WEST HARTFORD, Conn. — A collective effort on the offensive glass proved to be the spark plug in a high-tempo, back-and-forth Saturday afternoon in the O'Connell Center, as the University of Saint Joseph (USJ) men's basketball team got win number six defeating Castleton University (CU), 65-55.
Sophomore forward Mike Sagay (Bloomfield, Conn.) led all scorers with 16 points off the bench for the Blue Jays (6-3), while freshman point guard Delshawn Jackson Jr. (Hartford, Conn.) had another solid afternoon, chipping in with 14. Senior guard Tank Roberson (Pittsfield, Mass.) led the way for the Spartans (3-7) with 14 points. The Spartans have lost five straight, while USJ has split the last six games, 3-3.
The Spartans were the more aggressive team from the opening tip, showing their tenacity on the defensive end with crisp closeouts and timely backside rotations. Offensively, Roberson carried CU with six early points, including two flashy lay-ins off the dribble, and a fadeaway 15-foot jumper from the left corner. Junior guard Casey Belade (Shelton, Conn.) also chipped in with two unorthodox lay-ins in the paint.
CU turned to a 2-2-1 full-court press on a made hoop, and it caused problems, getting the Blue Jays completely out of sync and also forcing turnovers. CU took a 12-4 lead with 15:06 left in the first half forcing Head Coach Jim Calhoun to call an early timeout for USJ.
The Blue Jays responded out of the timeout with a spark off the bench. Freshman guard Brad Landry (Wallingford, Conn.) nailed a three from the top of the key with the shot clock winding down. It was followed by a Sagay steal and tomahawk slam, cutting the gap to one, 14-13 with 13:15 left in the first half.
Sagay followed it with a step-back jump shot in transition after Roberson added another first-half hoop. The lead still one, 16-15 with 10:57 left.
A much more confident Landry would continue to look for his shot, hitting another three, this one from the right wing, giving the Blue Jays their first lead 18-16, with 9:00 left in the first.
The fans inside the O'Connell Athletic Center were treated to some back-and-forth action, as both teams tried to pick up the pace in transition. Sagay kept his hot hand going off the bench, drilling two foul line jumpers against the Spartan 2-3 zone, keeping the Blue Jays within one.
CU responded with a 9-0 run, all on threes; two from Belade and one from freshman guard Michael McCoy (Charlotte, N.C.). The Spartans held a five point lead, 32-27, with 3:30 left in the first.
Despite shooting poorly in the first half (11-35 FG, 3-17 3FG), the Blue Jays outrebounded the Spartans 27–15, including 11-0 on offensive rebounds, and 11-0 in second-chance points. Extra effort from freshman forward Tahj Brown (Bridgeport, Conn.), freshman forward Noreaga Davis (Bridgeport, Conn.) and Sagay kept USJ close. Davis and Sagay both scored on offensive rebounds (six alone for Davis), and the Blue Jays held serve in the first half, 33-32. Sagay and Belade led all scorers in the first half with 10 each.
Davis opened up the second half with another put-back on an offensive rebound. Sagay followed it with his third foul line jumper of the game, and all of sudden, USJ had their largest lead, 37-32, with 18:45 to play.
The Blue Jays forced several tough shots late in the shot clock. The bench also continued to make contributions. Freshman forward Jake Sullivan (Branford, Conn.) sank a corner three, just his second of the season, and the Blue Jays led 44-40 with 11:21 left in the game.
Freshman guard Chris Childs (Bronx, N.Y.) scored for the first time with less than 10 minutes left on a jump shot off the dribble. Childs had missed his first nine shots of the game, including seven three-pointers. He would still finish in double figures, and join in on the work on the glass (11 PTS, 8 REBS). Davis converted on a crowd-cheering and-one in transition off some great Blue Jay passing, and with just 7:32 left to play, Saint Joe's had their largest lead, 50-41.
That would prove to be enough to hold off the Spartans, as the swarming USJ defense kept CU guards at bay, trading baskets until the final buzzer.
USJ is headed south for the first of two games in the Daytona Beach Shootout, as they play LaGrange College (GA) next Wednesday, December 19th, at 7:00 p.m. Castleton concludes their four-game road trip when they play Sage College (N.Y.) Sunday, December 30th at 1:00 p.m.