The St. Thomas Aquinas College men's basketball team rallied to a 74-71 East Coast Conference victory over Mercy College at Aquinas Hall. The Spartans snapped a modest two-game losing streak to improve to 16-4 overall and 8-2 in the ECC, while Mercy stands at 6-12, 4-6.
A wild start set the tone for the night as Mercy's Sal Barbetto scored the game's first seven points, but Jamar Sudan and Kam Murrell struck from deep as the Spartans answered with a 12-2 burst to grab a 12-9 lead. David Aikens continued the perimeter sharpshooting as STAC opened a 23-16 lead midway through the half.
Bryan Griffin took over at both ends of the floor for the Mavericks, hitting a pair of threes to highlight a 16-3 explosion, reclaiming a 33-27 edge and holding a 44-38 lead after 20 minutes. Kevin Lynch closed the gap for the hosts with the first hoop of the second half, but Barbetto answered with five straight, extending his team's lead to 49-40 with 18:26 left.
That lead swelled to as many as 10 points but the visitors were unable to deal the knockout blow, though the margin remained at 62-53 with eight minutes left. Murrell hit a pair from the line and Louis Griffith provided a spark with a trey to bring the Spartans to within four. Griffith and Murrell each hit a pair from the line to cap the 9-0 run and tie the score at 62-62, but Amir Atkins hit a three to help Mercy retain a 69-65 edge with four minutes left, setting the stage for a crucial sequence.
After Griffin made the sixth of his seven blocks on the night, the Mavericks appeared ready to add to their lead as a loose ball game to the big man for what was sure to be an emphatic dunk. The attempt hit the back rim, however, and STAC counterattacked quickly, finding Griffith wide open for a left-corner three to narrow the deficit to 69-68 with 3:08 on the clock. With the Aquinas Hall crowd rising in support, Lynch grabbed an offensive rebound and finished from in close to put St. Thomas Aquinas on top with 2:20 left.
With time winding down, both teams came up empty until Louis Griffith struck again, with his jumper opening a 72-69 gap. with just 22 seconds to go. Barbetto missed a potential game-tying three, but Griffin hit the putback to trim the margin to one, but Murrell calmly drained a pair from the line with 5.7 seconds left to provide what proved to be the game's final points. With fouls to give, STAC committed a pair to leave Mercy with just 3.3 seconds with which to work, and Griffin's desperation shot at the buzzer was well off the mark.
Murrell led the hosts with 15 points while Lynch and Griffith added 14 each, Osbel Caraballo corralled a game-high 15 rebounds, and Demetre Roberts dished out seven assists. Griffin led the Mavericks with 22 points and 12 rebounds, and Barbetto ended the night with 20 points.
The Spartans hit the road on Saturday, February 2, taking on ECC rival University of Bridgeport, before heading to Long Island to meet NYIT on Wednesday, February 6. Their next home game is set for Saturday, February 9, as STAC greets LIU Post at Aquinas Hall.