Paxton, Mass. — The University of Saint Joseph (USJ) men's basketball team made clutch free throws in the final minute of play to hold off a resilient Anna Maria College (AMC), 78-73, inside the Fuller Center Saturday afternoon.
The Blue Jays (13-9, 4-4 GNAC) avenge their gut-wrenching double-overtime loss on Thursday with a big road win to draw even in the conference once again (currently T-7th, eight teams qualify). The Amcats (6-15, 2-5 GNAC) have lost three straight. Freshman guard Chris Childs (Bronx, N.Y.) was unconscious from the floor, setting a career-high with 32 points off the bench (9-17 FG, 6-9 3FG, 8-8 FT), three rebounds and two steals. Freshman forward Noreaga Davis (Bridgeport, Conn.) recorded his fourth double-double of the season (11 PTS, 11 REBS). Freshman guard Kennedy Minix-Rogers (Smyrna, GA) led the way for the Amcats with an efficient 21 points (9-15 FG), four rebounds, three assists, and three steals. Junior forward Mike Rapoza (Charlton, Mass.) did his best against the taller Blue Jay Big Men, scoring 17 points, hauling down 10 rebounds, dishing out four assists, and blocking three shots. It was a nail-biter down the stretch, as the enthusiastic crowd backed up the home team through thick and thin, but ultimately the Blue Jays came away with a tough one on the road.
The fans were treated to a high-tempo heavyweight fight through the first ten minutes, as both teams were playing well at the same time, shooting 50 plus percent from the field, and 60 plus percent from three. Childs was the anchor for the Blue Jays, with 13 points in just nine minutes (5-5 FG), while Davis was a perfect 4-for-4 himself. The Blue Jays went on a 10-0 run to take a 29-21 lead with 8:29 left in the first half.
USJ utilized their size to keep the Amcats one and done on offense, outrebounding AMC 15-8 through the first 14 minutes. Centers like freshman Nadir Dixon-Thompson (Dorchester, Mass.) at six-foot-nine, sophomore Mike Sagay (Bloomfield, Conn.) at six-foot-nine, and freshman Malik Cameron (Manchester, Conn.) at six-foot-seven all did a good job of contesting without fouling, as well as utilizing their athleticism to block shots. When the shots did not fall, they crashed the glass hard.
The pace of the game slowed to a crawl late in the half, as the Blue Jays maintained a five to seven-point lead. Childs led all scorers with 15, while Davis added nine. Minix-Rogers scored 13 on 5-of-7 from the field, the six-foot freshman guard not intimidated by the size of USJ. The Blue Jays took a 36-31 lead into the locker room.
The Amcats opened up the second half on a 15-7 run, as junior guard Bobby Perette (Marshfield, Mass.) got free for two scores, AMC taking a 46-43 lead with 14:11 to go. They also got to the free throw line for some easy points. USJ turned to the three-point shot to regain the advantage, as freshman forward Jake Sullivan (Branford, Conn.) and Childs each sank one, the latter to give USJ the lead back, 55-52 with 11:18 in the game.
The offensive glass continued to play a factor in this back and forth matchup. NDT and Davis both converted on offensive rebound attempts, NDT getting an and-one. USJ took a five-point lead, 63-58 with 6:15 left to play.
With the game still tight, the Blue Jays turned to Childs for more clutch three-point bombs. He delivered two big ones to give Saint Joe's their largest lead of the game, 71-61, with 3:20 to go.
The resiliency of the Amcats was on center stage down the stretch, as junior guard Angel Perez (Miami, Fla.) converted on two layups, energizing the crowd and his teammates. The lead was only three, 72-69, with 1:22 to go. The full court pressure bothering the Blue Jays, taking them completely out of sync, and forcing them to rush on offense.
USJ took a deep breath and delivered, shooting a perfect 6-of-6 from the free throw line (Childs 4-4, Sullivan 2-2) in the final minute to close out the victory. It is the 11th 20-point game for Childs, the most on the team. The Blue Jays are 8-3 when Childs scores 20-plus points.
USJ will be back in action on Tuesday, February 5, in a home matchup with Albertus Magnus (CT), part of a doubleheader, starting at 8:00 p.m., inside the O'Connell Center. Anna Maria will also return to the hardwood on Tuesday, and host Regis (MA). That game starts at 7:30 p.m.