FRANKLIN, Mass. — Tonight was a reality check for the University of Saint Joseph (USJ) men's basketball team, who led by seven early in their first game away from home, but could not handle the quickness of the Dean College (DC) Bulldogs, losing for the first time, 94-75, inside Pieri Gymnasium on Tuesday evening.
The Bulldogs (2-2) were undersized, but not under-matched, relying on their experience at the guard position to take control of the game on both ends. Junior guard Jordan Booker (Waterbury, Conn.) dominated with 27 points (9-18 FG, 7-7 FT), five rebounds and five assists. His backcourt teammate, senior Dayvon Russell (Naugatuck, Conn.), added 24 points (10-20 FG), five assists and five steals. Both stood just 5'9, but combined for 9 rebounds and 7 steals alone. It was a trio of guards though, which included senior Randolf Thurman (Swampscott, Mass.), that combined to score two-thirds of the team's points, igniting the crowd and the bench every trip down the floor.
Freshman guard Chris Childs (Bronx, N.Y.) led the way for the Blue Jays (3-1) with 15 points on 3-of-6 from three in their first taste of defeat. Freshman guard Delshawn Jackson Jr. (Hartford, Conn.) scored 14 points, grabbed four rebounds, and had a team-high three assists. Sophomore forward Mike Sagay (Bloomfield, Conn.) made just three baskets all night, after coming off a career-high 36 points on Saturday. USJ came into the game shooting 50%; they shot just 40% vs. DC (including 6-of-18 from three).
Saint Joes jumped out to an early 7-2 lead, as Sagay got free for a lay-in, while Childs drilled a three, to go with a layup of his own.
The Bulldogs came right back and kept it neck and neck, tying the game at 11 with 15:12 left in the first. Russell led the 9-2 charge with five quick points. DC worked hard in their 2-3 zone, while Calhoun and the Blue Jays stuck with man-to-man.
A three from freshman guard Cameron Sells (Ansonia, Conn.), free-throws from Sagay, and a quick bucket from center Nadir Dixon-Thompson (Dorchester, Mass.) off the bench aided the Blue Jay response, taking their largest lead of the game, 18-11, with 14:00 to go.
It would be all DC from there—forcing USJ into a lot of one-on-one offense, they were unable to attack the 2-3 zone effectively, which led to contested shots or turnovers. The Blue Jays had just 3 assists in the first half, and didn't make a three-pointer in the final 14 minutes. Four players scored seven points each in the first. Sells, who also had seven rebounds, was 2-for-2 from the floor in the opening period.
Russell led all scorers with 12 points at the half, along with two rebounds and two assists, serving as the spark to the Bulldog flame that turned a seven point hole into a six-point halftime lead, 44-38.
Sagay and Childs opened up the second half like they did the first. A lay-in for Sagay, and a corner three in transition for Childs.
The Bulldogs kept at it defensively. They forced difficult shots, and got their hands in the passing lanes. DC took a 10-point lead with 16:00 to go in the second half off a three, and a breakaway steal from Russell for a layup.
The lead grew to 14 before first-year Head Coach Jim Calhoun called a timeout. USJ cut it to seven with 11:20 left, 66-59, scoring in secondary transition and getting to the free-throw line. The Blue Jays shot very well from the stripe (21-26, 81%), keeping them in striking distance.
Only the Bulldogs again got right back on it, taking a 72-59 lead with 10 minutes left, with strong play from Booker, Russell and Thurman.
USJ never recovered, falling to the more experienced team, their first-ever loss in their first-ever road game. It was a good test for this very young ball club, who are now tasked with showing the Blue Jay faithful how they will respond.
Saint Joe's will go back on the road again for the second of a three-game road trip, against Rhode Island College this Sunday, November 25th, at 1:00 p.m.