Just before the main part of this article, I wanted to note a couple of things. First, thanks to Rhode Island blowing a late game lead last night to UMass, plus Dayton falling apart not just in regulation but in overtime as well before losing to LaSalle, the Atlantic 10 NCAA tournament picture looks even muddier. Outside of Xavier, you have four teams - St Joe’s, UMass, Dayton and Rhode Island fighting for I think probably two but possibly three spots. This has an adverse effect on possible mid major bubble teams such as Kent State or South Alabama, teams that may have to fight the A10 for at large bids.
Speaking of South Alabama, they had their "bracketbuster" game last night as they went on the road and downed Western Kentucky 69-64 (neither team has a bracket buster game on Saturday). The Jaguars went out to a eleven point first half lead and held onto win. With the win, the Jaguars take over first place in the Sun Belt from the Hilltoppers. Though they both have 2 losses, the Jaguars (14-2 Sun Belt) have swept the season series from the Hilltoppers (13-2 Sun Belt), thus they have the tiebreaker. This game goes a long way in helping South Alabama (22-5) with an at large bid should they not win the Sun Belt Conference tourney. As for Western Kentucky (21-6), this put a major dent in their at large bid.
Third, Hofstra’s impressive win over Towson Wednesday night gives the Pride hope of avoiding the eight-nine first round game in the CAA tournament (which would mean the winner gets to play VCU in their home town of Richmond in the second round). If the Pride win their two remaining conference games at Delaware and home to Drexel, they will finish at least seventh by leapfrogging Delaware and possibly finish sixth depending on how Northeastern fares in their last two games (at Old Dominion and home to George Mason, quite possibly two losses there). It would also give them a .500 record in conference, something that didn’t look possible halfway through the season.
On Wednesday night, I was present at one of the most impressive single game performances I had seen live by a college player this year. No, it wasn’t Antoine Agudio’s 27 game point performance for Hofstra's win over Towson. It was the 37 point performance by David Acree of Division III St Joseph’s College of Patchogue in a 91-81 win over Farmingdale State which put the Golden Eagles in a first place tie with the Rams in the Skyline Conference.
I was at the St Joseph’s game to first interview Coach John Mateyko for an article that will be coming out in the next few days. First I would like to thank Coach Mateyko for his time. He was very kind enough to spend several minutes with me before the biggest game of the year for his team. And as a teaser for you all, Coach Mateyko is good friends with a Division I Coach that you all should know and who certainly has been mentioned in this blog over the years. But you will all have to wait to find out.
After the interview of Coach Mateyko, I was sitting in the lounge of the Danzi Athletic Center at the St Joseph’s campus in Patchogue. They were having a welcoming event for the doubleheader which had the women playing the first game. It was for Senior night for two of the Golden Eagles' best players Phil Lipari and Brandon Freeman, who were graduating this semester. They had free hot dogs, chicken nuggets, pretzels with honey mustard, and nachos with cheese (all of which I gladly ate). Plus you had several athletic teams hosting raffles, auctioning off various items. It was a very hospitable atmosphere and the students couldn’t have been more friendly. It was a welcome change of pace for someone used to the hustle and bustle before a Hofstra home game.
Now, the gym at the Danzi Athletic Center is not a large gym. Kind of reminds me of the Mulcahy Center Gym at Iona, only smaller. However, Coach Mateyko may get his wish of a supportive fan base for his team. The gym was packed with a lot of students Wednesday night. Two hundred and fifty people doesn’t sound like a lot but it was a lot more than the first game I saw them play against Yeshiva. There were also a good number of Farmingdale fans at the game. The crowd was very enthusiastic and the place got really loud as the game went on, especially when St Joseph’s came back in the first half.
The game started out with Farmingdale dominating the inside play with Erastus Shannon and Brian Robinson scoring early to put the Rams up 14-6. Then with Ram guard Damien Santana leading the way, the Rams started hitting threes and the lead swelled to 29-15 with 7:41 left. With the threat of being blown out of their own building, the Golden Eagles went on a 17-3 run, led by a team effort of Acree, Lipari, Freeman, guards Mike Crisci and Matt Weeks. They forced several Ram turnovers and the Rams only scored on three free throws during the run. St Joseph’s tied the game at 32 with 2:11 left before Farmingdale went back ahead 37-35 at the half. Farmingdale could have had a bigger lead but they only shot 7 of 15 from the foul line in the first half, and that would come back to haunt them in the second half.
The second half looked like the beginning of the first half as Farmingdale came out with hot shooting and pulled out to a 50-43 lead as Santana hit on a couple of threes. The teams would start trading baskets and slowly the Golden Eagles came back. During this time, David Acree started hitting several threes and Acree’s fourth three of the second half would tie the game at 60 with 10:21 left in the game. The teams would trade leads until Brandon Freeman’s three point play with 7:42 left put the Golden Eagles up 67-66. Acree would hit another three and St Joe’s would never trail again. But the Rams had one last run and would tie the game at 77 with 3:35 left in the game on two Santana free throws.
But from here, the Golden Eagles would go on a 14-4 run to close out the game. Chris Niblock hit a free throw then grabbed the rebound off the second free throw attempt and put in a jumper to put the Eagles up to stay 80-77. Then after two foul shots by the Rams’ Shannon, Acree hit the dagger, another three pointer to put St Joseph’s up by four and the Rams never got closer.
Acree would end up with 25 points in the second half on 8 of 13 shooting, including 7 of 10 three pointers to end with 37 on the game. An even more impressive stat was Acree played the entire 40 minutes and didn’t have a single turnover. Though Phil Lipari struggled all night shooting (he was 5 of 17 shooting including 1 of 8 from three), he still had 13 points and had 8 rebounds and more importantly 8 assists. Brandon Freeman added 19 points for the Golden Eagles on 9 of 10 shooting from the foul line.
The Rams were led by Damien Santana’s 25 points. Warren McAllister and Brian Robinson each had 11 and Erastus Shannon had 10 for the Rams. The Rams shot 56 percent in the second half but that was offset by the Golden Eagles shooting 8 of 15 from three (7 of which came from Acree) and the Golden Eagles shot 16 of 21 from the foul line in the second half.
The most telling stat was turnovers. The Golden Eagles had only one turnover in the second half to the Rams 6. On the game, the Golden Eagles only had 6 turnovers to the Rams 14. The points off turnovers was 21-4 in favor of St Joseph’s.
With the win, the Golden Eagles and Rams are tied for first place with one game left for each team in conference before the Skyline Tournament next week, February 26-28. The team with the best record in the conference hosts the Skyline Tournament. If both teams win, then a tiebreaker will have to be made. Coach Mateyko told me that he does not know what the tiebreaker will be since the teams split the season series.
The Golden Eagles have an excellent chance to make the Division III tournament either as the Skyline champion or if they make it to the conference finals, they could get an at large bid to the Division III tournament. But anyway you slice it, the Golden Eagles are well on their way to their best season ever. And with Acree coming back with five other returning players plus an impressive recruiting class coming in, Coach Mateyko’s budding program might just get that growing fan base he is looking for.