NEW HAVEN, Conn. - The Saint Michael's College men's basketball team forged a six-point lead in the final 16 seconds before surviving nationally-ranked Southern Connecticut State University's game-winning three-point try at the buzzer to claim their first Northeast-10 Conference Championship quarterfinal in 14 years, 81-79, on Sunday in Moore Field House.
The Purple Knights, the No. 4 seed from the Northeast Division, won for the second time in three days and improved to 18-10 while downing the Owls for the third time this season. They will head to Northeast No. 2 Saint Anselm College on Wednesday for a 7 p.m. semifinal. Southern Connecticut State, which won the Southwest Division's regular-season title and is ranked 23rd in Division II by the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC), slipped to 22-7 as the Southwest's No. 1 seed. As the top team in the NCAA East Region poll, the Owls remain in a position to earn an at-large berth for the NCAA Tournament.
Saint Michael's, which is ranked ninth in the NCAA East Region rankings, advanced to the quarterfinals for the second straight year after qualifying only three times in the prior 12 winters. The Purple Knights won their first true road quarterfinal game, against the host team in their own gym, in eight tries. They had also been 1-12 in road and neutral-site quarters. Southern Connecticut State is 10-4 at home this year, with two losses coming to Saint Michael's.
The visitors shot 12-of-20 (60.0%) from three-point range during the game and shot 51.0 percent overall for the game. They also held the Owls well below their league-leading scoring average (90.6), shooting percentage (47.8% to 41.3%) and three-point shooting percentage (38.2% to 33.3%).
Senior Corey Crawford II (Dover, Del./The Phelps School) hit a career-high six three-pointers on six attempts while notching 22 points, five rebounds and four assists, while classmate Mike Holton Jr. (Portland, Ore./The Winchendon School) had 21 points while going 11-of-12 on free throws. Senior James Cambronne (De Bary, Fla./The Winchendon School) totaled 18 points of 7-of-13 shooting, hitting the bucket that put his team on top for good, and blocked a pair of shots. Sophomore Matt Bonds (Accokeek, Md./North Point) turned in a double-double of 12 points and 10 rebounds. During the game, Holton passed Ken Johnson '76 (1,733) to take over fifth in program history in scoring (1,742).
Deshawn Murphy notched a game-high 23 points for the Owls, hitting five three-pointers, while Tylon Smith had 20 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Luke Houston was 4-of-7 from deep on his way to 18 points, eight rebounds and three helpers, and Michael Mallory shot 9-of-9 on freebies while scoring 11 points.
In a 75-75 game and less than a minute remaining, Cambronne made a spin move in the post and banked home the winning shot with 54 seconds left. After a missed three by the Owls with 36 seconds to go, Holton connected on a pair of free throws at 19.8, and Crawford came up with a steal on the ensuing inbounds pass before knocking down two freebies of his own at 15.7, giving Saint Michael's a 81-75 lead. Smith drove for a lay-in at 10.6 ticks, and the visitors turned over the inbounds pass, leading to Houston being fouled shooting a three at 5.2 seconds. He hit the first two, but senior Mike Thompson (Rosedale, N.Y./Christ The King Regional) snagged the missed third freebie. With a chance to make it a four-point game, a Purple Knight missed the front end of a 1-and-1, but an Owls' running, off-balance three from the left wing missed the rim and hit glass as the buzzer sounded.
Murphy scored 13 of his team's opening 17 points, knocking down three three-pointers in that time, as Southern Connecticut State led by 10 after just 4:20 of the first half and was ahead 17-7 at the 15:14 mark of the opening stanza. Holton had all seven Purple Knights points at that juncture. The Owls were 7-of-10 from the floor in gaining their 17-7 lead.
Saint Michael's held the hosts to 6-of-22 shooting during the remainder of the half, outscoring Southern Connecticut State by 18. A 15-2 surge put the visitors ahead, with Crawford going 3-for-3 on threes in the run. His third triple staked the Purple Knights to a 20-19 edge at 10:06 before Holton added a fast-break lay-in 21 seconds later. Houston drained a tying three 18 ticks after that, but Holton's reserve lay-up put the visitors back ahead, 24-22, at which point he and Crawford had combined for 21 of the Purple and Gold's opening 24 points.
Murphy later hit two free throws to put the Owls up 26-25 with 7:56 remaining before Saint Michael's accumulated a 15-6 run. Cambronne's spin and bank shot deep in the right post at 7:19 gave the visitors the lead back, and Bonds sent a pass from the top of the key deep to Thompson for a lay-up with 6:13 to go. Ditlefsen nailed a deep three to counter at Smith bucket before Bonds drove for a lay-in of his own.
Crawford drained his fourth triple off of junior Morrell Gaskins' (Cambria Heights, N.Y./Archbishop Molloy) dish from the paint at 2:48 to make it a seven-point game, and Cambronne's trey with 2:12 remaining provided Saint Michael's with its first eight-point edge, 40-32. Holton hit four freebies and Bonds added two in the closing 1:40 to stem an Owl rally, and the Purple Knights held a 46-38 edge. Strong defense on Southern Connecticut State's final possession prevented the hosts getting off a shot before the buzzer.
Saint Michael's snagged its largest lead, 47-38, when Cambronne hit a free throw 1:06 into the second half but led by no more, maintaining its edge until fewer than seven minutes remained. The Owls countered with a 9-3 run, with Murphy hitting two more threes while Holton knocked down a high-arcing three of his own, and the hosts trailed just 50-47. Saint Michael's pushed its lead out to no more than five before the Owls notched a 5-0 run to take a 65-64 lead, capped on Houston's triple at 6:55. That was the first of four lead changes in a matter of 2:11, as Bonds converted a Crawford pass to tie the game at 68 before Crawford knocked down a go-ahead three with 4:44 left.
A deep three by Houston knotted the contest 1:17 later before Crawford made two freebies at 3:09 and Smith made a driving lay-in with 2:08 left. Cambronne made his first go-ahead jumper with 1:42 remaining, connecting on a short baby hook in the paint, but Smith hit a tying jumper 28 seconds later to forge the final tie, setting up the exciting final minute.