CENTER VALLEY (PA) – Jeremy Beckett had 25 points, 10 rebounds and five blocks as Delaware Valley College posted a 77-72 road victory over top-seeded DeSales University to capture the Freedom Conference championship and an automatic berth to the NCAA Division III playoffs for the second time in the last three years.
The win improved the Aggies to 19-8 on the season and they will now wait until Monday afternoon at 12:30 p.m. to find out who they will play in the NCAA first round, which begins on Saturday, March 2. DeSales, which was in the finals for the sixth time in the last seven years (won in 2009 and 2010), fell to 21-6 and will await an ECAC berth.
The triumph continued the amazing turnaround of the Delaware Valley program under fifth-year head coach Casey Stitzel. Stitzel took over the team at the age of 26 after the Aggies went 3-22 overall and 0-12 in conference play in 2007-08. The school had also made the basketball playoffs just one prior time and that was way back in 1969. With Stitzel at the helm, Delaware Valley has notched 68 wins (they had 62 over the previous 10 seasons combined), three conference tournament appearances, two Freedom championships and two NCAA berths.
Another big reason why has been Beckett. The three-time all-conference honoree and 2013 Freedom Conference Player of the Year posted his 17th double-double of the year (fifth in Division III), this one on the league's biggest stage. With the Aggie faithful who made the trip chanting "MVP," Beckett was 10-for-20 from the field and 5-for-7 from the foul line. Nine of his 10 boards came on the defensive end while his five rejections upped his season total to 71 and his career total to a school-best 257. Beckett set the school's single-game record with nine blocks in the 2011 title game against DeSales, a 79-58 home rout for Delaware Valley.
Delaware Valley got off to a 14-6 start as Beckett had seven points, three rebounds and pair of blocks through the first eight-plus minutes. DeSales came back and took its first lead of the game at 21-20, but Jay Donovan answered with a 3-pointer at the other end. Mike Coleman's jumper tied it at 23-23 with less than five minutes remaining.
The Bulldogs controlled the rest of the stanza as they outscored the Aggies, 10-5, to take a 33-28 lead into the break. Free throws played a big role in the first half as DeSales went to the line 12 times and converted 10 while Delaware Valley had just three opportunities and hit two. Four of the Aggies' five starters were whistled for two or more fouls while not a single foul was called on a DeSales starter.
Delaware Valley shook that off in the second half and opened the stanza with a 14-5 run to take a 42-38 lead with 15:35 remaining. Francis Arnold sparked the spurt with 10 of the 15 points, including a pair of 3-pointers.
Arnold picked up his third foul shortly after while backcourt mate Zach Sly got his fourth with 14:07 remaining and he came out of the game for a long stretch of time. The Bulldogs tied the game at 44-44 a minute later, but Delaware Valley took control thanks to a 12-4 run and a 56-48 advantage with 7:17 on the clock. Beckett and Donovan had five and four points respectively while Nick Sullivan, who came in for Sly, nailed a big trey.
The Aggies increased their lead to nine a few minutes later, but DeSales would not go away and a layup by Brett Moyer with 3:29 on the clock made it a 61-58 contest. Both teams hit two from the foul line before the Aggies scored eight of the next 11 for a 71-63 score with exactly a minute remaining.
DeSales hit two free throws then, after a Delaware Valley turnover, went to the line for two more and connected to make it 71-67 with 37.7 seconds to go. Sly was fouled five seconds later and calmly hit both for a six-point lead. Beckett then swatted away a Coleman layup attempt and he was fouled while dribbling up the court with 22.4 left to play. He hit one of two attempt to make it a three-possession game.
Coleman answered with a bomb with 15.3 ticks left to make it 74-70. Donovan was fouled on the inbounds and put the lead back to six with a pair of swishes. Ryan Griffin scored the Bulldogs' final two points from the foul line with 7.9 seconds to go and Donovan added one more with exactly seven ticks left. DeSales did not get another shot off and the Delaware Valley team and student body stormed the court to celebrate.
Delaware Valley shot 50 percent from the field in the second half and finished with a 24-for 59 showing, including 6-for-17 from 3-point land. Its defense held the Bulldogs to 32.3 percent shooting, including just 15 percent from beyond the arc (3-for-20). The free throws evened up by game's end and DeSales had a 46-37 edge on the boards, including 15 at the offensive end.
Donovan, bounced back from a tough Wednesday semifinal performance, to drain three treys as the sophomore finished with 15 points and six rebounds. Arnold notched 11 of his 13 points in the second half. He added five rebounds and four assists. Sly had 12 points while Daulton Derr added seven.
Brett Moyer had a game to remember in defeat as the senior, in his final battle with Beckett, had 19 points and 26 rebounds. Paul Pammer finished with 14 points while Coleman netted 12.