The Berkeley College men's basketball team has reached the top of the Hudson Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Conference mountain yet again – defeating the Blue Angels of the College of New Rochelle by a score of 92-82 Sunday afternoon in the conference title game. The contest took place at the Blue Angels' Wellness Center on the campus of the College of New Rochelle. With the victory, Berkeley has now won five HVIAC crowns in a row dating back to the 2014-2015 season. The Knights – winners of 14 consecutive games - currently own a mark of 21-4 on the season. Additionally, with today's grueling win – the Knights are headed back to the USCAA Division II National Men's Basketball tournament, with a chance to win the program's fifth straight National title. Following today's tremendous victory, Head Coach Jonathan Pena spoke about his team's resiliency.
"Our team came into this contest today fully aware that we would be facing a hungry team that would be drawing from the energy of its home crowd, and I felt we did a good job of never letting the environment get to us," Pena said. "Even when we fell behind by nine points, the guys never stopped believing in one another. I have to give a ton of credit to the Blue Angels, because they really pushed us to our limits today – and at the same token – I have to congratulate and praise our guys for being able to withstand New Rochelle's stellar effort. We've made the college proud by showing grit, resiliency, and determination – and now we'll shoot towards our final goal of winning another National title. We know the teams at Penn State Fayette will be shooting to try and thwart us. Our job is to be prepared for the challenges that lie ahead. We'll enjoy this Regional crown, and start preparing for Nationals in the coming days."
A very legitimate opponent, the College of New Rochelle served as the conference's biggest threat to Berkeley in the Knights' pursuit of a fifth consecutive Regional crown. Berkeley was up for the challenge, though, overcoming first half adversity and a one-point halftime deficit to battle back and defeat the Blue Angels by 10. New Rochelle finalized its season at 17-10.
Incredibly, Berkeley College rallied from nine or more points down in the HVIAC title game for the fifth year in a row to win. And with that triumph, the Knights now have 11 HVIAC crowns – eight more than the school with the second-most (St. Joseph's College of Brooklyn won three Regional titles when it was in the conference). Berkeley College has also won 11 of the 12 HVIAC championship games that it has appeared in – losing only once in 2008 to the Bears.
Nigel Hemingway was named the Most Valuable Player of the tournament. After scoring 12 points a day earlier against the Panthers of Albany College of Pharmacy in the tournament semifinals, he served as a major spark in today's title game win over the Blue Angels, draining five shots from downtown on his way to finishing with 18 points. He also grabbed five rebounds and recorded a pair of assists in 32 minutes of action.
Senior Shamiek Sheppard connected on seven of his 11 attempts from the floor, and seven of his eight opportunities at the charity stripe to finish with a team-high 21 points. He fell one rebound short of a double-double, grabbing nine boards. He also added two assists, as well. Senior standout Ricardo Ayuso did most of his damage at the free throw line, connecting on eight attempts there to eventually finish with 18 points and a team-high three steals. Finally, it was Dequan Jones putting together a very versatile performance, dropping-in 13 points while snatching six caroms and adding a game-high six assists.
Despite the loss for the College of New Rochelle, HVIAC Player of the Year Hunter Schenkel drained five shots from beyond-the-arc, and nine of his 13 attempts from the charity stripe to finish with a game-high 28 points. The standout also added a game-high seven steals to go along with three rebounds and two assists. Glen O'Loughlin converted on eight of his nine attempts from the floor to finish with 20 points and a team-high seven rebounds, and Elijah Harris and Justin Rivera contributed 12 and 10 points, respectively.
In a game that featured 10 ties and 15 lead changes, the College of New Rochelle once held a 33-24 edge before eventually taking a 48-47 lead into the locker room at halftime. The Knights stormed out of the locker room on an 8-0 run to build their largest lead of the game, 55-48. The College of New Rochelle answered with a 14-3 run to catapult ahead by a score of 62-59, but Berkeley's Dequan Jones nailed a three-point basket to knot the game at 62 apiece with 11:43 remaining in the game.
Over the next 10 minutes, neither squad was able to grab an advantage of more than five points. Later, with the Knights clinging to a 79-78 edge with 2:45 remaining, Nigel Hemingway drained a straight-away three-point basket to put Berkeley ahead 82-78. That started a 7-1 run that put the Knights up by a score of 86-79 with 1:35 remaining on the clock. The Knights would go on to the win the game by 10 points, a result almost identical to the final score of a year ago between the two teams (Berkeley defeated New Rochelle 93-82 in the 2018 title game).
The Knights connected on 45.9 percent of their attempts from the floor (28-61) compared to 35.4 percent for the College of New Rochelle (23-65). Berkeley held a commanding 50-38 edge in the rebounding department. Both teams shot well at the line, with the Knights hitting 30 of their 40 attempts from the charity stripe (75 percent), and the Blue Angels draining 26 of their 37 opportunities (70.3 percent).
Berkeley won the game despite committing 23 turnovers, while New Rochelle protected the basketball for the most part, committing just 18 miscues. The Knights moved the ball brilliantly, recording 16 assists, while the opposition finished with 12.
With the victory, the Knights have received an automatic bid to the 2018-2019 USCAA National Men's Basketball Tournament. Berkeley College will have an opportunity to win its fifth consecutive National crown. The Knights will learn who their opponent/potential opponents will be during Saturday's selection show. For the latest information on Berkeley College's quest for another USCAA championship, keep it posted to berkeleycollegeknights.com and/or theuscaa.com.