The College of Staten Island men’s basketball Cinderella-like season will keep marching on, this time into the 2012 NCAA Division III National Championship Sweet 16, as the Dolphins held off visiting Rhode Island College, 77-67, in the second round of the tourney behind a brilliant performance by T.J. Tibbs at the Sports & Recreation Center earlier this evening. The senior poured in a career-high 40 points to go six rebounds and a pair of assists and steals to lead the Dolphins (26-4), who grabbed a modest lead before halftime and never relinquished the edge despite feverish rushes by the Anchormen, who finalized their season at 23-7.
The lead would change hands four times before RIC held the advantage for a good block of time, beginning with Avery King’s three-point blast that put the Anchormen men up, 10-9, at the 13:42 mark of the first stanza. The teams traded blows like two prizefighters from there, jockeying for early control. RIC managed to take a four-point lead twice, its largest of the game, the last at 8:15 via another King three-pointer to make it 19-15.
CSI responded with a pair of Tibbs free-throws and later a Bloochy Magloire three to knot the score at 21-21. Again, the teams traded baskets until two Mike Akinrola freebies gave RIC a 26-25 edge with 2:55 to go. RIC’s final lead of the game was short-lived, as Tibbs dribbled down the other end of the floor and launched a three that tickled the twine, starting CSI on an 8-4 run to end the frame, and giving the Dolphins the lead it would never surrender. Tibbs had six of CSI’s final eight points, as the Dolphins took a 33-30 lead into intermission, despite shooting just 27.6% from the floor.
The Dolphins knew they needed a better shooting performance in the second stanza and they got it via a 50% clip in the second frame, where they were also guided by an 18-for-22 performance from the free-throw line. The teams shared 48 personal fouls between them, as foul trouble plagued CSI interior players Jordan Young and Dylan Bulger, who both fouled out, and freshman Javon Cox, who finished with four. Meanwhile, the game continued to hang in the balance, a pendulum swing away from changing hands at any time. Twice in the early stages the Anchormen knocked the CSI lead down to one, the last at 13:42, when a Tahrike Carter lay-in drive made the score 40-39. That’s when CSI staged its finest run, breaking to a 17-8 spurt over the next five-plus minutes to take a 57-47 lead with 7:24 to go. The run featured 11 points from Tibbs, the final six coming on heavily-contested three point buckets.
Still, the Anchormen refused to give in without a war. King responded with another trifecta, and after a Young freebie for CSI, RIC’s Akinrola powered for two interior buckets to help a 12-5 run, cutting the CSI lead to 62-59 with just 3:11 to play. Just prior, Tibbs was forced out of the game due to injury, and in a move befitting a movie script; the crowd cheered his name as he was taken off the court. Tibbs would return after Akinrola’s second lay-up cut the lead to three, and sensing his team needed a lift out of trouble, the senior dialed up a three-pointer, and then another that kissed off of the glass, to give CSI a 68-60 lead with just 1:02 to go. From there, CSI iced the game at the line, making 9 of the final 10 at the charity stripe to garner the win, 77-67.
The Dolphins finished the game shooting 37.3% (19-51) from the field (despite shooting 8-of-16 from beyond the arc), but were a warm 31-of-37 from the foul line (83.8%). Cox was the only other double-digit scorer, finishing with 10 points and eight rebounds. CSI leading scorer Magloire was held in check with only eight points on 3-of-14 shooting, while foul-plagued Young finished with six markers in 15 minutes. CSI did, however, get a tremendous lift from bench player Lameik Black, who finished with three points and 9 rebounds in 24 minutes. RIC, which finished shooting just 31.7% (20-63), got 23 points from Akinrola, and 13 from Mason Choice. King and Tom DeCiantis each tallied 11 points in the loss.
The win by the Dolphins was significant in many ways. The team won its 19th straight game, a program-record, and set a new record for wins in a single season with 26. The win marked the first time in school history that the Dolphins have won two games in a single NCAA Tournament, and insured the Dolphins of their first-trip ever to the Round of 16. Up next for CSI will be Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), who improved earlier this evening to 27-1 with an 83-63 drubbing of Farmingdale State College. The game will be on Friday, March 9, although venue and time is yet to be announced.