Published: March 2nd, 2016
After they suffered a heartbreaking double overtime loss to the Baruch Bearcats in last year’s City University of New York Athletic Conference (CUNYAC) Championship Game, the Bulldogs set their eyes on next year to seek redemption. On Friday, that is exactly what they accomplished.
Lorenzo Williams notched a game-high 25 points, as the Brooklyn College Men’s Basketball team defeated Baruch College 76-67 in the CUNYAC Championship at the City College of New York’s (CCNY) Nat Holman Gymnasium.
BC head coach Rich Micallef was ecstatic after the game, exclaiming, “I wouldn’t call [this] revenge. I’d call it redemption.”
And the Bulldogs knew they secured just that in the second half. Perhaps Micallef’s 1982 Brooklyn College Final Four men’s basketball team being honored at halftime brought in some additional motivation.
Chris McIllhatton drilled a three-pointer, and then proceeded to steal the ball on defense and get to the basket on the fast break for a layup, putting BC up 55-35 at the 6:54 mark for its largest lead of the night.
However, the Bearcats wouldn’t go down without a fight. Raymond De La Cruz knocked down a three-pointer with less than five minutes to go. A minute later, Edward Roscigno hit two free throws after Egzon Gjonbalaj fouled him, which cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 59-42.
Fortunately for the Bulldogs, Gjonbalaj was aware of the main theme of the night: redemption. Thirty seconds after his foul, he slammed home a thunderous dunk off of an assist by team captain Jamel Gist, which brought plenty of hollering Brooklyn fans to their feet.
In the final three minutes, Baruch continued to pester BC. Both teams exchanged buckets until the 2:36 mark, when William Sixsmith drained a three-pointer to cut the deficit to 65-52. Eighteen seconds later, Doyin Isaac scored on a fast break layup to bring the Bearcats within 11 points.
Baruch would eventually cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 69-60, but after the Bearcats began to intentionally foul to stop the clock, clutch free throws by Gjonbalaj, Gist, and Williams sealed the victory for BC.
Before the Bulldogs pulled away in the second half, the first half featured a very close contest. After over a minute-and-a-half of futile offense on both sides, Williams got the scoring started with a shot from downtown.
Brooklyn seemed to be pulling away after McIllhatton hit a three-pointer and Gist drilled a two-point jumper, giving the Bulldogs a 16-8 lead with about ten minutes left in the half. But De La Cruz hit his own three-pointer, which sparked a 10-2 run for the Bearcats to tie the game at 18-18.
The Bulldogs tried to pull away again, as Gist drained two straight treys to give his team a 24-18 lead at the 6:07 mark. But Isaac capped a 7-0 run for the Bearcats with a three-pointer, giving Baruch a 25-24 lead with just over a minute left in the first half.
Both teams exchanged leads, until Gjonbalaj hit one of two at the free throw line to tie the game up at 27-27 heading into halftime.
Williams, in addition to his 25-point performance, recorded four rebounds, three assists, and a steal. He displayed highly efficient shooting, going 8-of-15 from the field and 4-of-8 from beyond the arc. He also etched his name into Brooklyn College men’s basketball history, as he scored his 1,000th career point as a Bulldog. His outstanding performance led to him being named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
Gist showed off his point guard prowess, scoring 17 points while dishing out six assists and recording four steals. Gjonbalaj recorded the only double-double of the game with 13 points and 17 rebounds, despite shooting poorly from the field. He also had one steal and one block.
McIllhatton was a key contributor off of the bench, scoring 14 points on 4-of-7 three-point shooting.
For Baruch, Isaac led the team with 18 points and eight rebounds. Chimaechi Ekekeugbor put up 17 points and eight boards, while Roscigno and De La Cruz notched ten points each.
The Bulldogs utilized three-pointers and free throws to their advantage. They had 12 three-pointers and went 16-of-29 from the line, as opposed to the Bearcats hitting nine three-pointers and going 8-of-8 from the line.
Brooklyn also only turned the ball over seven times the entire game, while forcing 13 turnovers. The Bearcats paid for their folly, as the Bulldogs scored 14 points off turnovers compared to the Bearcats’ two.
Coach Micallef, who led this team to a city championship in just his second season as the head coach, praised his Bulldogs after the game. “They were a hell of a group from day one,” he said. “We kept up a picture of last year’s loss against Baruch, and these kids just didn’t want to quit.”
The Bulldogs won the CUNYAC Championship for the first time since the 2009-2010 season.
Brooklyn earned itself an automatic bid into the NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball tournament. The Bulldogs will play New York University in the First Round at host Christopher Newport University in Newport News, VA.
Additional reporting by Isaac Monterose