St. Vincent beats W&J to earn spot in PAC title game
Who will represent the Presidents' Athletic Conference in the NCAA Division III Men's Basketball Tournament? St. Vincent or Thomas More?
After winning their semifinals on Thursday night, the two teams will stage a rematch of their epic overtime affair of a week ago for the PAC Tournament's top seed — won by St. Vincent — when they meet in the title game on Saturday night at St. Vincent's Carey Center.
The winner will earn an automatic bid to the D-III Tournament.
Isaac Turner scored 25 points, and Chris Klimchock added 20 to lead top-seeded St. Vincent to an 85-75 victory over Washington & Jefferson at Carey Center. The Bearcats trailed by five with 6:30 remaining.
Meanwhile, in Crestview Hills, Ky., Thomas More overcame an 11-point deficit in the second half to beat Thiel, 86-60.
When asked if he fancied the rematch of his team's 88-79 overtime victory over Thomas More on Saturday, St. Vincent coach D.P. Harris responded: “I like championships.”
The atmosphere at Carey Center was electric for a second consecutive game, fueled by a huge and vocal student section. The crowd was announced at 1,088.
“If you're a player and the crowd is alive, like it was tonight, everybody gets some energy from that,” Washington & Jefferson coach Glenn Gutierrez said. “It was a good experience for some of our young guys.”
St. Vincent (22-5) bolted to an 11-0 lead and held a 43-34 advantage at halftime. But the Bearcats found themselves trailing, 66-61, on a 3-point shot by Ben Cecchini.
“You have to trust your players to win games for you,” Harris said.
Turner, who scored 16 second-half points, and J.C. Howard, who hit two 3-point pointers during St. Vincent's comeback run, powered the Bearcats down the stretch. St. Vincent outscored W&J, 15-5, in the final 6 minutes, including 9 for 10 from the free-throw line.
“We were the better team tonight and the better team during the year — and it showed,” Harris said.
Dillon Stith added 16 points, and Grant Latus had 11 points and 11 rebounds for St. Vincent.
Zach Bellhy led W&J (9-18) with 21 points. Cecchini added 17, and Doug Johnson scored 13 for the Presidents, who entered the tournament as the fifth-seeded team.
W&J advanced to the semifinals after upsetting preseason PAC favorite Bethany (W.Va.) in the quarterfinals.
“We just had too many turnovers and gave up too many second-shot opportunities,” Gutierrez said. “We got the lead, but we had a couple of possessions that resulted in turnovers and that was the difference.”
St. Vincent, which joined Division III in 2006, will be playing in its first PAC championship game. The Bearcats last played in the NAIA Division II Tournament in 2005.