WEST HARTFORD, Conn.— The No. 17 University of Saint Joseph (USJ) men's basketball team was down by as many as 14, but came roaring back with a dominant second half to advance to the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) Championship for the second straight season, defeating a tall and talented Anna Maria College (AMC) team, 94-79, inside a sold-out O'Connell Athletic Center Friday night. With the victory, the Blue Jays have now run their winning streak to 24 games in a row.
The game was not without its drama, both on and off the court. The game was supposed to be played Thursday night, but a tractor-trailer accident on I-84 in Union left the AMCATS bus in miles worth of stand-still traffic, postponing the game to Friday night. On the floor, the emotion could be felt from the flock of Blue Jay fans and the fearless physical battle seen on every possession, as the AMCATS gave the Blue Jays all they could handle. Anna Maria led 36-22 with 8:10 to go in the first half. It served as a wakeup call for Saint Joseph, who turned things around quickly, tying the game, and ultimately pulling away as they have done all season in the second half.
Sophomore guard Delshawn Jackson Jr. (Hartford, Conn.) hit one clutch three after another, scoring a game-high 27 points on 11-of-19 from the field (5-13 3FG). Sophomore point guard Jaecee Martin (Hartford, Conn.) and junior forward Jordan Powell (Middletown, Conn.) added 16 points each. It was the sixth time this season that 'JC' has had at least 12 assists in a game. The captain, sophomore Jake Sullivan (Branford, Conn.) came up clutch with 10 points when the Blue Jays needed it most.
For the AMCATS, senior forward Mike Rapoza (Charlton, Mass.), the nation's leading rebounder, scored 20 points (9-of-15 FG) and grabbed 14 rebounds in his final college basketball game. Senior guard Bobby Perette (Marshfield, Mass.) was tremendous early on, single-handily catapulting the AMCATS to the lead, knocking down three after three. He finished with a game-high 27 on 6-of-12 from downtown.
The Blue Jays hosted their second playoff game in program history Friday night after locking up the one seed in the GNAC Tournament and home-court advantage throughout, by recording an unblemished 11-0 mark in league play during the regular season. USJ now advances and hosts second-seeded Albertus Magnus College in a highly-anticipated rematch in the GNAC Championship.
Semifinals - Thursday, February 27 & Friday, February 28 (at high seeds)
#4 Anna Maria 79 at #1 St. Joseph (CT) 94
#6 Lasell 94 at #2 Albertus Magnus 95
Championship – Sunday, March 1
#2 Albertus Magnus at #1 St. Joseph (CT) – 1:00 p.m.
Score: Saint Joseph 94, Anna Maria 79
Records: USJ (25-2), AMC (11-16)
Location: O'Connell Athletic Center | West Hartford, Conn.
PLAYER QUOTE [Delshawn Jackson Jr.]
"We knew they were going to bring a high level of intensity, and we needed to match that to the end. We stayed together and got the lead back, and I knew we weren't going to lose the lead."
COACH QUOTE [Jim Calhoun]
"We were down 14, and the kids were kidding with me about how coach was so calm. At that point, we just told them to get one at a time, and we did. Tahj [Brown] gave us a lift, Jake Sullivan had his best game of the year, not just because he made shots, but he played with reckless abandonment, which I loved. This is now the time to regroup for a tough one with Albertus Magnus on Sunday."
- The AMCATS got off to a brilliant start, leading 13-7 with 15:32 to go. The Blue Jays missed three layups in the first three minutes. Rapoza and Perette went to work early.
- Anna Maria proved right away they were not going to be intimidated, increasing their lead after some back-and-forth basketball on a barrage of bombs from Perette. Perette made five of his first seven, and with back-to-back threes from junior guard Ralph Grasso Jr. (Marlborough, Mass.), the lead had ballooned to 16, 36-22, with 8:10 to go in the first.
- Saint Joseph began picking apart the AMCATS' 2-3 zone, cutting the gap to one, 42-41 on a 19-6 run, capped off by a much-needed three from the fan favorite, sophomore guard Tahj Brown (Bridgeport, Conn.). The Blue Jays held on to a 47-46 lead at the break.
- The game stayed tight through the first four minutes of half number two, 58-56. From there on the gap would hover around the 10-point mark, as 'DJ', JC and Powell took over the offensive load, pushing the pace and simply wearing out the AMCATS, forcing a few players into foul trouble. The Blue Jays scored eight straight points at the eight minute mark to finally break free of Anna Maria, pulling away before the final buzzer.
NUMBER TO KNOW
15 – This is the 15th time that DJ has hit at least three three-pointers in a game this season, including six of the last seven games. DJ was 5-of-13 from deep Friday night.
- Perette was 6-of-18 from the field in the last meeting vs. USJ on February 18 (L, 96-81). He was 9-of-21 Friday night.
- The Blue Jays hit 10 threes for the fourth time this season, and for the first time since February 8.
- Saint Joseph had a much-needed bench points advantage, 21-6.
- Saint Joseph is now 3-0 all-time against Anna Maria.
The stage is set for a GNAC Championship rematch. The Blue Jays will host second-seeded Albertus Magnus, the defending GNAC champs (and winners of seven of the last 10) in the title game on Sunday, March 1 at 1:00 p.m. in the O'Connell Center. Tickets can be purchased at http://www.usjbluejays.com/tickets starting on Saturday, February 29 at 12:00 p.m. Tickets will go fast, so get yours as soon as possible! The winner earns an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament.
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