On St. Patrick's Day, a pair of Saints advanced to the Sweet 16 as both NCAA East Regional semifinals more than lived up to the billing, going right down to the wire… and in one case, even beyond:
ST. THOMAS AQUINAS 86 DOMINICAN 83 (OT)
For the second time in as many days, sixth-seeded St. Thomas Aquinas rallied from a double-digit, second-half deficit in Manchester to earn a riveting NCAA triumph -this time vs. fellow Cinderella program and Rockland County rival Dominican in advancing to their second Sweet 16 in three years. Demetre Roberts generated 24 points (3-3 from deep), including the acrobatic, go-ahead 3-point play at the 1:06 mark of overtime that proved the key basket. The ECC Rookie of the Year then snared a cross-court pass and Kameron Murrell (six points, all at the line) converted two huge foul shots with 23.2 seconds to play, making it an 85-80 contest. Tavon Ginyard – who totaled 22 points off the bench – was fouled attempting a 3-pointer with 23.2 seconds left and sank all three shots to give the seventh-seeded Chargers life. And when Roberts split a pair at the stripe one second later, Dominican had two shots to tie, but triple tries from DJ Rodwell (12 points off the pine) and Ginyard came up short, giving the Spartans their second nail-biting win vs. their neighbors in as many meetings this winter, and snapping their six-game winning streak in the process. If not for a controversial final play of the second half, the game might not have even necessitated a third period. After a right-wing, fast-break three by Louis Griffith tied things up at the six-second mark, Daniel Grant eschewed a timeout, went coast-to-coast and missed a jumper, but Jason Copman – who compiled eight points and 12 rebounds in a reserve role – snared the rebound and attempted a follow at the buzzer, drawing lots of contact but no whistle, guaranteeing bonus basketball. The Chargers built a 78-75 advantage inside of the three-minute juncture of OT, but Roberts drew a foul on a 3-point attempt, canning all three of his tosses to even things up yet again. After forcing a turnover, Aquinas went ahead 82-80 on a lay-up by Jamar Sudan (six points, seven rebounds in reserve duty), but a Copman lay-up provide the final tie at 80-80 with 1:29 on the clock, setting up Roberts’ critical “And-1.” Dominican led the majority of regulation, crafting a 12-0 run that centered around back-to-back Ginyard triples, breaking a 51-51 deadlock and giving his team a 63-51 lead with just over eight minutes remaining. But an 18-4 counter-run – capped by Osbel Caraballo’s tying free throws and go-ahead lay-up with 2:04 to go – put the Spartans on top 69-67. That was just the start of a riveting rollercoaster ride as Ginyard nailed a well-defended 3-pointer from the top of the key to beat the shot clock, putting the Chargers back in front (70-69) at the 1:25 mark. Zachary Rzewnicki (eight bench points) followed with a second-chance basket for STAC’s last lead of regulation (71-70) as Ian Gardener (22 points, 8-13 FG, 4-6 from beyond the arc) converted the go-ahead lay-up with 33 seconds to play and Rodwell sank two free throws with 15 ticks left, prefacing Griffith’s tying trifecta. Caraballo logged 24 points and six rebounds for the winners, who fared better at the foul line (29-38 to 21-32). Grant added 14 points in defeat for Dominican, but missed four key free throws down the stretch and turned it over seven times, including costly cough-ups in crunch time. Both teams were formidable from beyond the arc (STAC 9-17, DC 10-24).
ST. ANSELM 70 NEW HAVEN 69
Tension was just as high in the nightcap as top-seeded St. Anselm survived a scare against New Haven, advancing to its third regional championship game in six years – and first ever within the friendly confines of Stoutenburgh Gym. The #20 Hawks led the majority of the night, including three 11-point advantages in the opening period before the Chargers closed the half with an 11-4 flourish to draw within 35-31. An 8-0 upswing snapped the final tie and put the hosts on top, 52-44, following a 3-pointer by Gustav Suhr-Jessen (15 points, 5-7 FG) with 11:50 remaining. A lay-up by Tim Guers (14 points, seven assists) with 7:19 to go extended the advantage to 60-51, and it was still a 68-61 edge inside of the three-minute mark before fourth-seeded New Haven used an 8-2 spurt to creep within a point – 70-69 – following a pair of free throws by Roy Kane, Jr. with 28 seconds to go. Cody Ball – who produced 16 points and five helpers – was immediately fouled but uncharacteristically misfired on both of his tosses, giving the visitors a chance to steal the spoils. They actually had three chances, but each one would come up short: first, a driving lay-up by Quashawn Lane (nine points), then – after the ball was batted out of bounds by St. A’s – Kane missed a baseline jumper. Yet the Chargers were granted one final opportunity with 0.9 seconds on the clock. Alas, a lob to Kane in the lane was deflected by Guers, prompting the large, loud crowd to erupt in euphoria and relief. Kane racked up a career-high 28 points (10-16 FG, 5-9 from 3) and nine rebounds for New Haven, which also received 21 points from Elijah Bailey. St. Anselm – which shot 55% from the floor and accounted for 16 of the game’s 22 assists – will face St. Thomas Aquinas in the regional title game – the two teams’ third NCAA meeting in just four years.