The Berkeley College men's basketball team won its 23rd consecutive game on Thursday evening, defeating Vermont Tech by a score of 73-58 in the quarterfinal round of the 2017-2018 USCAA Division II National Men's Basketball Tournament. The game took place in the Maltho Gymnasium on the campus of Penn State Fayette. With the victory, Berkeley (26-1) advances to the semifinals tomorrow evening, as the Knights will take on Penn State Brandywine at the Main Gymnasium at 5:00pm with a trip to the championship game on the line. Meanwhile, Vermont Tech will play in tomorrow's consolation bracket, taking on NHTI. That game will take place at 12:00pm in the Maltho Gymnasium. Following Berkeley's victory, Head Coach Jonathan Pena spoke.
"We arrived in Uniontown late Monday evening, so our guys basically were waiting two-and-a-half days before playing a game," Pena said. "They were definitely anxious to get on the court, and I feel as though when we finally did play tonight, we were trying to do too much early on. We weren't playing our game. Towards the latter stages of the first half – and for about 60 percent of the second stanza – our guys were locked in, playing team basketball and exemplifying toughness and tenaciousness. I always preach to these guys that because we are the three-time defending champions, we need to work twice as hard to keep this incredible run going. We'll enjoy this one for a few hours, get a good night's rest, and get ready for Penn State Brandywine tomorrow."
For Berkeley College, it was incredibly the Knights' 11th consecutive victory in the USCAA Division II National Men's Basketball Tournament. Berkeley's last loss in the tournament came back on March 5, 2014, when the Knights dropped a 76-68 decision to Penn State Beaver. A day later – in the consolation bracket of that tournament, Berkeley blew out Penn State Fayette by 20. Four seasons and 10 more tournament wins later, the Knights' 11 straight triumphs on the National stage is something that should be cherished.
Berkeley's game against Vermont Tech served as the first meeting between the two clubs since November 23, 2014, when Berkeley earned a 98-65 victory at the Borough of Manhattan Community College.
In tonight's quarterfinal round triumph for Berkeley, the USCAA Division II Men's Basketball Player of the Year Michael Taylor worked himself into a zone following a slow start. After starting just 1-for-7 from the floor, the senior connected on six of his final nine shots on the night, while also drilling all six of his attempts from the charity stripe to finish with a game-high 22 points. The sharpshooter also collected five rebounds, dished four assists, and added three steals
Ricardo Ayuso – who appeared to have a vintage look of determination in his eyes throughout the evening – made plays on both ends of the floor. He shot five-for-seven from the field, while also swishing five of his six shots from the free throw line to finish with 16 points. Ayuso also contributed five rebounds, four assists, and three steals.
Johnnie Green netted 10 points – and in the process – he eclipsed 1,000 points for his career. During a play stoppage following the Brooklyn, NY native reaching the 1,000-point mark, it was announced that he had accomplished the incredible feat. He was given a warm round of applause by his bench and the fans in attendance.
In Mohammad Camara's first taste of the USCAA Division II National Men's Basketball Tournament, he scored eight points, snatched four rebounds, and swatted two shots.
Despite the loss for Vermont Tech, Taiga Cantor connected on seven of his 17 attempts from the floor to finish his evening with a team-high 14 points. He also added six rebounds, a pair of assists, two steals, and two blocks. Titus Smith contributed 12 points and three rebounds, and Cameron Carter finalized his evening with 12 points, four rebounds, and two assists.
Things looked promising for Vermont Tech early, as it held leads of 5-0, 11-6, 13-8, and 16-12 over the course of the opening 11:44 of action. From there, Berkeley College put its collective foot on the accelerator, and never let up. Over a spurt of 4:04 of action, the Knights used a powerful 12-0 run to catapult ahead by a score of 24-16. That aforementioned run included a converted three-point play by Taylor, a made layup by Ayuso, and seven consecutive points by Taylor.
Later – with Berkeley holding on to a 28-21 lead – the Knights would go on a 9-0 run over the final 2:39 of the opening stanza to take a 37-21 advantage into the locker room at halftime. Berkeley allowed just two field goals over the last 8:16 of the opening stanza.
Berkeley built its lead up to 47-25 with 17:34 remaining in the game, but Vermont Tech stayed scrappy, putting together nine consecutive points to pull to within 13 – 47-34 – with 15:24 to play. Berkeley would once again get its lead up to 22 points (58-36) with an 11-2 run, but Vermont Tech would answer with a 15-3 spurt to close to within 10 points – 61-51 – with 4:52 to play. Berkeley would buckle down on defense from there, allowing just three field goals the remainder of the game before going on to win the contest by the core of 73-58.
Vermont Tech actually was more accurate shooting the basketball on the evening, nailing 23 of its 54 shots from the floor (42.6 percent) compared to 40.9 percent for Berkeley (27-66). The primary difference in this contest was the turnovers, though, as Berkeley forced 25 opponent miscues – and turned those mistakes into 33 points. On the flip side, Vermont Tech forced just 15 turnovers, and it was only able to net 15 points off those errors. Berkeley held a 41-33 edge in the rebounding department, while also tallying 14 steals to Vermont Tech's 13.
Those interested in following Berkeley College's 5:00pm semifinal final round game against Penn State Brandywine tomorrow will be able to access live stats and live video links by visiting www.berkeleycollegeknights.com and/or www.theuscaa.com