The St. Thomas Aquinas College men's basketball team, ranked #3 in the nation, held off a late rally for a 74-70 East Coast Conference triumph over the University of Bridgeport. STAC now stands at 10-0 overall on the season and 5-0 in the ECC, with Bridgeport dropping to 7-3, 3-1. The Spartans have now won 23 consecutive games against conference foes, 15 straight at Aquinas Hall, 28 in a row in regular-season play, and 31 of their last 32 games overall.
Both teams struggled for offense in the first half, but Chaz Watler's late three pointer gave STAC a 25-21 lead at the break. Watler took off after the break, finishing with a team-high 20 points and six assists, while Rakim Lesane came off the Purple Knights' bench to post a game-high 22, as the visitors' late charge came up short.
Bridgeport jumped to an early lead but both teams struggled for offense early, as Jules deCourtenay put the Spartans on top for the first time at 10-9 near the midway point of the first half. Stefano Osuji put the Purple Knights back in the lead, making the score 19-18 with 3:38 left, but Aaron Cust answered to put the hosts back on top.
Foul trouble hampered the Spartans in the waning minutes, but Watler pulled up with a big three pointer with six seconds to play to give STAC a 25-21 lead after 20 minutes. That momentum carried past the break, as defensive pressure led to a pair of early Justin Reyes scores and eventually a 31-21 Spartan lead.
Reyes converted four straight points and Aaron Cust added a layup to open the game's biggest gap at 56-42 with ten minutes to play. Lesane developed the hot hand but the Purple Knights still trailed, 72-63 with three minutes left. Sam Joseph hit a lay-up, Lesane converted a pair of foul shots, and Montana Mayfield hit to close the gap to 72-69 as the game entered the final minute.
Each team failed to convert until Mayfield was fouled, hitting one-of-two with 19 seconds left to draw to within two. Watler was fouled with :17 left and made the first but missed the second, jumping into the lane to grab the offensive board. With only 12 left, Bridgeport was forced to foul again and Watler again hit one of two to secure the victory.
Justin Reyes aided the STAC charge with 17 points and nine caroms, and Jon Lawton added 10 points in the win. Stefano Osuji and Carlos deJesus added 13 and 10 respectively for the Purple Knights, with the visitors being outrebounded by a 39-36 margin.
The Spartans return to action on Saturday, December 17, traveling to the University of the District of Columbia for another ECC battle. They will then be off for the Holiday Break until December 29, when they travel to face the University of the Sciences. They return to Aquinas Hall for a New Year's Eve non-conference tilt against Bloomfield, with the December 31st start coming at 2:00 pm.