The St. Thomas Aquinas College men's basketball team takes on Molloy College on Saturday, March 9 at 7:30 pm in the semi-finals of the East Coast Conference Men's Basketball Tournament.
The Teams - St. Thomas Aquinas College - The #2 seeded Spartans received a first-round bye and enter tournament play with a record of 23-5 overall, 15-3 in the ECC, and with a league-high seven-game winning streak. STAC is looking to defend its string of three straight ECC Championships as well as three straight trips to the NCAA Tournament, at which the Spartans have recorded a 4-3 record including a trip to the Elite Eight two seasons ago. St. Thomas Aquinas employs a balanced attack with four scorers averaging double-figures, led by Osbel Caraballo (13.3 ppg), Sekou Cisse (11.5 ppg), Demetre Roberts (11.4), and Kam Murrell (10.2), with Kevin Lynch and Louis Griffith adding 8.5 each. STAC has been tough at both ends of the floor, standing third in the ECC in scoring and second in fewest points allowed.
The Teams - Molloy - Though they finished with the #3 seed, the Lions had a chance to capture the top seed until the season's final weekend. That quest came to an end with the overtime loss to STAC in a classic in the season's final game. They advanced to the semis with a tough 61-60 home victory over UDC on Wednesday night, as Nick Corbett led the way with 20 points. Molloy enters play Saturday with a 19-9 overall record after finishing 14-4 in conference action. Curtis Jenkins (18.4 ppg), Corbett (17.5) and Mike Torre (14.1) ranking fourth through sixth, respectively, among ECC scoring leaders.
NCAA Rankings - For the second straight week, St. Thomas Aquinas held the #6 slot in the official NCAA East Region rankings, behind #1 St. Anselm, #2 Daemen, #3 LeMoyne, and #4 New Haven, and #5 Merrimack. Eight teams from the East will qualify for the 64-team field at the NCAA Division II Tournament, with automatic bids being earned by champions from the ECC, Northeast-10, and Central Atlantic Collegiate conferences, and the other five awarded on an at-large basis. The Spartans remain in solid position to make their fourth straight NCAA appearance, while Molloy is unranked would likely need to win the tournament championship to advance in the post-season.
Season Series (STAC wins, 2-0) - Jan 19, 2019, STAC 74, @Molloy 62 - The first meeting of these squads had the Lions coming in undefeated in conference play, but STAC led by as many as 10 in the first half at Quealy Gymnasium before settling for an 8-point edge at intermission. The Spartans pulled away midway through the second as Sekou Cisse led STAC with 19 points and Kam Murrell added 17, offsetting the game-high 20 from Molloy's Curtis Jenkins.
March 7, 2019 - @ STAC 77, Molloy 75 (ot) - A "Game of the Year" candidate, the regular-season finale featured STAC and Molloy tied for second place, with the winner earning a first-round tournament bye and a chance to grab a share of the regular-season championship. The Spartans held a 7-point halftime lead but the Lions battled back to send the game to overtime. After a slow start and buoyed by the Aquinas Hall faithful, St. Thomas Aquinas rallied as Osbel Caraballo's desperation three-pointer proved to be the difference, offsetting a spectacular 31-point performance from Curtis Jenkins. Kevin Lynch carried the workload for STAC with 18 points and 11 rebounds as the Spartans captured the first-round bye.
What's Next? - The winner of this game will advance to the ECC Tournament Final on Sunday, March 10, at 2:30 noon at Bridgeport. They will take on the winner of the Saturday 5:00 semi-final between #1 Daemen and #4 Bridgeport. Like STAC, Daemen earned a bye into the semis while Bridgeport advanced with a 92-82 home victory over Roberts Wesleyan on Wednesday night.