MANCHESTER, N.H. - The Saint Michael's College men's basketball team led by seven points during the latter portion of the second half before succumbing to defending NCAA East Regional Tournament runner-up Saint Anselm College, 80-68, on Wednesday evening during a Northeast-10 Conference Championship semifinal in Stoutenburgh Gym.
The Purple Knights, who were the No. 4 seed from the Northeast Division and stood ninth in this week's NCAA East Region rankings, fell to 18-11 and will await word regarding a potential NCAA Tournament at-large berth on Sunday. The Hawks, who were the No. 2 seed in the Northeast Division and ranked third in the region, are 19-8 and advance to Saturday's NE-10 title game. They will host Southwest No. 2 American International College in that contest.
Saint Michael's was taking part in its first semifinal since 2001 and just its second road semifinal, its first since 1994. In just the teams' fourth postseason meeting, seniors scored 66 of 68 points for the visitors. James Cambronne (De Bary, Fla./The Winchendon School) had 19 points, six rebounds and two blocks, including the 150th of his career, while Corey Crawford II (Dover, Del./The Phelps School) added 16 points. Mike Thompson (Rosedale, N.Y./Christ The King Regional) notched 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting to go along with nine rebounds, and Dom Ditlefsen (Portland, Ore./Sunset) turned in 11 points, three assists and three steals. Mike Holton Jr. (Portland, Ore./The Winchendon School) recorded eight points and four assists, while sophomore Matt Bonds (Accokeek, Md./North Point) snagged nine rebounds.
The Purple Knights shot 44.1 percent in the second half but yielded the Hawks 57.1 percent shooting and an 18-of-23 free throw performance to the visitors' 3-of-3 showing. For the game, Saint Michael's held a 34-32 edge in rebounds but was outgained at the charity stripe, 23-of-29 to 7-of-8. During the contest, Holton moved his career scoring total to 1,750, Cambronne to 1,261 and Crawford to 1,246.
Senior Chris Santo (Cherry Hill, N.J./Cherry Hill East/Vermont) led the Hawks with 33 points, 10 rebounds and five steals while shooting 15-of-19 on free throws. Classmate Mark Schulze (Townsend, Mass./North Middlesex Regional) added 16 points and four steals, sophomore Harrison Taggart (Cuttingsville, Vt./Saint Paul's School/Vermont) notched 12 points and five assists, while junior Victor Joshua (New Haven, Conn./Hamden Hall) totaled 10 points and seven boards.
Saint Anselm extended its run to 12-0 to begin the second half, pushing its advantage to 36-29 on Santo's jump shot 1:18 in. The Purple Knights countered with the next eight points, creating the first of five lead changes in 1:48. Ditlefsen hit a three-pointer before Holton canned a triple from the right corner, and Cambronne's lay-in after Crawford drove and dished put the visitors on top 37-36 at 17:08. Santo made a go-ahead lay-up before Cambronne drained a three, but Mabrey hit a go-ahead triple in transition. However, Ditlefsen and Thompson worked a give-and-go on the next possession, with Thompson's bucket making it 42-41 in the Purple Knights' favor at 15:20. Crawford's long jumper under pressure pushed it to 44-41.
Schulze responded with five points in a 7-2 run, knotting the game at 46 on a triple with 12:45 remaining before Santo hit two freebies at 11:03, but Ditlefsen converted a fast-break hoop and Holton knocked down the tie-breaking trey with 8:51 to go, putting the Purple Knights in front by a 51-48 count. The run extended to 11-2, as Cambronne hit another long-range shot before Ditlefsen converted a three-point play at 8:45, giving Saint Michael's a 57-50 advantage.
Saint Anselm responded with 10 of the next 12 points to go back in front 60-59 on Schulze's lay-up at 4:47, as Joshua and Santo had four points apiece in that time. The Purple Knights took the lead back when Holton dropped a pass off during a fast break for Cambronne, who hung and scooped off the glass for the go-ahead lay-in at 4:14, but the Hawks scored the next seven points to take advantage of 12th and final lead swing. Santo netted the first four on free throws before Joshua hit a triple at 2:40 to make it 67-61. Crawford countered with a trey of his own 25 seconds later, but Taggart hit a back-breaking three with 1:45 to go, kicking off a 10-2 run. Three straight Hawk freebies were met by a Thompson lay-in at 44.9 seconds, bringing Saint Michael's within 73-66, but the Purple Knights came no closer.
Taggart and Cambronne traded three-pointers in the opening 1:42 of the game before the Hawks scored eight of the next 10 points, with Schulze's lay-in at the 15:45 mark making it 11-5. Taggart assisted that basket while adding seven points in the opening stretch. Crawford's three-pointer at 14:33 and Cambronne's bank shot off of a second chance at 13:28 both brought the Purple Knights within three, but Saint Anselm scored six points - all by Santo - around another Cambronne triple to go up 19-13 with 10:54 remaining.
Saint Michael's scored the next nine points in 3:20 to grab their first lead, with Crawford hitting two free throws, Cambronne adding another after grabbing his team's fourth offensive rebound during one particular possesson, and Thompson scoring the final six points. His backdoor lay-up off of junior Greg Grippo's (Edison, N.J./Rutgers Prep) pass and ensuing lay-in knotted the contest at 6:52, and he nailed a straightaway three-pointer 43 seconds later to make it 22-19. Santo and Thompson traded hoops, and Santo added a freebie with 4:22 left to cut the Hawk deficit to 24-22.
Crawford responded with a left-handed scoop, and Ditlefsen knocked down a three from the right wing after Taggart notched a lay-up, and the Purple Knights led 29-24 with 3:05 to go. However, Saint Anselm scored the final 10 points of the stanza, with junior Ryan Hartung (Haverhill, Mass./Phillips Andover) hitting two threes and Santo adding four points. Saint Michael's trailed 34-29 at halftime despite shooting 5-of-10 from three-point range and holding a 19-16 rebounding edge, as the Hawks had scoring advantages of 16-8 in the paint, 10-3 off of turnovers and 7-3 on second opportunities.