CENTER VALLEY (PA) – The Delaware Valley University men's basketball team clinched the number one seed and home court advantage for the upcoming Middle Atlantic Conference (MAC) Freedom championship tournament with a convincing, 76-67 road victory over DeSales University.
The Aggies improved to 16-9 overall and 11-3 in the conference to finish tied with Eastern University atop the standings. However, DelVal earned the tiebreaker as it split with DeSales during the regular season while Eastern split with the Bulldogs.
As a result, the Aggies and DeSales will hit the court against each other again, this time in Doylestown, for the conference semifinal on Wednesday, February 22 (7 p.m). The Bulldogs did win the regular-season meeting at DelVal (84-72 back on January 7), but the Aggies are a perfect 5-0 in the postseason when playing in front of the wild home crowd at James Work Gymnasium. A DelVal victory would mean it would host either Eastern University or third-seeded Misericordia University in the MAC Freedom Championship Game on Saturday, February 25 (time TBA).
The Aggies will look to win their fourth conference championship in the last seven years and their first back-to-back crowns. Few around the conference expected them to be in this position with a rookie head coach and the loss of three starters, including an All-American, from last year's championship squad. In fact, DelVal was picked to finish sixth in the preseason conference coaches' poll. Instead, head coach Mark Seidenburg and his Aggies will be number one seed for the MAC Freedom championship tournament for just the second time in program history (2011 when they defeated Wilkes and DeSales for the program's first championship and NCAA berth).
Needing a win on the road on Saturday to wrap up the top seed, the Aggies scored the first six points of the game, catapulted by their defense that forced three turnovers in the first two and ha alf minutes. DelVal extended its lead to 11 whenr a block from Tyrea Williams on the defensive end led to Tyliek Kimbrough finding an open Mike Cianciulli at the other end for his third trey of the half and a 28-17 advantage with 6:53 on the first half clock.
Three minutes later, Andre' Butler came down with a defensive rebound and threw a pass the length of the court to an open Austin Stoeckel who handed off to Tyrea Williams for a monster dunk to put the Aggies up 14, 36-22. DelVal scored 26 points in the paint and 12 points off of eight Bulldog turnovers in the first 20 minutes of action and led 40-28 at halftime.
The Aggies maintained a double-digit lead until Joseph Lococco found Connor Jones open for behind the arc and he hit to make it a 50-41 game with just under 11 minutes to play.
Then with 9:54 on the clock, Williams committed his fourth foul and the ensuing Bulldog free throws made it 52-43. DelVal's inbound pass was picked off by Tracy Simsick and he cut the deficit to seven with a layup. Then just 31 seconds after Williams' fourth foul, Kimbrough was whistled for his fourth foul and the Aggies were forced to play without their two leading scorers on the floor, holding a 53-45 lead. DeSales capitalized and quickly cut the DelVal lead to four with 6-2 run that included another trey from Jones to make it 55-51 with 8:10 left.
Kimbrough and Williams re-entered the game with 4:52 left in the second half and the Aggies up 58-54. Kimbrough quickly scored the next six points of the game by getting to the rack. He forced two fouls, made all of his free throws, and converted on a layup to but DelVal back up by double digits, 64-54.
With 1:33 to play in regulation Williams was called for his fifth and final foul as he hit Callahan who finished the and-1 play to make it 68-63. The Aggies then called upon the sophomore Butler, who got open behind the arc and hit a straight away three to make it 71-63 Aggies with 75 seconds left on the clock.
DelVal's defense held strong on the next possession and DeSales was forced to foul with less than a minute to play. Matsinye hit both free throws to extend the lead to 10 and seal the game for the Aggies.
Kimbrough showed why he is a MAC Freedom Player of the Year candidate as the senior guard was 8-for-12 from the field and finished with a game-high 21 points, including those big drives down the stretch. It was eighth, 20-plus point performance of the year and he hit double digits in 20 of the 25 regular-season contests. He also added four rebounds, four assists and three steals.
Butler's clutch trey helped him finish with 16 points to go along with nine rebounds while playing all 40 minutes. Matsinye also played the entire game and the sophomore notched 12 points, nine boards and four assists. Williams notched his 12th double-double of the year with 11 points and 10 rebounds while Cianciulli also hit double digits with 12 points.
Simsick and Jones each came off the bench to pace the Bulldogs with 18 and 15 points respectively. Callahan and Kuity Slanfer netted 12 each in the loss.