BOSTON, Mass — The University of Saint Joseph (USJ) men's basketball team faced off with a familiar foe in Suffolk University (SU) for the second time in five days, only this time, with a shot at the GNAC Semifinals on the line. Seventh-seeded USJ controlled the second half to the very end to complete the upset, knocking off the two seed Suffolk Rams (18-8), 95-84, inside Regan Gymnasium Tuesday night.
The Blue Jays (15-11) along with head coach Jim Calhoun, advance to the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) Semifinals in their first-ever men's basketball season. They will play at sixth-seeded Saint Joseph's College (ME) on Thursday, who also pulled off an upset knocking off the third seed Johnson & Wales Wildcats Tuesday night in the GNAC Quarterfinals, 83-80.
Thursday, February 21 - Semifinals (at higher seeds)
#4 Emmanuel at #1 Albertus Magnus - 7:00 PM
#7 Saint Joseph (Conn.) at #6 Saint Joseph's (Maine) - 7:00 PM
Freshman guard Delshawn Jackson Jr. (Hartford, Conn.) was on-point from start to finish, scoring a game-high 24 points (11-18 FG). He had only one turnover in 38 minutes. Freshman guard Chris Childs (Bronx, N.Y.) scored 22 on an efficient 6-for-9 from the floor (3-4 3FG), and a perfect 7-for-7 from the free throw line. Five Blue Jays reached double figures on the night, including freshman forward Noreaga Davis (Bridgeport, Conn.), who also had eight rebounds. Junior guard Thomas Duffy (Fairfield, Conn.) left it all on the floor with 21 hard-earned points (12-13 FT). The Blue Jays did their best to make him earn it, shooting just 4-for-15 from the field. He also had five assists. Sophomore guard Alex Jacovides (Tampa, Fla.) once again had big numbers off the bench with 20 (4-9 3FG).
USJ shot nearly 60% in the game (35-59 FG) and 67% from three (8-12 3FG). They also shot 17-for-21 from the FT line (81%), after averaging 68% from the line in the regular season. Saint Joe's stayed patient, as they made their run to close it out in the final five and a half minutes.
You could not have asked for more as a fan, as both teams went pound for pound through the first ten minutes. A three from freshman forward Ryan O'Neill (Litchfield, Conn.) broke a 9-9 tie. Junior forward Steven DiPrizio (Medford, Mass.) answered with a quick layup. After a turnover and defensive stop, it was Jackson Jr.'s turn. A knockdown jump shot, followed by a pair of Davis free throws, gave the Blue Jays a 16-11 lead. Jacovides came right back with a layup, and DiPrizio converted on an and-one to tie it up, 16-16, with 10:13 left in the first half.
Jackson Jr.'s confidence and versatility were on display late in the half, as he not only converted from mid-range, but he also took it back behind the three-point line for his only triple of the night. An assist from freshman guard Brad Landry (Wallingford, Conn.) gave the Blue Jays a 27-24 lead with 5:56 left in the first half and forced a timeout for Suffolk.
The Rams stayed aggressive on the offensive end, and it paid off going into the locker room, as DiPrizio and senior guard Michael Hagopian (Watertown, Mass.) found ways to put the ball in the hoop. Duffy converted several times from the line in the final six minutes, and Jacovides sank a cold-blooded three with six seconds left in the half to give the Rams a slim 41-40 lead.
You could sense the pressure begin to build the longer the game remained tight. It seemed that the first team to take a seven or eight point lead was going to find a way to close it out. Despite another and-one for Hagopian (this time on a jumper) to give the Rams their largest lead of the night, the Blue Jays continued to have an answer, preventing any big run from starting. Davis cleaned up on the offensive glass and converted on a layup, while Jackson Jr. was able to knock down another jumper.
Freshman forward Jake Sullivan (Branford, Conn.) was the X-Factor in the second half, leading the team in scoring with 15 of his 17 in the second stanza. He did it on a perfect 5-for-5 shooting, including three triples. Sullivan tied the game, 47-47, with 18:14 to play. Then, Jackson Jr. and Childs added in five more for an 8-0 run. The Rams came right back with six straight points to take a 53-52 lead with 15:00 to go. The lead changed hands five times over the next ten minutes, as both teams made big-time shots with a spot in the semis up for grabs. A pair of DiPrizio foul shots kept the lead at one, 70-69 USJ, with 5:34 to go.
It was go time for the Blue Jays. If they were going to pull this off, they needed to make a run. Insert Sullivan, who despite his shooting woes as of late (10-37 FG the last five games), he managed to play his best (and most gutsy) game of the year with the lights shining bright. Sullivan led a 19-10 run over the next four minutes to cap off nothing short of a spectacular win on the road to advance to the GNAC Semifinals. Sullivan scored 10 of the 19 in the run (two threes, two layups). Jackson Jr. and Childs also connected from their usual spots. Clutch free throws down the stretch prevented any miracle, and USJ walked out of Boston with their most satisfying victory of the season.
USJ will compete in the Semifinals of the GNAC Tournament Thursday, February 21 on the road against sixth-seeded Saint Joseph's College (ME), who upset Johnson & Wales on the road Tuesday, 83-80. Tip-off is slated for 7:00 p.m. USJ lost at SJC, 98-87, back on January 12.