New York, NY | For the second consecutive year the College of Staten Island men’s basketball team hoisted the CUNYAC’s ultimate prize, scoring a thrilling, 77-75, victory over top-seeded Lehman College at the Nat Holman Gymnasium at The City College of New York, guaranteeing them a return trip to the NCAA Division III National Championship Tournament.  The win marked the first coaching championship for Head Coach TJ Tibbs, as the Dolphins finished 17-11 overall.  The win interrupted Lehman’s 14-game win streak, sending them to 22-5 overall as they will await word of a possible at-large postseason berth.

The Dolphins and Lightning played two games during the regular season that came right down to the wire, games that the Dolphins held the lead for a majority of the time, only to see the top-seeds come back and steal the game in the waning moments.  Lightning almost struck a third time tonight, as the Lightning overturned a 12-point deficit with a chance to tie with a second left, but fell short on a free-throw miss that CSI was able to rebound, holding on for the high-pressure win in front of over 1,000 strong at CCNY. 

Before the nail-biting finish, Lehman was the hotter of the two sides in the early stages, using Andrew Utate and Luis Hernandez three’s to take a 10-7 edge four minutes into the game.  Still, the Dolphins kept a safe distance despite a 3-for-11 start from the floor.  Down 10-9, a Christian Taylor three gave CSI the lead, 12-10, with just over 14 minutes to go in the opening stanza, and although it would be hard to predict, CSI never trailed again.  The Dolphins stayed hot from there, ultimately taking a 19-12 lead thanks to a pair of Taylor jumpers and a three from Raymond Savage.

From there, the teams would parry back-and-forth, with CSI taking as much as a nine point lead on one of two Jade Spencer put-backs, while Lehman was able to close to just two on a Hernandez three to cut it to 27-25 with 6:23 to go.  CSI’s Edin Bracic would counter with a three, setting the stage for a 12-3 CSI run over the next six minutes, with sophomore Adeola Latunji knocking down a contested three as time expired in the break to give CSI their biggest lead, 39-28, at the break.  It put the Lightning in unfamiliar territory as it was their largest halftime deficit of the season.  To that point, CSI had managed to piece together 25-16 edge in rebounding, and had done an admirable job spreading the ball around, holding a 10-1 edge in assists.

Three quick whistles against the Dolphins to open up the second frame proved fruitful for the top-seeds, however, as they immediately went on a 7-0 run to open the second half, capped by a Utate three from the top of the arc, prompting a CSI timeout.  That awoke the Dolphins, as Bracic popped in a three to start a 9-2 rally, capped by a Robert Rossiter three and a steal and transition lay-up from Taylor, putting CSI back up by their biggest lead, 51-39.

It did not dampen the Lehman resolve, and two consecutive three’s by Utate answered the bell for Lehman after a timeout, and after a Stephen Flagg offensive foul, Utate hit another to make it a three-point game, 51-48, with 14:20 to play.  The Dolphins weathered the threat, using a pair of Latunji freebies and a Taylor jumper from just inside the top of the curve to go up again by seven, 55-48.

Inside the eight-minute mark, CSI had matched it’s biggest lead, using four-straight Flagg points, the first two on a sterling drive to the net, to go up, 66-54.  The lead would stay in double-digits for most of the next three minutes, and CSI hit a personnel snag when Rossiter, the team’s second-leading scorer, fouled-out with 5:09 remaining, as Hernandez cut the lead to seven on a three-point play.  Hernandez then proceeded to steal on the next possession, taking it in for a transition bucket to cut the lead to 69-64.  Another CSI turnover, was followed by a Raymond Savage ejection for picking up his fifth foul, and Hernandez drilled all three free-throws to make it a one-possession game, 69-66 with 4:24 to go.  A free-throw and then steal and lay-up by Jean Marcial then completed the comeback, tying the score at 69-69 with 3:30 to go.

The Dolphins needed a response, and got it from Taylor, who fired in a corner three with the shot clock expiring the other way, igniting the CSI crowd.  That set the stage for a frantic finish, as both teams drew up their next moves at the media timeout with 2:19 left in regulation. The teams would miss a jumper on each side and as play drew under a minute, CSI’s Latunji converted two free-throws to put CSI up 74-69.  Lehman then put the ball in Utate’s hands, and the senior fired in a long three that recharged the Lightning with 38 seconds left.  Forced to foul, Latunji fired in another pair to give CSI a 76-72 edge, this time with 13 seconds left.

Down this road before, Lehman looked to stage another last second comeback, and Mylo Mitchell converted a lay-up with just eight ticks left, cutting the lead to 76-74.  Again forced to foul, Hernandez locked up Latunji with six seconds to play, but this time, the CSI sophomore inexplicably missed both ends of his free-throws and Lehman’s Hernandez grabbed the carom and raced down the floor, only to be fouled with 1.7 second left on the clock.  A near 80% free-throw shooter, Hernandez hit pay-dirt on the first but missed the second and Latunji pounced on the loose ball, getting fouled with .7 on the clock.  Latunji sank the first, but missed the second, and although Lehman grabbed the rebound, Utate could only hoist a shot after the final whistle blew and CSI stormed the court in victory, getting over a Lehman team that had beaten them twice in the final seconds previously.

“You can never get comfortable against teams like this,” commented Tibbs after the game.  “We just fought hard and tried to stay composed.  Our goal was not to give them easy shots, and we tried to push them off their comfort zone.  I thought our guys did a great job.  We have a lot of winners on this team, guys who are used to winning   So we knew that if we just continued to work hard and focus we could put ourselves in this type of spot, and when you do, anything can happen.”

For Taylor, who was named the game’s Most Valuable Player after another clutch performance that saw him land 14 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists, the frenzied ending proved normal in the face of the season.  “We practice these situations all the time, so we kept our poise and we believed in our coaches gameplan and stayed confident.  This was a great win for us.”  The sophomore is now welcoming the future as a two-time champion, as the Dolphins await their NCAA fate on Monday.  “We just have to play our game.  We know we are going to be undersized at times but that plays to our benefit also.  So we have plenty of confidence coming in.”

Beyond Taylor, Latunji finished with a CSI high 21 points adding nine rebounds, while Rossiter had 16 and Edin Bracic finished with 10.  Flagg finished with seven points and 11 rebounds, as did Jade Spencer, who added six points.  Lehman was paced by Hernandez’ 29 points and 10 rebounds, but the senior was just 7-15 from the free-throw line.  Utate finalized with 24 points landing six of eight three-point shots.  CSI shot just 37.7% to Lehman’s 44.8%, but enjoyed a 50-37 edge in rebounds, including a 14-7 edge on the offensive glass.

For the Dolphins the win marked their 15th CUNYAC title, and their third over Lehman.  They improved to 7-3 all-time against the Lightning during the Postseason and 15-7 all-time in the CUNYAC’s Final game.

The Dolphins will now learn their postseason fate on Monday, when the NCAA announces its entire field of teams in time for next weekend’s tournament.  Be sure to stay connected to for the latest information.