WEST HARTFORD, Conn. – Freshmen guards Delshawn Jackson Jr. (Hartford, Conn.) and Chris Childs (Bronx, N.Y.) hit big shot, after big shot, after big shot down the stretch for the University of Saint Joseph, but Johnson & Wales University (JWU) answered each time, escaping with a 98-97, double-overtime victory in an instant Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) men's basketball classic on Thursday night.
The Blue Jays (12-9, 3-4 GNAC) end a three-game winning streak, while the Wildcats (10-11, 5-2 GNAC) have won three of their last four. Junior guard Brian Hogan-Gary (Staten Island, N.Y.) scored a game-high 31 points, 27 coming in the second half and overtime, two of which came at the buzzer to force double-overtime. Jackson Jr. matched Hogan-Gary with 31 points of his own (9-20 FG, 4-8 3FG, 9-10 FT), along with 10 rebounds and five assists, good for his first career double-double. Childs added 22 points on 5-of-8 from three, four coming with the game on the line. Freshman center Nadir Dixon-Thompson (Dorchester, Mass.) posted his third double-double with 13 points (6-8 FG) and 14 rebounds. NDT has grabbed 14 rebounds (a men's school record) in all three of his double-doubles.
A capacity crowd inside the O'Connell Center showed their enthusiasm on every trip down the floor. The Blue Jays led by seven at the half, 38-31, but found themselves down 10, 65-55, with 5:15 to go. A 9-0 run cut the lead to one, 65-64, with 1:55 to play. The big shots began to fall, as both teams' stars shined brightest at the end. It was Jackson Jr. and Childs for the Blue Jays, along with Hogan-Gary for the Wildcats. Two buzzer-beaters and two overtimes later, JWU walked out of West Hartford with their biggest win of the year, and one step closer to the top seed in the GNAC (0.5 games behind Emmanuel). USJ is now tied for eighth in the conference with four games to go (two home, two away).
Both teams established momentum in the first half, with neither team able to build a lead larger than eight. The Blue Jays dominated the glass (29-11 in the first), good for a plus 10 advantage in the paint, and plus 11 in second-chance points. USJ led 38-31 at the half, closing the final five minutes on a 14-8 run. Jackson Jr. drilled three three-pointers in the first half alone. Sophomore guard Donovian Maxfield (York, PA) dominated the first half offensively for the Wildcats, scoring 16 of his 21 in the first.
Saint Joe's built their largest lead of the game on a layup from freshman forward Ryan O'Neill (Litchfield, Conn.), 40-31, with 18:38 to play. The Wildcats used their last two timeouts and began to chip away at it. Hogan-Gary, along with senior forward Randall Ferdinand (Pembroke Pines, Fla.) aided a 24-5 run over the next six minutes to take the lead, 55-46 with 10:29 to go. JWU maintained the lead, 65-55 with 5:15 left.
The clutch shots began to fall, as a 9-0 brought the Blue Jays back with less than two minutes to go. Two huge threes from Childs cut the gap to one, 65-64 with 2:41 to go. Hogan-Gary then did what he does best; find a way to score. Back-to-back layups in crunch time built the lead back to five, 69-64 with 1:04 left in the game. Timeout USJ.
Needing a quick basket, first-year head coach Jim Calhoun called Childs' number, getting him an open look off an elevator screen at the top of the key. Right on schedule, Childs banged in another three, 69-67 JWU with 51.4 seconds left.
Hogan-Gary split a pair of free throws to make it a three-point game, 70-67 with 38.1 left. USJ came down in transition off the miss and found Jackson Jr. open for three from the right wing. A perfect look that just did not go down, but Childs did not give up on the play, as he was fouled while attempting a putback. Childs back-rimmed the first and hit the second. 70-68. USJ forced to foul again, JWU making two clutch free throws to go up 72-68, with 15 seconds left. Dribbling the length of the floor, freshman forward Jake Sullivan (Branford, Conn.) handed the ball off and screened Child's man, as Childs circled to the top of the key. He stopped, popped, and sank a rainbow three. 72-71, 5.3 seconds to go. The Blue Jays fouled once again. Hogan-Gary silently sank two more big-time free throws, 74-71 JWU, 3.8 seconds left. USJ had to go the length of the floor again with no timeouts. Jackson Jr. dribbled hard down the right sideline and pulled up from three without stopping his momentum. The three rolled in as the buzzer sounded, and the game was going to overtime, 74-74.
Both teams sank clutch free throws in overtime, as both teams stayed aggressive, knowing they were in the double bonus (every double-bonus foul results in two free throws). Hogan-Gary and Jackson Jr. both made big ones to keep the game tight. Down one with less than a minute to go, Jackson Jr. drove hard to the basket from the left wing, but could not convert. Freshman guard Cameron Sells (Ansonia, Conn.) could not make the tip-in, but on the third try, freshman forward Noreaga Davis (Bridgeport, Conn.) scored the basket and a foul. Davis made the free throw to go up two, 84-82 with 50 seconds left.
Freshman guard Danny Ampofo (New Haven, Conn.) came up huge for the Wildcats, banking in a layup with all six-foot-nine of NDT in his face. The game was tied, 84-84, with 35 seconds left. The Blue Jays left it in Jackson Jr.'s hands, and he did not disappoint. He drove hard to the right and was fouled with 12 seconds left. Jackson Jr. made both to take the lead, but the Wildcats came right back and tied it on a streaking layup by sophomore guard Justin Bullock (Spring Valley, N.Y.), who received a bullet pass from across half court. With 5.6 seconds to go, Jackson Jr. drove down the left sideline, getting to the right side of the floor. He pulled up from 16 feet, his momentum carrying him to the baseline. The shot hit the front rim, bounced around, and went in. The buzzer sounded, the Blue Jays mobbed Jackson Jr., and the fans roared, but the game was not over. Officials got it right, as the clock was reset to the amount of time left after the ball went through the net (approximately 0.6 seconds).
JWU through a full-court pass to a wide-open Hogan-Gary, who caught, faded away, and shell-shocked the Blue Jay faithful with a dagger jumper, forcing a second overtime.
Both teams went on quick 4-0 spurts in 2OT, before the game was tied at 92 with 3:08 to go. A three by senior forward Matt Madoian (North Kingstown, R.I.) broke the tie, but a layup by Sells and two free throws by Childs kept USJ alive. The game was tied, 96-96 with 56 seconds left. Ampofo made two more free throws after driving hard to the basket, and the Wildcats took a 98-96 lead. Jackson Jr. came right back and answered, but could only make one of two foul shots. The Blue Jays fouled Bullock with 16 seconds left. He missed both shots, giving USJ a chance to win. Jackson Jr. drove down and pulled up from the same exact spot he converted on earlier, but this time he could not connect. Sells raced for the offensive rebound and took a fadeaway jump shot from the right corner with five seconds left, but it hit the front rim. Davis grabbed it for a third chance at victory, but his quick shot fell short as well, and the Blue Jays came up one-point short in a double-overtime thriller for the ages.
USJ dominated the boards (67-44) and second-chance points (32-17), but struggled to take care of the ball, finishing with 22 turnovers. JWU only had six in 50 minutes of action.
USJ will be back in action on Saturday, February 2, with a GNAC road test at Anna Maria College (MA). The game starts at 2:00 p.m. JWU will also return to the hardwood on Saturday, and host Lasell College (MA), inside the Wildcat Center for a 1:00 p.m. tip.