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 93-82 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 four HVIAC crowns in a row dating back to the 2014-2015 season. The Knights – winners of 22 consecutive games - currently own a mark of 25-1 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 fourth 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 it would be drawing from 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 10 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 best shot. 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 ready for 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."
The College of New Rochelle – clearly Berkeley's biggest threat to another Regional crown – played a very aggressive game, but ultimately was outlasted by a Knights team that simply refused to be defeated. With the loss, the Blue Angels slipped to 18-9 on the season.
Incredibly, Berkeley College rallied from 10 or more points down in the HVIAC title game for the fourth year in a row to win. And with that victory, the Knights now have 10 HVIAC crowns – seven 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 10 of the 11 HVIAC championship games that it has appeared in – losing only once in 2008 to the Bears.
The Knights were led by the stellar shooting of senior standout Michael Taylor, as he drilled four of his nine shots from downtown to finish with a game-high 31 points. He also swished seven of his eight attempts from the charity stripe while grabbing eight rebounds, dishing six assists, tallying two assists, and swatting two shots. Following the game, he was named the Most Valuable Player of the tournament. Johnnie Green posted a double-double with 22 points and a game-high 11 rebounds, and Shamoree Strawn logged a strong 16 minutes with 10 points and four rebounds.
Despite the loss for the Blue Angels, Anthony Sylvester Jr. scored a team-high 24 points while connecting on nine of his 21 attempts from the floor. He also snatched eight rebounds and added a team-high four steals. Kobe Telford converted on nine of his 11 attempts from the free throw line to finish with 16 points, six rebounds, and a pair of steals, and Hunter Schenkel put forth 15 points despite misfiring on 11 of 17 shot attempts. He also grabbed six rebounds, as well.
In what was a very intense HVIAC title game, Berkeley College found itself trailing in the opening half by double digits. The College of New Rochelle – exemplifying intensity – used an 11-0 run to grab a 36-26 edge with 2:31 remaining in the opening stanza. The Knights, though, would close the session with a solid 9-4 run to slice the Blue Angels' lead to 40-35 as the teams entered the locker room at halftime.
Berkeley College started the second half by going on an impressive 19-6 run to grab a 54-46 advantage with 13:30 remaining in the game. The Blue Angels would then answer with a 13-4 run over a span of 2:48 to grab a 59-58 edge. An 8-1 run by Berkeley – featuring a layup by Demetri Stewart, consecutive buckets by Green, and a pair of free throws by Taylor – put the Knights ahead 66-60.
Later – with the Knights leading 77-74 with 3:31 remaining – Berkeley College would buckle down on defense, allowing just three field goals the rest of the way and outscoring the Blue Angels 16-8 in the process. It all would culminate in a 21-point turnaround, as Berkeley would win the game by 11 after once trailing by 10.
The Knights connected on 47.3 percent of their attempts from the floor (35-74) compared to 32.5 percent for the College of New Rochelle (26-80). Berkeley scored 52 points in the pain to the Blue Angels' 32, and the Knights also held a 56-51 edge in the rebounding department. Berkeley was much more efficient at the line, hitting 16 of their 24 attempts from the charity stripe (66.7 percent), while New Rochelle misfired on 16 freebees (25-41, 61 percent). Berkeley won the game despite committing 22 turnovers (though just five in the final 20 minutes), while New Rochelle protected the basketball for the most part, committing just 14 miscues. The Knights moved the ball brilliantly, recording 23 assists to the opposition's 11.
With the victory, the Knights have received an automatic bid to the 2017-2018 USCAA National Men's Basketball Tournament. Berkeley College will have an opportunity to win its fourth 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.