The Berkeley College men's basketball team (28-1) put an exclamation point on another National championship season on Saturday evening, as the Knights defeated the Vikings of Villa Maria by a score of 93-77 in the USCAA Division II Men's Basketball title game. The contest took place at the Main Gymnasium on the campus of Penn State Fayette. With the victory, Berkeley College won its 25th consecutive game – but most importantly – captured its fourth consecutive National crown. Villa Maria's magical season finalized at 26-6 after Berkeley snapped the Vikings' previous seven game winning streak. Following the Knights' win, Head Coach Jonathan Pena gave his thoughts.
"This has been an incredible journey for everyone involved with this program, and seeing it all culminate with another National title is truly gratifying," Pena said. "Accomplishing something like this requires a team effort – everyone from the student-athletes and the coaches, to the administrators, and even our fans. The support we've had all year has been incredible. The student-athletes on this team truly made it their duty to accomplish every goal that was set out for them from our first team meeting all the way through tonight. Of the 14 players who won championships this evening, four were returning players from the previous season, and 10 were newcomers, so we knew there was a chance that it was going to take time for this team to gel. And for them to come out this season and win 28 out of 29 games, it truly is a testament to not only how much this team loved winning, but how it equally hated the thought of losing. I am so incredibly proud of these guys and indescribably happy for them. They should savor and cherish every moment, because they deserve to. "
Pena – who must feel like he's living a dream after winning both Regional and National titles in his first season as Head Coach – has always been a basketball workhorse who many felt was destined for greatness in the coaching ranks. Following a three-year playing career at Berkeley College, he became the institution's top assistant coach, and held that position for seven seasons. During the 2015-2016 and 2016-2017 campaigns, he served as the Associate Head Coach, before being named the Head Coach prior to this season. All he did was nearly lead the Knights to a second consecutive undefeated season, as Berkeley dropped just one game all year while winning both their fourth consecutive Regional and National titles.
For Berkeley College, the Knights have now won four consecutive USCAA crowns, and have won a mind-boggling 13 consecutive National tournament games. What's more? The Knights' average margin of victory in their last nine USCAA tournament contests is 16.8 points. And amazingly, Berkeley College now boasts two winning streaks of 25 games or more over the last 28 months, and the team has won an incredible 81 of its last 82 contests.
As for the build-up for this evening's game, the teams had met in last season's USCAA Division II Men's Basketball Tournament quarterfinals, while also locking horns back on January 27, 2018. Berkeley had won both games by scores of 91-64 and 94-82, respectively. In this year's tournament, the two teams had taken drastically different paths through the tournament to reach the title game, with the Knights recording blowout victories over Vermont Tech (73-58) and Penn State Brandywine (107-85) to reach the final. Villa Maria on the other hand had to grind it out in both the quarterfinals and the semifinals. The Vikings outlasted Penn State Greater Allegheny 106-101 in triple overtime in the quarters, before turning around a day later and outlasting Cinderella-hopeful Warren Wilson 105-99 in a classic semifinal clash. That aforementioned series of results set up a much-anticipated game between Berkeley and Villa Maria with the championship on the line.
In tonight's victory for Berkeley, USCAA Division II Men's Basketball Player of the Year Michael Taylor was absolutely masterful for the Knights following another slow start out of the gate. After connecting on just one of his first 11 attempts from the floor, the Brooklyn, NY native drilled nine of his final 14 attempts on the night to tie for the game-high in points with 24. He also posted game-highs of nine rebounds and eight assists, as well.
Veteran Johnnie Green – playing in his final game as a member of the Knights – exemplified the toughness and grit that Berkeley College fans have always loved him for, as he tied for the game-high with 24 points. He also swatted a game-high four shots, snatched six rebounds, tallied three assists, and added two steals.
Ricardo Ayuso followed-up the game of his life by putting forth another solid performance, as he contributed 15 points on the evening while pulling down four rebounds, dishing three assists, swatting three shots, and collecting two steals. It is anticipated that he will return once again for the 2018-2019 season to chase another National crown.
Shamoree Strawn logged 27 minutes in his final contest as a Knight, and he played a very strong game, netting 10 points while snatching eight rebounds and adding two assists. Demetri Stewart riled up the crowd with his display of toughness and tenacity, as he played 20 minutes and scored seven points, grabbed five rebounds, dished an assist, and added a steal. Teyvon Bussey – who did not score but did grab eight defensive rebounds in 10 minutes of action – made Berkeley College history by capturing his fourth USCAA championship ring. No other player that has ever passed through the program has won more than three.
Despite the loss for Villa Maria, the Vikings did boast four players that scored in double figures, including DeJaun Owens, as he connected on eight of his 17 shots from the floor to finish with 18 points. He also contributed four rebounds, as well. Dominic Douglas netted 16 points while snatching three caroms, and Lonnie Taylor and Jay Scarbrough scored 13 points apiece.
Other than the Knights falling behind 12-6 in the opening 4:55 of play, it never truly felt as though Berkeley College was in any real danger in this one, despite the game being very tightly contested for about 24 total game minutes. Trailing 12-6, the Knights put together a 7-0 run that featured a pair of free throws by Ayuso, consecutive converted layups by Green, and a drilled freebee by Taylor. Those seven consecutive points were scored in a span of 2:08 to give Berkeley a 13-12 advantage. The lead would change four more times, with the fourth instance being the final instance. The Knights took the lead for good thanks to a made three-point basket by Taylor. At that juncture, Berkeley led 24-21, and would never trail again. The Knights went up by as many as seven in the opening stanza, but Villa Maria would continue to battle, cutting its deficit to one point on two different occasions before Berkeley took a 40-38 lead into the locker room at halftime.
The Knights came out with an incredible amount of energy to start the second half, as Berkeley College used a 10-4 run over a span of 2:37 to catapult ahead by the score of 50-42. After that, the Vikings would never get any closer than four points down (63-59), as the Knights did a great job of keeping Villa Maria at bay and not allowing any sustained runs. Berkeley later led 76-62, and had that 14-point edge cut to nine at 77-68, but the Knights would close the game by outscoring the opposition 16-9 over the final 6:09 to slam the door on another National championship season.
The Knights were cooking on the offensive end all evening, converting on 48.7 percent of their attempts from the floor (38-78). Villa Maria shot the ball well, too, hitting 43.1 percent of its tries (28-65). Berkeley held a 49-42 edge on the glass, while also committing just 12 turnovers compared to 18 for the Vikings. The Knights dominated in the paint, netting 60 points there compared to 32 for Villa Maria. Berkeley recorded 20 assists to the Vikings' 15, and neither team shot well from the charity stripe, with the Knights misfiring on 13 freebees (11-24, 45.8 percent) compared to 12 (17-29, 58.6 percent) for Villa Maria.
The Knights will enjoy this dominating title game victory tonight and into the offseason, and will look to make a run at a fifth consecutive USCAA Division II National championship when the 2018-2019 season tips off in mid November!