STANDISH, ME - #2 Johnson & Wales University (20-8, 14-4 GNAC) defeated top-seeded Saint Joseph's College (20-8, 15-3 GNAC), 76-66, in the 2011 GNAC Men's Basketball Championship at the Harold Alfond Center on Saturday afternoon.
SJC guard Zach O'Brien '12 (Schenectady, NY) drilled a 30-foot buzzer-beater at the half to lift the hosts to a 36-34 lead heading into intermission, but the Wildcats opened the second stanza on a 12-0 run from which the Monks would not recover. St. Joe's committed 17 turnovers and the Wildcats, with only six miscues of their own, outscored the Royal Blue by a 24-5 margin in points off turnovers on the afternoon.
Two JWU players, Lamonte Thomas '12 (Providence, RI) and Louis Ferreras '11 (Providence, RI) combined to score 53 of the Wildcats' 76 points, or 70% of the visitors' offensive output, on the afternoon. Thomas, the 2011 GNAC Player of the Year and leading scorer across all NCAA levels (30.5 PPG), netted 33 points off a 12-15 effort from the field and added seven boards and six assists. Ferreras tallied 20 points and seven caroms.
With the win, Johnson & Wales collects the GNAC automatic qualifier and advances to the NCAA DIII Tournament for the second time in program history. The Wildcats' made their first NCAA appearance during the 2003-04 season and fell to Salem State, 94-80, in the opening round of the national tourney that year.
O'Brien paced the Monks with 15 points and added eight boards and Chris Petzy '12 (Kensington, NH) netted 13 points with four assists and three steals on the afternoon. Nicholas Jobin '14 (Westbrook, ME) added nine points and five rebounds and Matt Medeiros '14 (Westport, ME) chipped in with nine points in a losing effort.
Anthony Savino '11 (Portland, ME/Cheverus) registered seven points, eight caroms, three blocked shots and three assists and Tyler Kelley '11 (Saco, ME) added seven assists and four boards for the Monks.
The first men's hoops class to participate in the GNAC during each of their four seasons, Savino and Kelley helped the Royal Blue post a 74-36 (.673) overall record and a 52-20 (.722) mark in conference play during their career (both team records rank as GNAC bests over the four-year window). With their contributions, the Monks advanced to the GNAC Tournament in each of the past four seasons and captured the conference crown as a second-year member of the league in 2009.
The loss is the Monks' first to a GNAC opponent at the Alfond Center this season. In four years as a GNAC participant, St. Joe's has notched a 35-8 (.814) record against conference opponents at home.
The championship tilt began on a positive note for the Royal Blue as the hosts jumped out to a 9-1 lead over the opening 5:20 of play. The Monks held an advantage for nearly the entire first half, but the Wildcats managed to record a 7-0 run and held a 32-31 edge when Thomas closed out the run with a driving jumper at the 53-second mark.
Jobin made a layup for the Monks and Thomas converted a pair of freebies for the Wildcats to preserve the one-point game before O'Brien brought the near-capacity crowd to its feet with a deep three-pointer at the buzzer.
Saint Joseph's shot 41.4% from the floor, 37.5% from three-point range, and 90% from the FT line in the first half. Johnson & Wales shot 42.9% overall, 22.2% from downtown, and 88.9% from the charity stripe in the first half.
Thomas was 6-6 from the field and 6-7 from the stripe and led all first-half scorers with 18 points. O'Brien paced the Monks with 11 points.
The complexion of the game completely changed in the opening minutes of the second half when the Wildcats scored 12 unanswered points to secure a 46-36 lead with 15:51 remaining.
The Monks cut their deficit to six points – 50-44 – when Kelley drained a three at the 13:16 mark but would inch no closer to the lead, as the Wildcats staved off the Royal Blue by scoring 15 points off turnovers in the second stanza.
JWU led by a game-high 13 points – 66-53 – after Ferreras scored a layup with 5:52 remaining in the contest.
St. Joe's shot 42.6% (23-54) from the field, 35.3% (6-17) from downtown, and 77.8% (14-18) from the line in the loss. Johnson & Wales shot 47.4% (27-57) overall, 21.4% (3-14) from three-point range, and 73.1% (19-26) from the charity stripe on the afternoon.
The Monks held advantages in rebounds (37-30), assists (16-11), and bench points (26-4) in the loss. JWU outscored St. Joe's by a 42-30 margin in the paint.
Thomas garnered GNAC Tournament Most Valuable Player honors after averaging 35.3 points, 11.7 assists and 5.3 rebounds in three tourney tilts. Ferreras and Darren Faust '11 (Queens, NY) also earned All Tournament honors for the Wildcats.
O'Brien and Petzy garnered all-tourney accolades for the Monks. Walden St. Juste of Albertus Magnus and Antonio Davis of Norwich also collected playoff honors.
With the setback, Saint Joseph's falls to 5-4 in the history of the series with Johnson & Wales.
The 2011 Monks shattered the program's record for team three-point percentage (43.2%, 240-556) and set a new mark for threes made (240) this winter. Only three SJC teams have registered a downtown success rate north of 40% in a season (1988, 1999, 2011).
St. Joe's went 5-6 in games in which the team shot less than 40% from downtown and 9-0 when shooting 50% or better this season. The Monks made more than half their three-point bids in tourney wins over Mount Ida and Norwich earlier this week.