DOYLESTOWN (PA) – The Delaware Valley College men's basketball team captured its first-ever Freedom Conference championship and automatic bid to the NCAA Division III playoffs as the top-seeded Aggies outscored second-seeded two-time defending champion DeSales University, 42-17, over the final 14:20, en route to a 79-58 victory.
Delaware Valley, which was 3-22 overall and 0-12 in the Freedom just three years ago before head coach Casey Stitzel's arrival, improved to 17-10 and will now wait to hear who it play in the NCAAs and that announcement will made via a webcast at 1:00 p.m. on Monday, February 28 at www.ncaa.com. The men's hoops team joins the Aggie football squad as the lone programs to ever reach the NCAA tournament in a team-qualifying sport.
DeSales was in its fifth consecutive appearance in the Freedom championship game and it took home the crown in both 2009 and 2010. The loss on Saturday dropped the Bulldogs to 19-8.
Delaware Valley senior guard James Jones was named the Most Valuable Player of the Freedom tournament as he poured in a game-high 32 points, including 26 in the second half. The Freedom Conference Player of the Year was a perfect 13-for-13 from the foul line, upping his consecutive run of made free throws to 58. In the process, Jones also set a program record for points in a season (566) and moved into fourth on the all-time list (1,506 in just three years since transferring from Widener).
A near-capacity crowd at James Work Gymnasium saw six ties and nine lead changes in the first 25 minutes of the game. A 6-0 run by DeSales – two free throws by Bob Zanneo and back-to-back layuups by Brett Moyer – gave the Bulldogs a 41-37 advantage as the clock ticked towards the 14-minute mark.
Jones took over from there. He scored eight consecutive points on an old-fashioned three-point play, a long bomb and a layup to give the Aggies the lead for good. The Bulldogs got to within two on a pair of occasions, the last coming at 47-45 with 9:30 to go on a Moyer layup. However, Delaware Valley responded with a 9-2 spurt, including five by Jason Goldheimer and four by Jeremy Beckett, to make it a 58-47 game with 6:11 remaining.
Moyer followed with a pair of free throws, but that was as close as DeSales would get the rest of the way. Jones hit a jumper and followed two from the foul line. Chris Ellis added a pair of free throws to pad the lead to 15 with three minutes remaining. The Bulldogs were forced to foul the Aggies and they went to the free throw line 10 times in the next 54 seconds. They hit nine of them and led 73-56 with 2:08 remaining.
After Beckett blocked his school-record ninth shot of the game, Ellis sent the crowed into a frenzy with a fast-break layup while being fouled. He hit the free throw to make it a 20-point game with 1:53 to go. Eleven seconds later, Beckett added the exclamation point with a thunderous dunk. As the final seconds ticked off, the student body and other fans joined the Aggies on the court to celebrate the conference crown.
Neither team held a lead larger than seven points in the first half, and that was a 25-18 Delaware Valley advantage with 4:34 to go. DeSales scored four straight, but Aggie freshman Nathan Bollinger responded with a trey and a 28-22 score with 2:23 to go. The Bulldogs then scored the final six points of the stanza on two free throws by Brian Hunter, a layup by Moyer and a layup by Mike Coleman.
The second stanza saw the Bulldogs take their four-point lead in the opening five minutes, before Delaware Valley took full command. The Aggies shot 55.6 percent from the field in the final half while holding DeSales to 10-for-33 (30.3%) for the half and 21-for-66 (31.8%) for the game. Delaware Valley finished the game 24-for-29 from the foul line and trailed by just five on the boards, 43-38, after DeSales held a 20-rebound edge in the regular-season meeting in Doylestown (an 83-73 Bulldog win).
In addition to Jones' heroics, Beckett had a big afternoon on both ends of the court as the sophomore finished with 12 points, nine rebounds and the school-record nine rejections. Goldheimer, a senior and the lone healthy player on the current roster that was a member of the 2007-08 squad that went 3-22, hit a trio of 3-pointers and finished with 16 points. Ellis, also a senior, contributed 15 points and eight rebounds.
Moyer was outstanding in defeat for DeSales as notched 20 points and 12 rebounds before fouling out. Paul Pammer and Zanneo finished with 10 points apiece while Hunter had nine points and four assists, but was just 1-for-12 from the field.