The Berkeley College men's basketball team advanced to the championship game of the 2016-2017 USCAA Division II National Men's Basketball Tournament, defeating the Nittany Lions of Penn State Greater Allegheny in the semifinals by a score of 74-60 on Friday evening. The game took place in the Main Gymnasium on the campus of Penn State Fayette. The win was the 52nd consecutive program triumph for the Knights (the team is also an unblemished 28-0 this season), who pushed into the National title game for the third straight season. With the loss, Penn State Greater Allegheny finalized its season at 23-6.
"More than anything, I was very impressed with our intensity this evening," Berkeley College Head Coach Chris Christiansen said. "We knew what was at stake coming into this game, and although we had some challenging moments tonight, I felt we were able to once again battle through adversity to take control of the contest. Everything that we've worked so hard for since the summer is now right in front of us. It comes down to one more game against a very talented and equally-as-hungry Penn State York team. Not only do we play for a National championship tomorrow – we play for a memory that will last every single one of us a lifetime."
Things looked bleak for the Knights in the early stages of the contest, as Penn State Greater Allegheny raced out to a 20-8 advantage just 7:25 into the game. Nittany Lions standout Jordon Payne accounted for 14 of his team's points during that opening spurt. Penn State Greater Allegheny later led 22-13 before the Knights kicked into gear. Sparkplug and first-year Knight Ricardo Ayuso would score eight consecutive points in a span of 65 seconds to pull his team to within one point at 22-21. Reynaldo Eloy would give Berkeley College the lead for the first time since the opening minute when he nailed a three-point basket to help Berkeley catapult ahead by a score of 24-22 with 8:03 to go in the half.
After the Nittany Lions' George Prota converted on a basket to tie the game at 24-all, the Knights' defense would buckle down, as Berkeley College would close out the final 7:37 of the opening session by outscoring the opposition 17-6 and allowing just one field goal the rest of the half. As the teams entered the locker room at halftime, the Knights held a 41-30 edge.
Berkeley College led by as many as 16 points in the second half, but a late Penn State Greater Allegheny push cut the Knights' lead to just eight points – 64-56 – with 4:18 remaining in the game. Berkeley would put the game away, however, converting on eight free throw attempts and allowing just one field goal (a garbage-time basket with under 30 seconds left) the rest of the way to account for the 14-point victory.
Pacing the Knights in the big victory was Second Team All-American Stephon Jennings, as he followed-up his enormous game against Villa Maria a day earlier with another impressive showing, as he scored a team-high 18 points while connecting on 10 of his 12 attempts from the charity stripe. He also recorded game-highs of nine rebounds and six steals, as well. Sharpshooter Ricardo Ayuso played beautifully off of the bench, as he drained five of his six attempts from the floor to finish with 16 points. He also added five rebounds, four steals, and a pair of assists. Paul Johnson played 24 minutes and contributed 11 points to go along with four rebounds and three steals.
Despite the loss for the Nittany Lions, Penn State Greater Allegheny was paced by Payne, as he scored a game-high 20 points (but only six in the final 32:35 of action) while contributing three rebounds, three assists, and a pair of steals. Jeremy McMunn added 13 points and three rebounds, and Jumanne Butler-Mcdan finalized his evening with eight points.
Neither team shot particularly well from the floor, with Berkeley College converting on 39.6 percent of its attempts (21-53) compared to 38.2 percent for Penn State Greater Allegheny (21-55). The Knights attempted 42 free throws on the evening, draining 28 of them (66.7 percent), while the Nittany Lions started two of their first 10 from the charity stripe before finishing 13-for-22 (59.1 percent). The Knights out-rebounded Penn State Greater Allegheny 42-34, while also forcing 25 turnovers and committing 30 opponent miscues. The Nittany Lions tallied 12 assists to Berkeley's 10.
The Knights will now play for the National championship on Saturday evening at 8:45pm, as Berkeley will take on Penn State York. Live stats and live video will be available, and those links can be accessed by visiting www.theuscaa.com, or by checking the men's basketball schedule page on www.BerkeleyCollegeKnights.com.