STANDISH, Maine — The University of Saint Joseph (USJ) men's basketball team survived and advanced for the third straight time, and now it's on to the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) Tournament Finals, as the Blue Jays used timely buckets and resilience to outlast a late run by Saint Joseph's College of Maine (SJC) to win their semifinal matchup, 91-86, on the road inside the Harold Alfond Center Thursday night.
The Blue Jays (16-11) have now won three in a row, and in doing so, earned a trip to the GNAC Finals against intrastate rival Albertus Magnus College (AMC) on Saturday in New Haven:
Saturday, February 23 - Championship
Game 7: #7 Saint Joseph (Conn.) at #1 Albertus Magnus - 1:00 p.m.
USJ has shot 50% or better from the field in their two GNAC Tournament wins, with at least four players in double figures (five vs. SJC). Freshman point guard Delshawn Jackson Jr. (Hartford, Conn.) continued to lead the pack, scoring a team-high 23 points, dishing out eight assists, and grabbing seven hard-earned rebounds among the giants in the paint. Freshman Chris Childs (Bronx, N.Y.) was not far behind, dropping 20 points on 4-of-9 from three. He also chipped in with six assists. Freshman forward Noreaga Davis (Bridgeport, Conn.) cleaned up once again inside with 14 points (10 in the second half) and seven rebounds in the win.
The big guns of the Monks (19-8) did everything they could to stay with the Blue Jays, as sophomore guard Jack Casale (Portland, Maine) swished a game-high 30 points (9-16 FG, 9-11 FT). He also grabbed eight rebounds, while senior guard Darian Berry (Rochester, N.H.) added 17 points. However, it was not enough, as the Monks trimmed a 15-point gap in the second half all the way down to three with 48 seconds to play, and had a chance to tie the game, but a missed three with 14 seconds left and it was their only chance. Jackson Jr. grabbed the carom and calmly sank two free throws down the other end to seal the deal.
The first ten minutes were a display of superior offensive talent in a rather tight ball game. Neither team could hold a lead larger than six points (USJ 6, SJC 4). The Blue Jays led from the opening minutes on, but the Monks refused to go away, as three-pointers by Casale, Berry and freshman guard Nicholas Curtis (Windham, Maine) gave SJC a chance to take the lead back. After a balanced attack in the early going, it was the supporting cast for USJ that came up big at the right time, as freshman center Nadir Dixon-Thompson (Dorchester, Mass.), and freshman guard Brad Landry (Wallingford, Conn.) both contributed in their own right. NDT fought hard on the glass (four critical offensive rebounds on the night), converting on a second-chance layup, while Landry nailed a triple from deep, and converted an old fashioned three-point play. The Blue Jays led 28-25, with 10:03 left in the first half.
Jackson Jr. got hot and knocked down a few contested jumpers, while senior forward Marc Corey (Londonderry, N.H.) used his size and strength to score it inside for the Monks. A layup by Corey made it 35-30 with 7:29 to go in the half.
Both teams suddenly went cold, as neither team scored for three-plus minutes, that is until NDT went back to work, scoring back-to-back hoops, including a monster slam on some great two-way play from Childs. Childs grabbed the defensive rebound and assisted to NDT on the stuff. USJ capped the half on a 13-5 run (eight from NDT, including two dunks), as Jackson Jr. drilled a 25-foot three with seconds left in the period to give the Blue Jays a 48-35 lead into the locker room.
With their season on the line, the Monks went to work to trim down the lead. They were only able to shave off a point or two at a time, as the Blue Jays seemed to have an answer at every turn. Davis bullied inside (also four huge offensive rebounds), and Childs was locked in from deep. USJ still held a double-digit lead, 75-61, with 9:31 left in the game. Timeout SJC.
Time was running out. The Monks showed that sense of urgency by converting on their largest run of the game, an 11-2 run, to cut it to five, 77-72, with 7:01 left. The crowd was hoping to pull off the comeback. Casale did all he could, scoring eight points and grabbing a pair of rebounds during the run. USJ just had more answers. Childs knocked down a few free throws before a cold-blooded three pushed it back to 11, 84-73, with 5:07 left. The Monks made another admirable run to the finish, attacking hard and getting to the stripe, cutting the gap to only three on a layup by Casale with 48 seconds left. A 13-5 run made it 89-86.
Jackson Jr. was called for an offensive foul with 21 seconds to go, giving the Monks one last chance to tie it up. Casale fired from the corner for three, but it was well contested by USJ defenders. Jackson Jr. did not let the last play get him down, as he soared for his seventh and final rebound of the night, before sinking two foul shots to ice the game, sending the Blue Jays to a highly-anticipated rematch; a battle of the Connecticut birds with the Falcons of Albertus Magnus.
It's all on the line Saturday, February 23, when USJ heads down I-91 to New Haven to take on top-seeded Albertus Magnus in the GNAC Championship. Albertus Magnus defeated Emmanuel 104-93 in their Semifinal game Thursday evening. The winner earns a birth to the NCAA Division III Tournament. Tip-off is slated for 1:00 p.m. inside the Cosgrove Marcus Messer Athletic Center. The Blue Jays lost to Albertus Magnus, 88-84, on February 5 inside the O'Connell Center.