New York, NY | The College of Staten Island men’s basketball team led wire-to-wire, then gained enough of an advantage to stave off Baruch College late to advance to the CUNYAC Championship game via a 77-67 win at the Nat Holman Gymnasium in upper Manhattan as part of the CUNYAC/Army ROTC Men’s Basketball Championship Tournament Semifinal round. The win improved CSI to 16-11 overall, and the Dolphins will take on top-seeded Lehman College on Friday evening. Baruch finalized at 15-11.
Having split the season series, it was anyone’s contest at CCNY this evening, and the results showed as both teams parried back-and-forth for the better part of 40 minutes. A lay-up by Christian Taylor and then a three by senior Edin Bracic gave CSI a quick 5-0 lead, and CSI would never relinquish the lead from there. Still, the game stayed within one possession for most of the first half, with CSI never opening up more than a six-point lead in the opening stanza.
Before that, CUNYAC Player of the Year Chimaechi Ekekeugbor converted a three-point play that tied the score at 13-13 with 13:31 to go, but CSi weathered the threat, and after BC missed two baskets that would have given them the lead, Raymond Savage drilled a three that put CSi back up top. Another Ekekeugbor bucket dipped the CSi down to 18-17 a bit later, but CSi retaliated with two consecutive baskets from Stephen Flagg to give CSI some breathing room. In yet another repeat occurrence, Ekekeugbor scored with 4:50 to go to diminish the Dolphins’ edge to 26-24, but CSi ended the frame on a 6-2 run, finalized by a Taylor jumper to pace CSI at halftime, 32-26.
Both teams caught fire to open the second stanza, and CSi powered up by as many as nine points on another Bracic three and then a put-back by Adeola Latunji. A Bryler Paige three was a nice answer later for Baruch, narrowing CSi’s edge to 41-36 with 15:18 to go. CSI stayed hot, however, and with just over 11 minutes to play, a Flagg lay-in and Taylor jumper gave CSI it’s biggest lead at 49-38. Later, a 9-4 CSI run over three minutes put the Dolphins up by their widest margin of the game, 64-51 with just over six minutes remaining.
Looking for quick points, Baruch whittled the lead down to as few as eight on baskets from Paige and Ekekeugbor, but as was the case all day, CSI had an answer, and a Taylor lay-up was followed by a Savage power move on the inside to balloon CSI’s lead back up to double-digits with under three minutes to play.
CSI would make only five of 11 free-throws down the stretch, as again Baruch cut the lead to as few as eight points late, but by then the Bearcats had run out of real estate, and the Dolphins were able to ice the game at the free-throw line for the 77-67 final.
“We came in very well-prepared, the kids worked hard and it feels good to get a victory against a great team,” said first-year Head Coach TJ Tibbs. “I thought we grew up a little bit. This was a game we could have fumbled away earlier in the season. Our guys have bought in and growing each game and it was a great win for us.”
Taylor led all Dolphins with 22 points on 9-14 shooting, adding four rebounds. Flagg added 13 points, including 11 in the first half, while Savage came off of the bench to pour in 12 markers in 25 minutes. Bracic would finish with 11 points while Latunji punched in an even 10. Andre Harris led Baruch with 23 points, adding four boards, while Ekekeugbor finished his day with 21 points and a game-high 13 rebounds. CSI shot 54.7% to Baruch’s 35.9%, and CSi held Baruch to just 4-22 from beyond the arc (18.2%). CSi held a slim rebounding edge, 40-38, while Baruch forced one more turnover, 15-14.
The win improved CSI’s record to 22-9 all-time in CUNYAC Semifinal games, and the Dolphins improved their record against Baruch in CUNYAC Postseason play to 14-5 all-time, having beaten the Bearcats in the semifinal round in each of the past two seasons. CSI will get the chance to defend their championship in the Final against Lehman, a runaway winner over John Jay in the CUNYAC’s other semifinal game, 78-55.