NEW HAVEN, Conn. – Top-seeded Albertus Magnus College (26-1, 18-0 GNAC) defeated #4 Saint Joseph's College (13-14, 10-8 GNAC), 81-51, in a Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) Men's Basketball Tournament Semifinal on Thursday night. Senior guard Steve Simonds (Steep Falls, Maine) scored a game-high 25 points in the season-ending loss.
Albertus Magnus, ranked seventh nationally in the latest D3Hoops.com Poll, opened the game with eight straight points and held a 17-5 advantage after senior forward Lemar Larsen (Waterbury, Conn.) connected on a layup with 13:52 left in the first half. The Monks cut their deficit down to six points (40-34) after Simonds made a pair of free throws with 1:03 before the break, but the Falcons scored six unanswered points to close out the opening frame with a 46-34 cushion.
The Falcons picked up where they left off in the second stanza, as the hosts opened the latter half with a 23-3 run to effectively put the game out or reach. Senior guard Tavon Sledge (Spring Valley, N.Y.) drained a three-pointer to close out the outburst and lift the Falcons to a 69-37 cushion with 9:46 left in the game.
Albertus Magnus, which has won three-consecutive conference titles and four in the last five seasons, will attempt to make it four-straight titles when the team hosts #2 Johnson & Wales University (22-5, 15-3 GNAC) in the 2015 GNAC Championship at 1:00 PM on Saturday. Johnson & Wales defeated #6 Emmanuel College, 77-43, in the other semifinal, which was played tonight in Providence.
For the Monks, Simonds added eight rebounds and two assists, senior forward Zach Blodgett (Glenburn, Maine) added eight points and five boards, freshman forward Quinn Richardson-Newton (Saco, Maine) contributed five points and four caroms, and junior guard Jerome Diggs (Washington, D.C.) tallied four points, eight rebounds and four assists in the loss.
For the Falcons, Sledge netted 21 points with six assists and was 8-8 from the free throw line, senior Victor Ljuljdjuraj (Yorktown Heights, N.Y.) registered 17 points, 12 rebounds, six blocked shots and four steals, and senior guard Eian Davis (Brooklyn, N.Y.) added 14 points, five assists and a pair of steals in the victory.
Ljuljdjuraj became the 14th Albertus player to reach the 1,000-point milestone when he connected on a free throw with 2:32 remaining – a feat that is quite impressive considering he reached the plateau in just two seasons with the Falcons.
The Falcons held advantages in multiple statistical categories, but none more so than at the foul line, as the hosts made 27 of 36 attempts from the charity stripe in the victory. Conversely, the Monks went to the line just six times, converting four attempts, in the losing effort.
Saint Joseph's, which entered the game as the GNAC-leader in fewest fouls per game (15.2), was slapped with 29 infractions, the team's highest foul total since December 4th, 2004 when the Monks were called for 31 fouls in a loss at Thomas College. The Falcons were whistled for 15 fouls on the evening.
The Monks' single-game fouls record is 38, a tally St. Joe's posted against Southern Maine on January 19th, 1980.
Albertus is now 11-8 all-time against the Monks and are 2-1 when playing Saint Joseph's in GNAC Tournament play. The win also extends the Falcons' home court winning streak to 56 games, the longest active home court winning streak in NCAA men's basketball (all levels).
The loss signals the end of collegiate basketball for the Monks' three seniors: Simonds, Blodgett and Jordan Tripp (Queens, N.Y.). The 2015 graduating class helped Saint Joseph's post a 66-43 (.606) overall record, including a 49-23 (.681) mark in GNAC play, during their career. With this group on the court, the Monks advanced to the conference semifinals all four years and made an appearance in the GNAC Championship contest last winter.
Saint Joseph's College is Maine's only Catholic liberal arts college, providing a supportive, personalized and career-focused education for more than 100 years. From its 430-acre campus on the shores of Sebago Lake, the College offers more than 40 undergraduate programs to a population of approximately 1,000 students. Saint Joseph's College Online provides certificates, undergraduate and advanced degrees for working adults through an online learning program. For more, visit www.sjcme.edu.