The St. Thomas Aquinas College men's basketball team held off a second-half charge to secure an 85-66 victory over Daemen College in the semi-finals of the East Coast Conference Men's Basketball Tournament in Bridgeport, CT. Chaz Watler led all scorers with 18 points as the Spartans won their 14th game in their last 15, improving to 24-5 on the season, while Daemen's campaign comes to a close with a 19-9 mark.
STAC returns to the ECC Tournament Final for the fourth straight season and will look to defend last season's championship, taking on #2 seed Molloy in a 2:30 pm start on Sunday at the University of Bridgeport. The Lions rode Charlie Marquardt's 32-point performance to an 89-82 victory over #3 Bridgeport in the night's other semi-final.
Despite not having seen competition since February 22, the Spartans showed no ill effects in the early going, with James Mitchell's three-pointer keying a 9-0 run to open the contest. Deion Hamilton's three-point play trimmed the gap to 11-7 for the Wildcats, but an Aaron Cust trey capped an 11-2 STAC run to stake his squad to a 22-9 margin.
Ross Greenfield, Adam Koziol, and Watler all added shots from downtown as St. Thomas Aquinas stretched to a 34-15 advantage with just under five minutes left in the half. Daemen responded with the next seven points, however, and closed the session with a 12-3 burst to trim the deficit to 37-27 at the intermission.
Supreme Hannah's three drew Daemen to 39-34 at the 17:05 mark, but another Watler bomb opened the gap to 46-37. Another pair of buckets from Hannah brought the Wildcats to their closest margin since the game's opening minute, trailing 48-44 with 12:58 to play. Watler proceeded to answer with the next four point and Cust added a free throw as STAC reclaimed their nine-point edge.
That was the start of a decisive 12-2 run for the Spartans, creating a 60-46 lead with nine minutes to play, and the Spartans were not threatened thereafter, earning their fifth consecutive victory.
Watler was one of four Spartans in double-figures, joined by Mitchell (14), Reyes (14), and Cust (12), as the defending champs shot a stellar 62% (29-of-47) from the field. Hannah led the way for Daemen with 17, while Mehmetaj and Hamilton added 16 each.