WEST HARTFORD, Conn. — The University of Saint Joseph (USJ) men's basketball team led by three with just over a minute left, but fell short in a heartbreaking defeat to Emmanuel College (EC), 77-72 inside the O'Connell Athletic Center Thursday night.
The last four losses for the Blue Jays (9-7, 0-2 GNAC) have been by five points or less, while the Saints (10-4, 2-0 GNAC) have won eight of their last nine games.
Senior guard Joe Tamburro (South Windsor, Conn.) scored a game-high 26 points off the bench (10-17 FG, 6-11 3FG), including the game-winning three with just eight seconds left to go up 75-72. USJ called timeout and had the ball with a chance to tie, but freshman point guard Delshawn Jackson Jr. (Hartford, Conn.), who had hit a three to give USJ the lead, had the ball stripped in his attempt to hit one more, sealing the game for the Saints. Sophomore center Mike Sagay (Bloomfield, Conn.) led the Blue Jays with 14 points, but shot just 5-for-13. Freshman forward Noreaga Davis (Bridgeport, Conn.) finished one rebound shy of another double-double (12 PTS, 9 REBS), while freshman guard Brad Landry (Wallingford, Conn.) was a spark off the bench, scoring 10 points, grabbing six rebounds, and dishing out four assists.
The Saints controlled the pace most of the way. They jumped out to an 18-10 lead with just over 11:00 left in the first half, thanks in part to a barrage of threes from Tamburro, senior guard Isaiah Ruffen (Haverhill, Mass.) and sophomore forward Marcus Fox (Danbury, Conn.). The Blue Jays came roaring back behind the efforts of Landry, freshman guard Chris Childs (Bronx, N.Y.), and freshman guard Cameron Sells (Ansonia, Conn.), part of an 18-8 run to take the lead, 28-26 with 5:20 left in the first half.
Tamburro scored 13 points in the final five minutes of the half to give the Saints a five point lead, 41-36 going into the locker room. He did it behind three threes, one which came with just 40 seconds left.
The Blue Jays struggled to breakthrough in the second half. The big threes and extra effort lay-ins kept the Saints in front, taking an 11-point lead on multiple occasions. USJ would trim the gap to eight, seven, even five, but couldn't get that big run that they needed to get over the hump, that is, until the final three minutes. Down 67-63, Landry drilled a three to narrow the gap to one. A minute and a half later, Jackson Jr. made his first triple of the game, a cold-blooded three on a pass from Davis with 1:16 left. The Blue Jays had the lead, 71-69.
Needing a stop, the Blue Jays looked to deliver, only the hot three-point shooting continued on, as junior guard Blake Hardy (Waterbury, Conn.) sank a huge three with 52 seconds left to give the Saints the lead back, 72-71. Next possession, Sells got to the foul line for USJ, looking to take the lead. He sank the first, but missed the second, giving EC a chance to win with a make, or play for overtime with a miss. Blake found Tamburro for another three, his sixth of the game, and the Saints took a 75-72 lead with eight seconds left. Down three, the Blue Jays had a chance, just as they did against Colby-Sawyer. Jackson Jr. looked to hoist up a three for the tie, but was stripped by junior guard Emmett Riddick (Middletown, Conn.), and the Saints held on for the win in a thrilling finish.
USJ looks to bounce back and get their first Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) win at Saint Joseph's (ME), Saturday, January 12, at 3:00 p.m. Emmanuel continues their road trip at Pine Manor (MA), also on Saturday at 3:00pm.