The St. Thomas Aquinas College men's basketball team battled to a 79-68 victory in their East Coast Conference opener at Mercy College. The Spartans, ranked #21 in this week's D2SIDA National poll and #23 in the country by the NABC, now stand at 7-1 overall and 1-0 in conference play, while Mercy dropped to 2-5, 1-0.
After struggling from the outset of the season before being sidelined by injury, Kameron Murrell returned in a big way, tying teammate Demetre Roberts with a game-high 22 points to carry STAC to victory.
St. Thomas Aquinas jumped to an early 7-2 lead, but the Mavericks replied with a 14-4 run on the strength of a pair of Matthew Alectus three-pointers, giving the hosts a 16-11 advantage. The Spartans trailed by as many as six points before embarking on a 19-4 run of their own with a Murrell trey opening a 35-26 advantage with 6:29 left in the half. Mercy was undeterred, however, in a foul-plagued first half, cutting the margin to 41-38 at intermission as seven different players went to the locker room with three fouls each.
Coming out of the break, the Spartans caught fire, with Murrell, Zach Rzewnecki, and Osbel Caraballo hit hitting from deep to open the largest gap of the night at 50-38 just two minutes in. As the war of foul-trouble attrition waged on, the Mavericks again showed their resilience. Sekou Cisse's jumper from downtown gave STAC its largest lead at 56-42 before Mercy went on a stunning 20-4 run over a span of nearly eight minutes, taking a 62-60 lead on a pair of Daquon Ervin free throws with 7:49 left.
Kevin Lynch tied the score with a pair from the line and Murrell took charge, hitting a three and a layup in successive possessions to put the visitors back on top at 67-62 with 6:37 to play. The Mavericks were held without a point for nearly four minutes down the stretch and never drew closer than four points thereafter as Roberts sealed the win by going 6-for-6 from the stripe in the waning moments.
Lynch finished with 10 points and a game-high 14 rebounds for STAC, with Caraballo scoring 10. Alectus led four players in double-figures for Mercy with 14 points, and Bryan Griffin chipped in 10 with a team-high 11 caroms in a game that saw 57 total fouls called.
The Spartans return home for a big ECC challenge on Saturday, January 8, hosting the University of Bridgeport in a rematch of last season's conference final. The game is the back end of double-header action, starting at approximately 3:00 pm, following women's action at 1:00.