomore guard Alex Jacovides (Tampa, Fla.) made 6-of-11 from three off the bench, good for 18 points. Freshman guard Chris Childs (Bronx, N.Y.) matched a career-high 32 points (12-20 FG). He also had six rebounds. Freshman point guard Delshawn Jackson Jr. (Hartford, Conn.) scored 18 points, and dished out five assists. The Blue Jays and Rams shot almost identical from the field, but SU made five more threes. USJ also missed some opportunities from the free-throw line (10-18 FT, 56%).
Both teams played it close for most of the first half, battling back and forth for the lead (half a dozen lead changes in the first half), neither team able to make a huge run to pull ahead. Freshman forward Ryan O'Neill (Litchfield, Conn.) scored three of his 11 to cut the lead to one, 28-27, with 7:50 to go in the first half.
The Rams followed it up with a 10-0 run, their first uncontested run of the game, as DiPrizio scored twice inside. Each time he did, Hagopian followed it up with a three. SU led 38-27, with 4:25 to go. O'Neill and Childs scored to close the half, but could not cut into the gap, as the Rams held a 46-35 lead at the break.
SU took their largest lead of the game with 19:10 left in the second half, 49-35. DiPrizio continued to be effective on both ends, grabbing a rebound and knocking down a jump shot to keep the lead at 14, 53-39, with 16:45 in the game. First year head coach and Hall of Famer Jim Calhoun forced to call a timeout.
Jackson Jr. and Childs both converted from mid-range, hoping to get something going, but their play was matched by the Rams, who found ways to maintain that 14-point lead. USJ finally broke through at the 13-minute mark, as Jackson Jr. and Childs, along with freshman forward Jake Sullivan (Branford, Conn.) started a 9-0 run. Freshman guard Brad Landry (Wallingford, Conn.) used his shooting touch to finish the run and cut it to five, 59-54, with 9:50 in the game.
A Sullivan three, and a key tip-in by freshman forward Noreaga Davis (Bridgeport, Conn.) cut it to two, 61-59, with 8:55 left. Jacovides answered with two big time threes down the stretch, which kept the Rams in front. Another jumper from DiPrizio pushed the lead back to nine, 77-68, with 3:40 to go.
The Blue Jays fought hard to get back to within two. A three by Jackson Jr., and layup by Childs made it a one-possession game, 79-77, with 51 seconds to go. USJ forced a miss with 28 seconds left, and had a chance for the win, three chances in fact. Sullivan missed a layup, grabbed his own rebound, but missed again. The ball went out of bounds, but was still Blue Jays ball with 8 seconds to go. After getting the ball inbounds, Childs launched a three for the win with 2 seconds left, but it did not go down, as the Rams got the stops they needed in the final minute to hang on for a thrilling win, while the Blue Jays suffer another tough loss with the game up for grabs.
It's all on the line for the Blue Jays, as they wrap up their season with a chance to clinch a spot in the GNAC Tournament when they face Regis (MA) Saturday, February 16, at 1:00 p.m, inside the O'Connell Center, on the campus of USJ. Suffolk also plays Saturday, as they head to Albertus Magnus (CT) for a matchup at 3:00 p.m.