The Berkeley College men's basketball team cemented its place in Hudson Valley Intercollegiate Athletic Conference history on Sunday afternoon, as the Knights won their third consecutive regional championship by defeating the No. 2 seeded Blue Angels of the College of New Rochelle by a score of 98-75. The game took place at the Wellness Center on the campus of the College of New Rochelle. With the victory, Berkeley College won its 50th consecutive contest as a program, and improved its record on the 2016-2017 campaign to an unblemished 26-0. New Rochelle finalized its season at 14-13.
"This team came out today and showed once again how resilient and unflappable it was in a very difficult environment," Head Coach Chris Christiansen said. "The College of New Rochelle had a plethora of their fans behind them, and the Blue Angels fed off of that emotion from the crowd. We got behind by 11 points early, but we never let that deficit rattle us. I am very proud of how we not only battled back, but we played as a team, with everybody contributing to our third consecutive regional crown. As for the 50 consecutive victories, it takes a lot of hard work, sacrifice, and togetherness to be able to accomplish a feat like that, but our student-athletes play with the mindset that winning isn't everything – it's the only thing. We will now turn our focus to Nationals, and we'll give it absolutely everything we have in order to win another USCAA championship."
New Rochelle came out with a tremendous amount of energy and passion in this one, racing out to an early 23-12 lead, and leading 27-17 with 8:45 remaining in the opening session. That is when the Knights began to make their run. Ricardo Ayuso split a pair of free throws, and Mandrell Jefferies would drop-in a layup to bring the Knights to within seven points at 27-20. Berkeley continued to chip away, as Reynaldo Eloy added a pair of freebees, and Paul Johnson banked-in a layup to cut the Knights' deficit to three points at 27-24. New Rochelle's Glen O'Loughlin would convert on a layup on the Blue Angels' next possession to put his team back ahead by five points. Later – with the Blue Angels leading 34-30, Berkeley College would close the period strong, outscoring New Rochelle 15-5 over the final 3:40 of the session to take a 45-39 advantage into the locker room at halftime.
Berkeley College would come out strong in the second half, taking a double-digit lead, but the Blue Angels refused to quit. An 8-0 New Rochelle run pulled the Blue Angels to within two points at 60-58 with 12 minutes remaining in the game, but that is the closest the Knights would let things get. Berkeley put forth a ferocious 13-0 run over a three-minute span to catapult to a 16-point edge at 81-65, in essence creating an insurmountable deficit for New Rochelle. The Knights would go on to win the game by 23 points.
Standout Johnnie Green would be named the tournament's Most Valuable Player by Head Coach Chris Christiansen and his staff, as the Brooklyn, NY product scored 18 points while snatching 12 rebounds. On Saturday in the Knights' convincing win over the Mighty Oaks of SUNY-ESF, the senior netted 14 points while grabbing 12 boards. Massiah Merritt dropped-in 22 points (including 19 in the second stanza) while also collecting six rebounds, tallying three assists and adding two steals, and Paul Johnson would perform strongly off of the bench, as he knocked down five of six attempts from the charity stripe before finalizing his afternoon with 17 points.
Despite the loss for the College of New Rochelle, the Blue Angels were paced by O'Loughlin, as he scored 22 points while hitting on 10 of his 12 attempts from the floor. He also collected six rebounds and swatted two shots. Hunter Schenkel drained five three-point baskets to finish with 20 points a team-high eight rebounds, as well.
After a slow start shooting the basketball, the Knights' offense picked it up, as Berkeley ended the game with a 42.5 percent conversion rate from the floor (31-73), while New Rochelle was just a cut below in that category, shooting 40.3 percent (25-62). The Knights dominated the glass, out-rebounding the Blue Angels by a count of 53-35, and Berkeley won the turnover battle by a slim margin, committing 14 miscues while forcing 16 opposition mistakes.
With the victory, the Knights have received an automatic bid to the 2016 USCAA National Men's Basketball Tournament. Berkeley College will have an opportunity to win their third consecutive National crown. The Knights will learn who their opponent/potential opponents will be during Tuesday'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.