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Knights use strong second half push to defeat Villa Maria 91-64 in quarterfinals of 2016-2017 USCAA Division II Men's Basketball Tournament; Penn State Greater Allegheny up next

Knights use strong second half push to defeat Villa Maria 91-64 in quarterfinals of 2016-2017 USCAA Division II Men's Basketball Tournament; Penn State Greater Allegheny up next

The Berkeley College men's basketball team advanced to the semifinal round of the 2016-2017 USCAA Division II National Men's Basketball Tournament on Thursday evening, as the Knights defeated the Vikings of Villa Maria by a score of 91-64 in the quarterfinal round. The game took place in the Maltho Gymnasium on the campus of Penn State Fayette. The victory for Berkeley improved the Knights to 27-0 on the season, and the program winning streak is now at 51 contests in a row. Villa Maria dipped to 17-14 with the loss.

"We showed exceptional determination this evening, and you could certainly see it in the eyes of our student-athletes," Head Coach Chris Christiansen said following his team's win. "Even when we were behind in the early stages of the second half, we kept our focus and battled through that adversity. That is the sign of a successful team, and I'm very gratified that we've taken the first of three steps in accomplishing our ultimate goal of leaving this city with another National crown."

Second Team All-American Stephon Jennings paced the Knights with a dominant performance, as he posted game-highs in points with 25 (he connected on 10 of his 15 attempts from the floor while also draining five of his six shots from the charity stripe), rebounds with 13, assists with seven, and blocks with four. Additionally – with his dunk in the closing minutes of the game – the senior reached the 1,000-point plateau for his Berkeley College career.

In addition to Jennings' big evening, Massiah Merritt overcame early foul trouble to put forth a strong night, as he scored 15 points while tallying four steals and adding a pair of assists. Ricardo Ayuso drained eight of his 16 attempts from the floor to finish the contest with 16 points, five rebounds, and four steals, and Johnnie Green and Dondre Simmons scored 13 and 10 points, respectively.

Villa Maria – still amped-up from defeating Andrews University in the play-in round a day earlier – played with a tremendous amount of passion and gave the Knights fits for the first 28 minutes of action. The Vikings led 18-15 with 9:45 remaining in the opening session, and though Berkeley College would come back to grab a six-point edge, Villa Maria would cut the Knights' lead to just two – 36-34 – as the teams entered the locker room at halftime.

In the opening 7:38 of the second session, the teams would exchange the lead seven times, with Villa Maria holding a 52-51 advantage with 12:22 remaining in the game. That is when Berkeley College would begin to put the game away. After the Vikings called a 30-second timeout with 12:04 left, they would turn the ball over on that possession, as Emmanuel Osama would record a steal before driving coast-to-coast for an easy lay-in. Villa Maria would turn the ball over on their next two possessions as well – with Ricardo Ayuso and Massiah Merritt turning those opposition miscues into converted layups. At that point – the Knights led 57-52 with 11:27 remaining.

Berkeley College would continue to build its lead gradually from there, as the Knights' stifling defense would allow just two more field goals the rest of the way. Berkeley – once down 52-51 – would out-score Villa Maria 40-12 to close out the quarterfinal round victory.

The Knights held sizable margins in most statistical categories. Berkeley College converted on 54.9 percent of its attempts from the hardwood (39-71) compared to a 42.6 percent conversion rate for the Vikings (23-54). The Knights out-rebounded Villa Maria 47-30, and Berkeley recorded 19 assists compared to seven for its opponents. The Knights won the turnover battle by a slim margin, committing 21 miscues while forcing 24 Viking mistakes. Berkeley doubled-up Villa Maria in bench scoring, with the Knights easily winning that category, 26-13.

Despite the loss for the Vikings, DeJaun Owens converted on six of his seven attempts from the free throw line to finish with a team-high 15 points to go along with three blocks and a pair of rebounds. Three other players scored in double figures for Villa Maria, including Gerald Bibbs who scored 12 (to go along with seven rebounds and four steals), Dominic Douglas (11 points, five boards), and Eric Waters (11 points, three caroms).

Berkeley College will look to inch closer to another National title on Friday evening, as the Knights will take on No. 4 seeded Penn State Greater Allegheny in the semifinal round. The game will take place in the Main Gymnasium on the campus of Penn State Fayette. Start-time for that contest is scheduled for 5:00pm.