STANDISH, ME – Junior guard Zach O'Brien (Schenectady, NY) paced all participants with 25 points and nine rebounds in an 80-77 Saint Joseph's (13-5, 10-1 GNAC) victory over reigning GNAC Champion Albertus Magnus College (9-9, 7-4 GNAC) at the Alfond on Saturday afternoon.
The Monks held a lead for the entire contest, but the Falcons mounted a fervent comeback effort partway through the second stanza. Trailing by 20, 54-34, with 12:50 remaining, Albertus persistently whittled away at the deficit and trailed by just one point, 72-71, with 3:36 on the clock.
But Saint Joseph's effectively held off the Falcons with the help of six unanswered points – four from senior forward Anthony Savino (Portland, ME/Cheverus) - over the next two minutes and collected a key conference victory, one that is likely to have favorable playoff implications down the road for the Monks.
For the Royal Blue, Tyler Kelley '11 (Saco, ME) scored 16 points and grabbed five rebounds, Chris Petzy '12 (Kensington, NH) went 6-6 from the stripe and netted 14, and Julio Vazquez '13 (Waterbury, CT) chipped in with nine points, six rebounds and three steals in the triumph.
For the Falcons, Walden St. Juste '11 (Hartford, CT) scored 21 points with five rebounds, Ray Askew '12 (Hamden, CT) tallied 19 points and seven boards, and Byron Reaves '12 (Hamden, CT) added 14 points. Jefferson Lora '13 (Wallingford, CT) contributed eight points and five caroms in a losing effort.
St. Joe's played well out of the gate and led by nine, 14-5, after Nicholas Jobin '14 (Westbrook, ME) dropped in a layup at the 12:44 mark. Kelley upped the ante with a trifecta to put his team up by 12, 21-9, four minutes later.
The Monks led 23-14 when Vazquez made a layup at the 7:03 mark, but the visitors netted five unanswered points as a bucket by Askew made it a four-point contest with 5:23 left in the first half.
Saint Joseph's responded with a pair of downtown conversions to regain a double-digit cushion. O'Brien launched a trifecta at the 4:10 mark and Matthew Medeiros '14 (Westport, ME) drilled another 27 seconds later to lift the Monks to a 31-21 advantage.
St. Joe's, which led 36-28 heading into intermission, shot 41.7% from the floor, 35.3% from downtown, and did not get to the FT line in the first half. Albertus shot 44.7% overall, 22.2% from beyond the arc, and 50% from the charity stripe in the first period.
Petzy led all first-half scorers with eight points, while Reaves and Askew both tallied six to pace the visitors.
The Monks kicked off the second half on fire once again, as the hosts mounted a daunting 14-2 run to start the stanza and led by a game-high 20 points – 50-30 – after O'Brien converted a traditional three-point play at the 13:57 mark.
Reaves and Kelley swapped baskets just eight seconds apart as the Monks held on to the 20-point cushion with 12:50 left, but the Falcons went on to score eight straight points to cut the SJC advantage to 12 – 54-42 – with 10:21 on the clock.
Trailing 64-53 after O'Brien drained a pair of freebies at the 7:51 mark, the Falcons assembled a 20-8 run that cut the Monks' cushion down to just one point when Alex Muniz '12 (Bridgeport, CT) grabbed a loose ball and finished the play with a fast break layup to cap the surge.
Saint Joseph's proceeded to secure the win with six unanswered points and hard work on the defensive glass. On three consecutive possessions, the Falcons launched shots but were unable to collect the rebound as Savino, Vazquez and O'Brien deftly collected the caroms to help keep the visitors' offense at bay.
Petzy hit a couple of free throws to lift the Monks to a 80-71 lead with 24 seconds left, but the Falcons refused to give up as St. Juste made three layups in the closing seconds to make it a three-point game with 1.5 seconds left. Fortunately, Saint Joseph's was able to in-bounds the ball cleanly and time expired without a foul or turnover.
Saint Joseph's shot 43.8% (28-64) from the field, 34.8% (8-23) from three-point range, and 69.6% (16-23) from the FT line, while Albertus shot 41.8% (33-79) overall, 23.8% (5-21) from beyond the arc, and 60% (6-10) from the charity stripe.
Despite a measurable size disadvantage – six AMC players stand 6'5 or taller, the Monks out-rebounded the Falcons by a 50-35 margin and collected 17 offensive caroms en route to victory. The rebounds and offensive caroms totals both rank as season-highs and St. Joe's hasn't reached the 50 mark in boards since tallying the same amount against USM on November 29th, 2009.
With the win, Saint Joseph's improves to 7-2 in the history of the series with Albertus Magnus. The Monks have topped the Falcons in both meetings this season after dropping both games to AMC last winter.
Saint Joseph's will host Emmanuel College at 7:30 PM on Monday night, while Albertus is set to play at Norwich on Tuesday at 7:00 PM.
Postgame interview with Zach O'Brien: