Veterans Lead Saints to Win Over Brooklyn In NCAA First Round
Mar. 6: Senior forward Bela Vonnak posted 23 points on 8-of-14 shooting, while fellow teammates Josh Sharlow, Richard Williams and Tom Wopperer all scored in double-digits as the St. Lawrence University men's basketball team put away a gritty Brooklyn College team by the score of 81-69 on Friday night at the Burkman Gymnasium in Canton, NY.
St. Lawrence (21-7) advances to the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament for the second time in two years and will face SUNYIT, who stunned Elms College 85-77, at 7:00pm tomorrow at the Burkman Gymnasium. Brooklyn's season comes to an end with a final mark of 23-6.
The Scarlet and Brown peeled off to a quick start, jumping on the Bridges nearly five minutes into the game. Richard Jean-Baptiste would lead Brooklyn back, though, as his offensive efforts and rebounding prowess allowed the visitors to claw back to within a point at 21-20 after a jumper by Daniel Nisbett. Ahmad Hemingway would follow with a pair of free throws to put the Bridges on top for the first time in the opening half at 22-21 with 7:48 to go before intermission.
Though St. Lawrence was able to grind away two impressive runs to take a pair of seven point advantages, their opponents met every challenge sent their way and answered the call before halftime. Amil John converted a lay-up to pull Brooklyn to within two at 36-34 with 16 seconds left in the first half. The bucket would be the final points in what was a very energetic and entertaining 20 minutes of basketball.
The second half was much of the same back-and-forth action, as the raucous St. Lawrence crowd, donned in red all over the gymnasium, continued to push the Saints in their quest to advance in the NCAA Tournament. After trailing by three early in the second, Sharlow began to take over the game in the backcourt, as he distributed the ball well and helped the Saints break Brooklyn's full court press effectively.
The Saints built a two point lead with 6:00 minutes remaining in regulation, but the turning point in the game was yet to come. After a missed lay-up by Wopperer, Williams showed great hustle by grabbing the offensive board, taking two steps and hamming a thunderous dunk that electrified the crowd and extended St. Lawrence's cushion to four. With the entire crowd on their feet, rookie Garrett Sharlow stole the ball and found Vonnak for two of his 23 points to force a timeout from Brooklyn.
With the momentum clearly on their side, the Saints picked up another steal, this time from Josh Sharlow. He connected with Wopperer, who was left wide open at the three point line and buried a clutch jumper to give the home team a nine-point lead and put a dagger in Brooklyn's hopes of advancing.
The two-minute span proved to be the difference, as St. Lawrence coasted throughout the remaining 3:00 minutes to pick up the 81-69 win over the Bridges.
Vonnak's 23 points led the Scarlet and Brown, while Williams' 15 points and 11 rebounds gave him both a double-double in the game and 1,000 career points. Sharlow finished with 18 points, five rebounds, eight assists and two steals while Wopperer closed with 12 points and four boards.
Jean-Baptiste led all scorers with 24 points for Brooklyn and also contributed six rebounds and four steals while Hemingway (12) and Amil John (10) each scored in double-digits. The Bridges simply could not overcome their second-half struggles from behind the arc (4-of-14) and at the free throw line (3-of-9).
St. Lawrence will look to advance to the "Sweet 16" tomorrow when they take on SUNYIT. The Wildcats showed their resiliency against Elms, who was 26-1 entering Friday night's game. Tip-off, again, is set for 7:00pm.