ROCHESTER, N.Y. – 'Third time was the charm' for No. 13 St. Mary's College of Maryland (25-5) as the Seahawks held off an athletic Buffalo State College (23-7) squad to earn their first-ever trip to the Elite 8 of the NCAA Division III Men's Basketball Championship Tournament. St. Mary's posted an 85-74 victory over Buffalo State in Friday night's sectional semifinal hosted by the University of Rochester in the Louis Alexander Palestra.
Four Seahawks scored in double digits as St. Mary's ended its streak of Sweet 16 exits. The Seahawks play tomorrow night at 7:00 pm in the sectional final against No. 2 Middlebury College (27-1), a 61-52 winner over host No. 17 Rochester in tonight's second sectional semifinal.
Senior guard Alex Franz (Catonsville, Md./Cardinal Gibbons), the 2011 Capital Athletic Conference Player of the Year, paced the Seahawks with 17 points, seven assists, and two steals while first-year center Christian MacAuley (Silver Spring, Md./Paint Branch) tallied 15 points, team-best six rebounds, and four blocks.
Senior center Sam Burum (Bethesda, Md./Walt Whitman) also finished in double figures with 12 points, five boards and three steals while junior Mikey Fitzpatrick (Bethesda, Md./Walt Whitman) came off the bench for 11 points on 3-of-4 shooting from downtown.
St. Mary's took control in the early stages of the game as the Seahawks went up 13-4 with 15:45 to go in the first half behind nine straight points from MacAuley, of which six came on dunks.
However, Buffalo State mounted a comeback to work their way back into the game. A Jake Simmons (Rochester, N.Y./School of the Arts) three-pointer brought St. Mary's lead down to 15-11 with 13:31 to go. Just under three minutes later, sophomore guard Anthony Hammer (Brooklyn, N.Y./Bishop Loughlin) was fouled on a layup attempt. He converted both foul shots to tie the game at 18, and then the Bengals took their first lead of the game, 20-18, on a Seth Runge (Springville, N.Y./Springville Griffith) layup with 7:45 left in the first half.
The rest of the first half was a back-and-forth affair, as there were seven lead changes in the final seven minutes of the half. However, St. Mary's went on an 8-0 run in the final two minutes of the half, highlighted by a Deon Queen (Pasadena, Md./Long Reach) three-pointer with 58 seconds to play, as the Seahawks took a 40-32 lead into halftime.
St. Mary's opened the second half with a 9-2 run, highlighted by sophomore guard Devin Spencer (Baltimore, Md./Towson Catholic) giving the Seahawks a 48-40 lead with 16:20 to go. A Burum layup 12:19 to go gave St. Mary's a 61-46 lead, their largest lead of the game at that point.
However, Buffalo State was not finished, as they worked their way back into the game with a furious comeback. Junior forward Ahmed Nagaya (Bronx, N.Y./Astor Collegiate Academy) slammed home a dunk with 12:03 to go. On the ensuing St. Mary's possession, sophomore forward Justin Mitchell (Buffalo, N.Y./Bishop Timon-St. Jude) blocked a shot, and Simmons took the ball the length of the court for a layup, as Buffalo State reduced the St. Mary's lead from 15 to 11 in 30 seconds.
The Bengals continued their comeback, as Simmons hit a three with 6:54 to go to make the score St. Mary's 60, Buffalo State 62. After St. Mary's was held scoreless on the next two possessions, Mitchell, who was Buffalo State's leading scorer with 27 points, and Nagaya hit back-to-back layups, as the Bengals cut the St. Mary's lead down to 3, as the score stood at 69-66 with 6:04 to play.
Ultimately, St. Mary's was too tough for the Bengals. The Seahawks reeled off six consecutive points, highlighted by a Kyle Wise (Baltimore, Md./Calvert Hall) layup with 4:14 to go, giving St. Mary's a 75-66 lead. Buffalo State was held to just eight points in the game's final two and a half minutes.
St. Mary's, playing in its third NCAA Tournament, improves to 7-2 all-time in tournament contests.