NASHUA, N.H. — The University of Saint Joseph (USJ) men's basketball team overcame the three-point onslaught of Rivier University (RU), holding them off down the stretch in the second half to win 104-93, inside Muldoon Gymnasium Saturday afternoon.
The Blue Jays (12-8, 3-3 GNAC) have made it three straight wins to claw their way back to a tie for seventh in the GNAC Standings, with just five games to go. The top-eight teams make the GNAC Tournament. The Raiders (1-18, 0-7 GNAC) have lost 17 straight games.
Freshman forward Jake Sullivan (Branford, Conn.) had the best game of his young career, recording his first double-double (23 PTS, 10 REBS), while freshman forward Ryan O'Neill (Litchfield, Conn.) had a monster second half, scoring 16 of his 21 points in the second. He also grabbed seven rebounds. Junior forward Nate Hale (Nashua, N.H.) led all scorers with a career-high 37 points (12-17 FG, 5-8 3FG, 8-8 FT) and five rebounds. Junior guard Issaiah Chappell (Sunapee, N.H.) and junior guard Keith Poitier (East Hartford, Conn.) chipped in with 15 points each.
The Blue Jays assisted on seven of their first nine field goals to take a 23-13 lead with 12:00 left in the first half. Sullivan led the way early with back-to-back threes, as USJ went on a 17-6 run to get the advantage. Sophomore center Mike Sagay (Bloomfield, Conn.) converted inside for a score, as did O'Neill.
Saint Joe's held a 9-0 advantage in half number one in second-chance points, crashing the glass, and converting on their opportunities to keep in front. The Raiders chipped down the lead though, forcing the Blue Jays into some difficult one-on-one shots as the half went on. Hale scored nine early points and grabbed three rebounds to bring RU within six, 30-24, with 8:31 left in the first half.
Hale continued to connect from deep, three more to close the half. Even with a hand directly in his face, he found a way to put it in. Sullivan answered for the Blue Jays with a couple of impressive post-up moves for scores. Sagay used his quick hands to turn a steal into a vintage Sagay slam. USJ took a 43-32 lead, but it was short-lived, as the Raiders quickly jumped on a 7-0 to cut it back to four, 43-39, with 2:21 left in the half.
Both teams put in a basket each to make it 45-41 at the break. The three-point shot kept the Raiders in striking distance, despite being outrebounded in the first half. Hale exploded for 19 first-half points on 7-for-11 shooting. Sullivan Scored 14 of his 23 in the first half.
The Raiders continued to hang around, the gap just six points, 56-50 with 15:56 left in the game. USJ relied on their size and strength down low to keep ahead, as the first seven field goals of the second half were layups (O'Neill with three). Freshman guard Chris Childs (Bronx, N.Y.) joined the party with a mid-range jump shot, followed by a deep three, and a layup to give Saint Joe's their largest lead of the game, 72-57 with 11 minutes to go.
The Raiders showed their resilience and hunger for a victory, as Hale and Poitier suddenly took over the game, aiding a 23-8 run to tie the game with 4:20 left to play. The crowd electrified every time the Raiders put the ball in the basket.
The Blue Jays put the ball back inside, as O'Neill and Sullivan scored 13 of the next 15 points to put the game away for good. USJ was plus 32 in points in the paint, plus 26 in second-chance points, and plus 13 in the rebound department. It was enough to get their third straight win.
USJ is back home on Thursday, January 31, in a GNAC matchup with Johnson & Wales (RI) at 7:00 p.m. inside the O'Connell Center, on the campus of USJ. Rivier will also play Thursday, but they will travel to Colby-Sawyer (NH) for a game at 5:30 p.m.