Men's basketball clinches postseason berth behind Thompson's second-half surge

Men's basketball clinches postseason berth behind Thompson's second-half surge

COLCHESTER, Vt. - Senior Mike Thompson (Rosedale, N.Y./Christ The King Regional) scored the first six points of the second half to put the regionally-ranked Saint Michael's College men's basketball team on top for good, and the Purple Knights clinched a postseason berth for the second straight season with a 75-66 victory over Assumption College on Wednesday evening in the Ross Sports Center. Saint Michael's, which is sixth in the first NCAA East Region rankings, is now 16-8 overall and 12-7 in the Northeast-10 Conference. The Greyhounds are 8-16 and 5-14.

With two regular-season games remaining, Saint Michael's is tied for third in the NE-10 Northeast Division with Stonehill College, trailing second-place Saint Anselm College by one game. The top five teams from both of the NE-10's divisions qualify for the 10-team postseason tournament, while the top three in each division earn a first-round bye.

Thompson netted all of his game-high 17 points in the second half while making a career-high eight free throws in 10 attempts. He added five rebounds. Junior Greg Grippo (Edison, N.J./Rutgers Prep) shot 4-of-8 from three-point range and 4-of-4 on freebies while turning in 16 points and two assists off the bench, and sophomore Matt Bonds (Accokeek, Md./North Point) recorded 10 points, seven boards and two steals as a reserve. Senior Corey Crawford II (Dover, Del./The Phelps School) turned in nine points and five rebounds, classmate Mike Holton Jr. (Portland, Ore./The Winchendon School) totaled eight points and three assists, and senior James Cambronne (De Bary, Fla./The Winchendon School) notched seven points and eight rebounds, reaching the 1,200-point plateau on the nose. Classmate Dom Ditlefsen (Portland, Ore./Sunset) blocked a pair of shots.

The Purple Knights, who improved to 8-1 at home, held Assumption to 2-of-17 three-point shooting. Saint Michael's turned the ball over only 10 times and shot 28-of-36 on free throws to the Greyhounds' 12-of-14, going 24-of-31 from the charity stripe during the second half to account for more than half of its 46 points.

Sophomore Kamali Bey (Springfield, Mass./Wilbraham & Monson Academy) led Assumption with 15 points and seven rebounds off the bench. Junior Karl Ziegler (Annandale, Va./Annandale) had 13 points, senior Jimmy Zenevitch (Methuen, Mass./Central Catholic) added 12 points and seven rebounds, and junior Terrance Bobb-Jones (Wilmington, Del./Delcastle Voc-Tech) totaled eight points, 10 rebounds and three assists.

Thompson, who went scoreless in five first-half minutes while dealing with foul trouble, canned a three-pointer 14 seconds into the second half to give Saint Michael's a 32-30 edge before converting a three-point play 34 seconds later. Ziegler countered with a jumper, but Thompson dropped home a lay-up at 18:05 to keep his team up 37-32. The Purple Knights continued to lead by single digits, including while going ahead 44-35 on a pair of Thompson freebies at 16:07. Ziegler hit two free throws to cap a 6-0 run and draw the Greyhounds within three, but Thompson converted a three-point play at 13:10 to put the hosts up by six. Grippo knocked down a three at 8:57 to produce the first double-digit edge, 58-48.

Assumption twice rallied within four points down the stretch, including when Bobb-Jones' bucket made it 66-62 at 2:37, but Crawford hit a triple at 1:20, and Saint Michael's made eight of its final 10 free throw attempts to ice the game, including going 6-of-8 in the final 38.2 seconds. The Greyhounds never again came close than seven points.

The teams combined for seven lead changes and four ties in the opening stanza. After Cambronne's three-pointer provided the first points 20 seconds in, Assumption scored the next nine, holding the Purple Knights off the board for 5:25 until junior Morrell Gaskins (Cambria Heights, N.Y./Archbishop Molloy) made two free throws at 14:13. That kicked off a 12-0 Saint Michael's spurt in a matter of 3:07, which first-year Colin Richey (Upton, Mass./Choate Rosemary Hall) capped with a jumper at 11:06 to make it 15-9. That proved to be the largest lead of the half for either team, as the lead was exchanged five times in the final 5:21, with Bobb-Jones' hoop at 45 seconds giving his team a 30-29 halftime edge.

The Purple Knights head to first-place Southern New Hampshire University on Saturday for a 3:30 p.m. contest. The game will be televised live on NESN National and NESNplus.