Shortly before 4:00pm on Sunday afternoon, the Berkeley College men's basketball team learned that its opponent for the quarterfinal round of the 2018-2019 USCAA Division II Men's Basketball team would not be long-time National-rival Central Penn, but instead, it would be Penn State York.
Ironically, the Knights' clash with the Nittany Lions will take place exactly two years after perhaps the most dramatic victory in the history of the men's basketball program. That aforementioned win, of course, was the Knights' 80-76 overtime triumph over Penn State York that capped off Berkeley's perfect 29-0 campaign and gave the Knights their third consecutive National crown.
"That victory still brings back plenty of memories for me, but the one thing that I remember very clearly is the swing of emotions in my mind during that championship game," Head Coach Jonathan Pena said. "I remember we were up by 12 in the second half, and then down by three, and eventually down two in the final seconds when Massiah hit that clutch game-tying basket. Then of course we earned two fortunate breaks in a row with two opposing free throw misses, and then once the game went to overtime, our team reset mentally and seized control of the game. It was a series of events, and a result, that I feel will always be remembered by the coaches, student-athletes, administrators, and the fans who were a part of it."
In that 2016-2017 USCAA Division II National title game, Berkeley College was down 69-67 with 12 seconds to go, needing a basket to save its season. Penn State York, though, played smart basketball, committing two "fouls-to-give" over the next eight seconds to bring the clock down to four seconds. On the ensuing inbounds play, Massiah Merritt caught the basketball and took a falling-away jumper from 20 feet away, draining it with 0.9 seconds to go. That evened the contest at 69-apiece, giving the Knights new life.
The series of events that transpired inside the final 0.9 seconds were too bizarre to believe. Berkeley's Stephon Jennings was whistled for a foul on Penn State York's inbound pass. That meant a one-and-one opportunity at the free throw line for Lucas Jewell. He would step to the line with a chance to give the Nittany Lions the lead – and perhaps the victory. He missed the free throw, though, and as the Knights' Ayuso and Jewell would jump for the rebound, Ayuso would be whistled for a foul for contacting Jewell. That meant another one-and-one opportunity for Jewell with 0.3 seconds remaining. The Knights felt helpless – and could only watch. Jewell, with destiny in his own hands, would misfire again – sending the game to an extra session as Berkeley College's bench and fans erupted.
Once the game went to an extra session, Berkeley College would not be denied, as the Knights raced out to a 75-70 lead just 1:17 into the overtime period. The Nittany Lions continued to battle, though, as Penn State York cut its deficit to two points – 78-76 – with 1:17 to go. Merritt and Ayuso would add a free throw apiece – and the Knights would not allow another field goal in the final 77 seconds – as Berkeley capped its perfect season in dramatic fashion, winning the game by four in overtime.
There will be different motivations for both squads on Monday evening. Though not meeting on the championship stage, there is still plenty on the line for both teams. Berkeley will be aiming for its fifth consecutive appearance in the National semifinals, and Penn State York will be looking for redemption for that crushing loss of two seasons ago. The Nittany Lions are also hoping to start what could be a Cinderella run to the championship game should they defeat the Knights tomorrow night.
Although many will refer to this upcoming game as "the rematch", plenty has changed since the Knights cut down the nets back on March 4, 2017. That victory served as Chris Christiansen's final game as Head Coach before transitioning to the title of Head Coach Emeritus. Then-Assistant Coach Jonathan Pena would take over as the Head Coach following that contest. Jeffrey Mejia and Dondre Simmons, who were both players in that classic showdown, are now Assistant Coaches. The only Berkeley College player who remains from that game is none other than the 2018-2019 USCAA Division II Men's Basketball Player of the Year, Ricardo Ayuso. Ayuso scored 11 points and added two steals in 25 minutes of action that evening.
As for Penn State York, similarly to Berkeley, nearly the entire roster is different. The only Nittany Lion remaining from that contest is Joey O'Dwyer. O'Dwyer was only a freshman that season, and in the championship game he played just four minutes, committing a foul. This season, he has played in 28 games for his team, averaging 6.5 points per contest. Parrish Petry still serves as the Head Coach. He has paced Penn State York 21 victories, including a 57-56 overtime triumph over Penn State Wilkes Barre in the PSUAC title game, and a 58-57 triumph over Central Penn in the USCAA Division II Tournament play-in contest.
All of this will culminate in what should be an interesting game Monday night. The Knights will come into the contest averaging 93 points per contest, compared to just 77 for Penn State York. The Nittany Lions, however, take care of the basketball very well, committing just 13 miscues per evening. On the flip side, Berkeley has turned the ball over 19 times per evening. Both teams move the ball particularly well also, with Berkeley averaging 17.1 assists per night compared to a solid 15.8 for Penn State York.
Those interested in following live stats/video for this big game could do so by clicking the links below:
Live Video – Link will be posted on BerkeleyCollegeKnights.com prior to tip-off