PALESTRA – Defense was the name of the game as the University of Rochester defeated Albertus Magnus College 89-66 in the first round of the NCAA Division III Tournament on Friday evening at the Louis Alexander Palestra.
The 13th-ranked Yellowjackets (22-4) pick up their first NCAA tournament victory since 2012-13 by holding the Falcons (23-5) to 23 points below their season average.
UR was led by two seniors who scored a combined 44 points, with Sam Borst-Smith scoring 24 and Mack Montague adding 20. Borst-Smith also had five rebounds, five assists and three steals while Montague made four 3-pointers, had four rebounds and three steals. Sophomore Andrew Lundstrom added 12 points and five boards off the bench.
"We wanted to come out with more energy than our opponents," said Borst-Smith. "We did just that, running our stuff well allowing us to get the W".
The Yellowjackets also got strong performances from Jacob Wittig who had nine points, eight rebounds and six assists, Zack Ayers who added eight points and 11 boards and Ryan Clamage and Patrick Benka who chipped in eight apiece.
Albertus Magnus had three players in double figures with Shaquille Mitchell leading the way with 16 points. Jaqhawn Walters produced a double-double with 11 points and 13 rebounds with three blocks while Grant Ellis added 13 points.
Overall as a team, the Falcons struggled to find a rhythm offensively, making only 30% of their shots (21-70) and were just 2-24 (8%) from behind the arc. Rochester on the other hand produced its best shooting performance in a month, making 49% (36-74) from the floor while shooting a 44% clip from distance (11-25).
"Our defense was key tonight," explained Montague. "We play a very gap heavy scheme and it might not have been something they have seen before."
Rochester was able to break open a 9-9 tie with a 12-2 run giving the home Yellowjackets a 10-point edge with 11:30 to play in the opening half. The Yellowjackets were a perfect 4-4 during the run with Wittig and Montague triple's bookending the spurt.
After Benka hit a three and Borst-Smith produced five straight points to build UR's lead to a first half high of 16, Albertus Magnus rattled off seven straight points to cut the deficit to nine.
Eventually the Yellowjackets would close the half with six straight points, heading to intermission with a 15-point lead at 43-28.
The Falcons were unable to chip away early in the second half and the key stretch to put the game out of reach was a 13-0 run putting Rochester up by a game-high 29 with 7:49 remaining. During the spurt, Albertus Magnus was 0-8 from the floor compared to UR's 5-8 shooting.
"Rochester did a tremendous job of limiting our penetration and neutralizing our best players with great help defense," said Falcons head coach Mitch Oliver. "That, along with shooting 2-24 from 3-point range is a recipe for a long night."
Rochester moves on to play Union College in the second round, after the Dutchmen upended Wesleyan University 89-83 earlier in the evening at the Palestra.
Saturday's contest will be a rematch from earlier this season when the Yellowjackets defeated Union 77-58 on December 12th, also in UR's home gym.