RPI Upends Saints in Liberty League Championship Game; 72-65
Feb. 28: The Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Red Hawks shot 65 percent from the floor in a strong second half to lift themselves past the top-seeded St. Lawrence University men's basketball team in the Liberty League championship game Saturday afternoon in Burkman Gymnasium in Canton, NY. With the victory, Rensselaer earns an automatic bid into the 2009 NCAA Tournament, which is scheduled to begin next week.
Rensselaer improves to 15-12 overall in the 2008-09 season while the Saints fall to 20-6 and will await their season's fate, as the NCAA Tournament bracket is set to be released on Monday.
RPI senior Sam Simmons was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player and to the All-Tournament Team after scoring a game-high 20 points in the title game, moving him into third place on the career scoring list for the Red Hawks. Joining him on the All-Tournament Team was teammate and junior Tim Rupp, as well as St. Lawrence senior captain Tom Wopperer (Manlius, NY/Fayetteville-Manlius). Clarkson's Ryan Smith and Hamilton's Lance Wilson rounded out the 2009 All-Tournament squad.
First-year Garrett Sharlow (Massena, NY/Massena Central) tallied a team-high 15 points for St. Lawrence while collecting six boards, while Wopperer recorded 13 points for the team. Senior captain Bela Vonnak (Canajoharie, NY/Canajoharie) chipped in 11 points.
The contest begin with the Red Hawks earning as much as an eight-point edge over their opponents before a 12-4 run on the part of the Saints, capped off by back-to-back three's by Wopperer and Sharlow, that knotted the game at 24-24 with 6:24 remaining in the opening frame. The squads tied things up again minutes later at 26 points apiece before the Scarlet and Brown enjoyed 10-2 stint down the stretch to put some distance between themselves and Rensselaer. The Red Hawks got as close as four points with 42 seconds left in the half but a three from Wopperer gave St. Lawrence a 39-32 edge at the break.
Sharlow recorded 13 points for the Saints in only 12 minutes of action in the first period and Wopperer added 10, while RPI's Simmons had 15 points for the Red Hawks to keep the squad within reach of St. Lawrence.
St. Lawrence enjoyed a lead as big as nine (39-48) with 14:59 to go, but Rensselaer was able to shut down the Scarlet and Brown's offense and capitalized on the Saints' four minute scoring drought to come within one point of the home team, 48-47, with 11:58 to play in regulation. The teams exchanged shots from beyond the perimeter and a layup from Vonnak gave St. Lawrence a three-point edge over RPI with 9:47 left.
RPI earned the third tie of the game off a three from Eric Anderson, and both teams did not add anything to the scoreboard for more than three minutes before RPI's Rupp knocked in a jumper from inside the paint to guide his team to their first lead since the opening half. Despite two more ties down the stretch, Rensselaer used clutch free throw opportunities and threes to clinch the title and a ticket to the 2009 NCAA Tournament.
St. Lawrence shot 43 percent from the field in the first half, but was contained to only 26.5 percent in the second, while Rensselaer shot 65 percent from the floor, including 5-for-8 from three-point range, and 90 percent from the line to seal the victory.
In addition to Simmons' contributions, Rupp added 16 points while Anderson supplied 11 points for the winning team.
The Division III Men's Basketball Selection Show is set to begin after the women's, which is scheduled for 11:00am. For more information, please visit www.ncaa.com.