The Berkeley College men's basketball team showed resiliency and grit on Tuesday evening, battling back from a late six-point deficit to defeat the feisty Patriots of the University of Valley Forge by a score of 64-60 in a contest played in Phoenixville, PA. With the victory, the Knights made school history by becoming the first team in any program to finalize a regular season unblemished, as the Knights capped their regular season portion of the schedule at 24-0. The program winning streak now sits at 48 games. Valley Forge University – a formidable foe for the Knights earlier this evening – dropped to 15-7 with the defeat.
Berkeley College raced out to a quick 7-0 advantage thanks to a pair of baskets by Dondre Simmons and a three-point conversion by Massiah Merritt. The Knights later led 16-9, but an 11-0 Patriots run over a span of 3:59 put the University of Valley Forge ahead by a score of 20-16. The Patriots led 22-19 with 7:14 remaining in the opening session before Berkeley used a 10-0 run (highlighted by a pair of free throws by Stephon Jennings, a basket by Merritt, a shot from downtown by Simmons, and consecutive buckets by Johnnie Green and Jeffrey Mejia). The Knights led 30-22 at that point, and eventually took a 38-31 lead into the locker room at halftime.
In the second half, the Patriots stormed back and put a scare into Berkeley College. The Knights were clinging to a 44-40 edge with 13:53 remaining in the contest when the University of Valley Forge would make a push. Tony Hazzard connected on a jumper to pull his team to within two points, and 29 seconds later, a converted three-point attempt by Devin Williams gave the Patriots a 45-44 lead. Another basket by Hazzard – compiled with another three-point conversion by Williams – gave the University of Valley Forge a 50-44 lead with 9:59 remaining. Suddenly, it appeared as though the Knights' streak might be in jeopardy of coming to an end.
Remarkably, the Knights' defense would turn up the voltage and allow just two Patriot field goals the rest of the way while outscoring the University of Valley Forge 20-10 for the remainder of the game. Berkeley would take the lead for good with 6:15 to go in the contest when Merritt would drop-in a layup to make it 53-52 in favor of the Knights. Berkeley would never relinquish that aforementioned lead.
Leading the way for Berkeley was Merritt, as he connected on eight of his 19 attempts from the floor to finish with a game-high 26 points as well as five steals and five rebounds. He also converted on seven of his eight attempts from the charity stripe. Jennings and Simmons finished with eight apiece for the Knights, as well.
Despite the loss for the University of Valley Forge, Alex Sanchez led his team in scoring despite struggling with his shot all evening, as he scored 15 points (4-of-14 from the floor) to go along with four rebounds and two blocks. Austin Lobo added 11 points, six rebounds, three steals, and two assists, and Jalen Archer and Devin Williams finalized their evenings with nine and eight points, respectively.
Valley Forge won the battle on the glass, out-rebounding the Knights by a count of 38-30, but It was Berkeley College winning the turnover battle, committing just 16 miscues while forcing 25. The Knights had a whopping 17 steals on the evening compared to 10 for the Patriots, and the shooting percentages were nearly even, with the Knights connecting on 38.3 percent of their attempts from the floor (23-60) compared to a 39.7 conversion rate for the University of Valley Forge (23-58).
The Knights will now have three days off before beginning play in the Hudson Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament. Berkeley College will be shooting for its third consecutive regional crown, as the No. 1 seeded Knights will take on the No. 4 seeded Mighty Oaks of SUNY-ESF. The semifinal round contest will take place this Saturday at 1:00pm at the Wellness Center on the campus of the College of New Rochelle. Should Berkeley win, the Knights would advance to Sunday's 1:00pm championship game against either the College of New Rochelle, or Vaughn College.