The ECC and CACC Tournaments concluded on Sunday, and the NCAA East Regional pairings have been announced. We kick off the recap with a first-time championship for a long-suffering Long Island school:
MOLLOY 90 BRIDGEPORT 86 (OT)
Tourney MOP Nick Corbett’s jumper with 49 seconds to play in overtime provided the sixth and final lead change of the period and lifted Molloy past host Bridgeport and into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in the program’s 27-year history – a game in which the winning club never actually led in regulation. The junior playmaker – who tallied 25 points for the second time in as many days – added a foul shot with 12 ticks left after Vakas Iqbal missed two of his own 22 seconds earlier. Following a crucial turnover, Chris O’Reilly (eight bench points) put the finishing touches on the victory with two foul shots at the three-second mark as the cardiac kids from Rockville Centre wrapped up a three-win week by a grand total of six points, beating both UDC and STAC by the slimmest of margins in the first two rounds. The prospect of overtime would have seemed sheer folly early on in this one as the Purple Knights bolted out to a 14-0 lead en route to a 47-34 halftime cushion. The margin peaked at 61-44 following an Iqbal jumper with 12:05 remaining, and was still 71-61 inside of six minutes when the Lions rattled off a 12-2 spurt, equalizing at 73-73 on a Mike Torre 3-pointer with 2:20 to go – the first of the senior forward’s three game-tying shots in regulation, highlighted by his game-saving stick-back with half a second on the clock, setting the stage for the see-saw extra session. Curtis Jenkins amassed 28 points and 16 rebounds for the winners, while Torre and Will Muller each added 10 and seven, respectively. Dennis Green closed out his career in style, accumulating 19 points in a reserve role (7-10 FG, 4-5 from 3), with solid support from Hashem Abbas (15 points), Iqbal (14 points, nine rebounds in his last game), Eric Rankin (11 in his finale) and Jayden Iturmendi (11 off the bench, 4-5 FG, 2-2 from deep). The P-Knights were the superior shooting team (48%-37%) and dished out more than twice as many assists (15-7) but were outworked at the foul line (27-34 to 14-27), which cost them a chance at the championship. The win – The Lions’ third in as many meetings vs. Bridgeport this season (two on the road) – exorcises a demon for Molloy, which fell achingly short two years ago in another overtime championship game at the same Hubbell Gym, losing to St. Thomas Aquinas and missing the NCAAs by an eyelash. Molloy improves to 3-23 all-time vs. Bridgeport at Hubbell Gym, with all three of the victories coming in the past three seasons. Their overall record at “The Hub” is 5-25, counting a win vs. Felician and loss to Southern Connecticut in a 2013 season-opening tournament and the semifinal split vs. STAC.
DOMINICAN 70 BLOOMFIELD 55
The CACC championship wasn’t nearly as close at Caldwell. Suffocating defense was the calling card for Dominican in its victory over North Division rival Bloomfield, securing the school’s first league trophy and ending a two-year run as runner-up. In a rematch of the 2017 title tilt played at the very same Newman Center, the result was very different for the Chargers, who trailed only once on the day (11-9) before embarking on a 16-0 blitz, holding the high-scoring Bears scoreless over a 6:21 stretch in building a 25-11 lead. A 10-1 counter-run, culminating in a Keith Washington trifecta – brought the seven-time league champs within 26-21 before Tourney MOP DJ Rodwell buried back-to-back threes and Tavon Ginyard (13 points off the bench) closed out the first-half scoring with a steal and lay-up, giving Dominican a 34-21 advantage at the break. Bloomfield – which received 23 points and seven rebounds from Washington in his final game – came as close as 56-45 in the second stanza after a pair of Washington free throws with 7:49 to play, but they could never whittle the deficit down to single digits as the Chargers unleashed a 12-3 run – punctuated by a Ginyard triple – to put the game out of reach at 68-48 with 3:31 left. Rodwell recorded 18 points (7-10 FG, 4-6 from distance) and 10 rebounds for the winners, who also received a double-double from Ian Gardener (16, 11). Rich Chapman compiled 11 points and 12 rebounds in a losing effort for the Bears, who were severely outshot (48%-27%) and outmuscled in the paint (42-26), tallying a season low for points and seeing their 12-game win streak come to an abrupt end. Dominican heads into its second NCAA Tournament riding a six-game win streak since falling, coincidentally, at Bloomfield on February 19.
For the first time in six years, the NCAA East Regional is returning to Manchester, New Hampshire. But for the first time ever, it will take place at Stoutenburgh Gym, where top-seed St. Anselm will play host. The Hawks will take on Molloy in the 1-8 game, with the winner advancing to take on the winner of the game between four-seed New Haven and five-seed Daemen, which – like its ECC rival Molloy, will be making its maiden NCAA Tournament appearance. The opposite side of the bracket sees second-seeded Merrimack clash with seventh-seeded Dominican and three-seed Le Moyne face six-seed St. Thomas Aquinas as a record five of the eight participants in the field hail from New York State. The regional kicks off with the aforementioned quarterfinals on Saturday, followed by the semis on Sunday night and the championship game a week from Tuesday.