The St. Thomas Aquinas College men's basketball team captured its third straight East Coast Conference Tournament Championship with a 82-65 victory over the University of Bridgeport in Rochester, NY. The Spartans, making their fifth straight appearance in the conference tournament finals, improved to 26-6 on the season, snapping Bridgeport's 16-game winning streak as the Purple Knights fell to 25-5.
Defense set the tempo early, with Bridgeport holding a 6-1 edge before James Mitchell buried a three-pointer with 16:25 left in the half. Justin Reyes and Mitchell hit consecutive jumpers to knot the score at 12-12 midway through the session, but after Sam Joseph put UB on top at 18-14 with a trey, STAC fired back with eight straight powered by threes from Ross Greenfield and Zachary Rzewnicki. The Spartans held the high-powered Purple Knights to just two points of the final 4:37, with Jamar Sudan netting five points in a 13-2 run that opened a 38-26 advantage at intermission.
Shaq McFarlan hit the first two field goals after the break to put the defending champs up by 16, and the lead grew to as high as 18 as St. Thomas Aquinas continued to frustrate UB. Furious pressure in the final minute helped the Purple Knights close the gap to 63-55 with 4:27 left, but Reyes recorded the next four points and STAC answered the call to pull away late.
Reyes, the three-time ECC Player of the Year, led all scorers with 24 points to go with 17 rebounds, earning tourney Most Outstanding Player honors. McFarlan pitched in with 19 points, Mitchell added 16 and Jamar Sudan scored 11, with Mitchell and Sudan garnering All-Tournament honors. St. Thomas Aquinas commanded a dominant 51-31 advantage on the boards, while holding Bridgeport to just 28% (18-64) from the field.
The Spartans, who entered the weekend ranked #3 in the East Region, earn an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, joining Northeast-10 champ LeMoyne and CACC winner Jefferson in the field of eight teams. The other five will be awarded on an at-large basis, with the full field, locations and pairings to be announced on the NCAA Selection Show tonight.