The Berkeley College men's basketball team (1-0) began its quest for a fourth consecutive USCAA Division II National title on Friday evening, as the Knights opened their season against the Cardinals of Stratford University (0-1). After a rocky first half, Berkeley battled back to defeat the Cardinals by a score of 92-81. The game took place at the Wellness Center on the campus of the College of New Rochelle.
The Knights' comeback extended Berkeley College's incredible program winning streak to 54 games, and gave Head Coach Jonathan Pena a victory in his coaching debut. Berkeley College boasts 12 newcomers this season, and only four returning players from last season's 29-0 juggernaut – but the script remained the same, at least for another night. Following the victory, Pena spoke.
"I was very proud of our student-athletes' ability to overcome adversity here this evening," Pena said. "We were down 13 points in the first half, and fell behind by 14 early in the second stanza, but we believed in one another, and we used that confidence to complete a comeback. This is – for the most part – a very different group of players from last season, but we preach the same message always. And that message is for the players to give 110 percent every time they step on the court, play unselfishly, and believe in a team-first concept. We have some work to do – but the fact that we were able to stave off a defeat against a team that gave us everything they had speaks volume about our character."
Stratford University led the contest 40-27 with just 2:34 remaining in the opening session, but the Knights finished the half on a 10-5 run to close to within eight points at 45-37.
The Cardinals would open up the second period on a 6-0 run, thanks to a tip-in by Chris Roscoe, a drained jumper by Deandre Demiel, and another bucket by Roscoe. That catapulted Stratford University to a 51-37 lead - an edge that was the Cardinals' largest of the game up to that point.
Berkeley College would then turn up the intensity, going on an impressive 21-7 run over the ensuing 5:26 to tie the game at 58 apiece. The Knights were sparked by newcomer Nigel Hemingway during that run, as the sophomore out of Brooklyn, NY scored 11 points (including two three-point baskets) during that spurt.
Stratford University would answer, though, putting together eight consecutive points to jump back ahead by the score of 66-58. The eight points during that run came courtesy of a Jamonte Ricks jumper, a pair of freebees by Jordan Santos, two converted free throws by Earl Fuller, and a made layup by Jaquan Bagwell. Later – with the Cardinals leading 69-61 – Berkeley College went on an 9-0 run over a span of 1:16 to take a 70-69 lead. The run began with a Thaddeus Hall made jumper. Hall would later swish two free throws, and standout Johnnie Green would made a basket and convert on three shots from the charity stripe to complete the run.
Later – with the game tied at 71 apiece, Berkeley College would take the lead for good on a Michael Taylor layup with 6:55 remaining in the game. The game remained closely contested, as the Knights' lead was just four – 85-81 – with 44 seconds remaining. Berkeley would outscore the Cardinals 7-0 during the waning seconds of the contest, eventually going on to win by 11.
Leading the way in the victory for Berkeley College was Hemingway, as he connected on five shots from beyond the arc to finish with a game-high 19 points. He also finished with game-highs of nine assists and four steals. Green added 18 points while converting on eight of his 10 attempts from the charity stripe. He also led all players with 10 rebounds. Taylor completed his evening with 17 points, and Ricardo Ayuso contributed 13 points while hitting on all six of his attempts from the charity stripe.
Despite the loss for the Cardinals, Stratford University was paced by Demiel, as he scored a team-best 18 points to go along with two rebounds. Fuller added 13 points and a team-high nine caroms, and Cam Alston contributed 15 points, five rebounds, three assists, and a team-high three steals of the bench.
The teams were nearly deadlocked as it pertains to shooting percentage, with the Cardinals connecting on 41 percent of their attempts from the floor (25-61) compared to 40.9 percent for Berkeley College (27-66). Stratford University out-rebounded the Knights 45-36, and Berkeley tallied 18 assists compared to 12 for the Cardinals. The Knights won the turnover battle, committing 24 miscues compared to 27 for the opposition.
Berkeley College will look to make it two consecutive victories to open up the 2017-2018 season when the Knights travel to Hyde Park, NY to battle Culinary Institute of America in a Hudson Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Conference contest on Sunday, November 12. That game is scheduled for a 1:00pm tip-off.