By Greg Colburn, Communications Coordinator
With less than 13 minutes left to play, Central Penn was up 19 points, 61–42, and cruising along to what looked like an easy victory over division rival Berkeley–NYC.
Led by Joel Zola’s (left) 16 points in the first half, the Knights took a 12-point lead, 42–30, into halftime.
Coach Dave Archer was pleased with his team’s first 20 minutes of play. “All year we have preached the same thing, working to play the perfect game,” he said. “In the first half, we had a chance to see what that looked like for us. Our defense and offense looked amazing.”
In the second half, the Knights expanded on that lead in the first seven minutes, with Ryan Lawrence leading the way. He finished with 17 points for the game.
Berkeley wasn’t giving up
But Berkeley, last year’s USCAA champion, decided to flip the script. They pressed and they trapped, they zoned and man-to-manned, forcing turnovers and bad shots from the Knights. Slowly but steadily, Berkeley began to cut into the lead.
With 8:51 left, Berkeley had shaved the lead to 13, 65–52. Less than two minutes later, at the 7:08 mark, the lead was now just eight points, 67–59.
The Knights would be held scoreless for nearly five minutes. Fortunately, Berkeley only managed one point during this drought, which was broken by a fastbreak layup by Central Penn with 2:40 left to play, making the score, 69–60.
But the game was far from over.
Berkeley’s Dequn Jones hit back-to-back three-pointers to cut Central Penn’s lead to one point, 69–68, with 48.6 seconds left.
The visitors had a chance to win it, but the tough Central Penn defense forced a loose ball that Zola recovered and was quickly fouled. He made one of two foul shots to put Central Penn up 70–68, which would become the final score seconds later.
Congrats to the Knights who gutted out a hard-won victory against a tough opponent!
“When we play Berkeley, you can throw the records and rankings out the window,” said Archer. “As far as I'm concerned, they are the #1 until they are dethroned as champion in the USCAA.”
Even though the Knights struggled in the second half, Archer was proud of the way his team persevered. “To be considered one of the best, you have to beat the best. This win showed us that we belong in the conversation as one of the better teams in the USCAA.”
The Knights travel to North Carolina to play NCAA DI opponent Campbell on Thursday.