The Berkeley College men's basketball team won its 24th consecutive contest on Friday evening, as the Knights defeated Penn State Brandywine (21-7) by a score of 107-85 in the semifinal round of the 2017-2018 USCAA Division II National Men's Basketball Tournament. The game took place in the Main Gymnasium on the campus of Penn State Fayette. With the victory, Berkeley (27-1) advances to the National title game tomorrow evening, as the Knights will take on Villa Maria at 6:00pm with the USCAA championship on the line. Following Berkeley College's victory, Head Coach Jonathan Pena spoke.
"I felt as though our guys came out of the gate with a tremendous amount of fire this evening," Pena said. "We shot the basketball well, and we did a great job of sharing the ball, but there are still some things that we need to correct. Obviously, we want to limit our miscues, and we certainly need to do a better job of converting once we get to the free throw line. Villa Maria is a quality team that is going to be very hungry, so we will need to play our game and match the Vikings' intensity. This is a very confident group that realizes that it still needs to turn in 40 more quality minutes in order for us to raise another championship banner. We'll get a good night's sleep tonight, and get ready for what should be a fantastic game tomorrow."
The Knights' win meant Berkeley will meet Villa Maria for the second time this season – and for the third time in a span of 367 days. Berkeley College picked up a 91-64 win over the Vikings in the quarterfinal round of the 2016-2017 USCAA Division II National Tournament, while also turning back Villa Maria 94-82 back on January 27, 2018. As Berkeley College learned last season – anything can happen in the championship game – and no team can be taken for granted. The Vikings certainly won't be, considering they at one point this season held the top spot in the USCAA Coaches Poll.
In tonight's triumph for the Knights, Ricardo Ayuso figuratively – but not literally – turned the lights out on the Nittany Lions with a fantastic display of shooting efficiency. The junior connected on 10 of his 16 attempts from the floor – including six-of-nine from long range – while also swishing six of his nine attempts from the charity stripe. All of that culminated in Ayuso netting a career-high 32 points. He also added four assists, four rebounds, a pair of steals, and two swatted shots.
Senior Johnnie Green – who scored just seven points in 39 minutes combined in last year's semifinals and championship game – has been a man on a mission in this year's National playoffs. After netting 22 points and snatching 11 caroms in Berkeley's quarterfinal round victory against Vermont Tech yesterday, the Brooklyn, NY native was at it again this evening, as he scored 16 points while pulling down 16 rebounds and recording four assists in tonight's win.
Michael Taylor – the USCAA Division II Men's Basketball Player of the Year – added 11 points on the night, but it was his versatility that was especially impressive. The senior added nine assists on the evening, while also collecting six rebounds and picking up a pair of steals. Taylor – a tremendous offensive talent who has been a class act in his lone season with Berkeley College – is now just one victory away from attaching his name to a National title.
Workman Shamoree Strawn netted 11 points for Berkeley College tonight, while grabbing seven rebounds. Strawn – a 6'4 Senior who is known for his legendary sense of humor that keeps his teammates loose during games – had an uncanny look of determination in his eyes throughout the entirety of the evening. Just one more victory stands between him and his second National title as a member of the Knights.
Darius Ward put forth a nice balanced effort with 10 points, five rebounds, and four assists, and Teyvon Bussey scored 10 points and added four rebounds. Incredibly – Bussey has an opportunity tomorrow evening to make history. Not only will he be playing in his final game across four complete seasons with the Knights tomorrow night, but he would also be the only Berkeley College Knight in history to capture four National championship rings should Berkeley defeat Villa Maria.
Despite the loss for Penn State Brandywine, the Nittany Lions were paced by Isaiah Lester, as he scored a team-high 21 points while drilling five three-pointers. He also added three rebounds and a pair of steals. Terrence Brown posted a double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds, and Ameer Staggs and Donte Winfield scored 14 and 10 points, respectively.
Unlike yesterday's slow start, the Knights were on fire in the early stages of this contest. Berkeley College raced to an early 8-0 advantage just 1:40 into the game. Those eight points came courtesy of a converted layup by Green, a made three-point basket by Ayuso, and a drilled three-point shot by Taylor. After a 7-1 run by Penn State Brandywine cut the Knights' lead to 9-7, Berkeley would use a 15-3 run over the ensuing 3:53 to jump ahead by the score of 24-10. The Knights gradually built their lead up to 33 points, and Berkeley headed into the locker room with a 60-27 advantage.
The Nittany Lions were able to make up some ground, as Penn State Brandywine shaved 10 points off of its deficit to pull to within 23 at 73-50 with 13:48 remaining in the game. Penn State Brandywine continued to push, eventually pulling to within 17 points when James Fisher would connect on a three-point basket to make it 77-60 in favor of Berkeley College with still 11:33 to play. The Knights would never allow the game to get any more contested than that though, as Berkeley would build its lead back up to 27, eventually winning the game by 22.
Berkeley College connected on 50 percent of its attempts from the floor for the evening (38-76) while holding the Nittany Lions to just 34.6 percent shooting (27-78). The Knights drilled 11 of their 26 shots from beyond-the-arc (42.3 percent), while Penn State Brandywine remarkably attempted 35 three-point shots, hitting just seven (20 percent). Berkeley held a modest 56-51 edge in the rebounding department, while also tallying 29 assists to the Nittany Lions' 15. The Knights committed 22 turnovers on the evening, compared to 18 for the opposition.
Those interested in following Berkeley College's 6:00pm National title game against Villa Maria tomorrow will be able to access live stats and live video links by visiting www.berkeleycollegeknights.com and/or www.theuscaa.com