Plattsburgh, N.Y. - The Trinity College men's basketball team lost a heartbreaking, 75-73, thriller in the first round of the NCAA Division III Men's Basketball Championship Tournament on Friday evening in Plattsburgh. The Bantams fell to the hands of the Johnson & Wales Wildcats who win their 27th game of the season and advance to the next round against the winner of tonight's other first round matchup between Plattsburgh State and Fitchburg State. Trinity ends the season with a 19-8 overall record.
Johnson & Wales started the game in a full court press that the Bantams handled well early. Senior captain Andrew Hurd (Windsor, Conn.) dropped in Trinity's first four points of the evening however the high-powered Wildcats offense found themselves up 18-8 early, shooting over 77% from the field in the first five minutes. A three-pointer from sophomore Eric Gendron (Merricmack, N.H.) ended Johnson & Wales' 7-0 run and cut the lead to 18-11 with just under 14 minutes to play in the opening half. The Wildcat press began to cause problems for the Bantams as Johnson & Wales forced nine Trinity turnovers in under ten minutes and opened up a 24-11 lead at the under-12 media timeout.
A foul on Johnson & Wales' Anthony Jernigan (East Hartford, Conn.) at the 8:44 mark put the Wildcats in the bonus and Trinity senior captain Jaquann Starks (Hartford, Conn.) nailed a pair of free throws to cut the deficit to nine. The Bantams forced a turnover on the other end that junior Langdon Neal (Chicago, Ill.) picked up and took coast-to-coast to make it 26-19 and caused the Wildcats to burn a timeout. With under three minutes to play in the half, junior center Ed Ogundeko (Brooklyn, N.Y.) came up with a huge offensive rebound off a miss by Hurd that he put back to trim the deficit to six again. Trinity caused a Wildcat turnover on the other end followed by a foul on Johnson & Wales that allowed senior captain Rick Naylor (Subury, Vt.) to hit a free throw and cut the deficit to five. Trinity's Chris Turnbull (Ridgewood, N.J.) made a layup as time expired in the first half to make it 40-36 in favor of the Wildcats.
Trinity took advantage of the Wildcats' foul trouble, connecting on 14-18 foul shots however they shot just 2-of-11 from beyond the arc. Ogundeko led the team with 11 points and seven boards at the half while Hurd chipped in nine points. For Johnson & Wales, senior Quarry Greenaway (Westchester, N.Y.) led the way with 12 points followed by Clayton Roker (New City, N.Y.) and Robert Lewis (Providence, R.I.) who both had seven points.
Both teams traded buckets early in the second half as Trinity was unable to get closer than four. That was until Santana hit a three pointer with 12:04 to play that made it 55-52 in favor of the Wildcats. Johnson & Wales answered with two consecutive buckets to regain a seven point lead before the under-12 media timeout. Santana hit a quick corner-three right out of the timeout to make it a four point game once again, 55-49 in favor of the Wildcats. Tom Garrick (Seeconk, Mass.) extended Johnson & Wales' lead to eight with a pair of free thrwos at the 7:30 mark but senior captain Shay Ajayi (Brooklyn, N.Y.) answered right back with a bucket in the paint for Trinity. On the opposite end, Jarell Lawson (Providence, R.I.) hit a big three pointer for the Wildcats that extended their lead to nine with under seven minutes to play.
Johnson & Wales committed its seventh team foul with 4:50 to play, sending Ajayi to the line who converted both free throws to cut the deficit back to seven. Ogundeko came up with a monster block at the other end which led to another Wildcat foul that sent Ajayi to the line once again. Ajyi sunk both to make it 68-63 in favor of Johnson & Wales with less than four minutes to play. Ogundeko followed that with another huge block, collecting his own rebound and getting fouled in the process that sent him to the line. The junior hit both to make it a 68-65 game with 3:19 left on the clock. After a Wildcat free throw, Ajayi got the ball in transition and threw down a huge dunk to cut the deficit to two and followed that by causing a turnover and getting fouled. He made one-of-two at the line, making it a 69-68 game with 2:25 to go. A Trinity foul on Gendron sent Garrick to the line with 1:31 to play where he sank both to extend Johnson & Wales' lead to three. On the other end of the floor, Ajayi hit a runner in the lane to answer. Garrick responded with a jumper of his own to regain a three point lead with less than a minute to play, however Hurd got the ball and sank a three-pointer from the parking lot to tie the game at 73 with 35.9 seconds to play. The Wildcats held the ball with a four second difference on the shot and game clock and got it down to ten seconds before Lawson hit a floater in the lane to give Johnson & Wales back the lead. Hurd dribbled the ball over the timeline for Trinity before calling a timeout to set up a play with 7.6 seconds remaining. Out of the timeout, Ajayi had a decent look at the top of the paint, but the ball hit the backboard and bounced off the front of the rim as time expired as the Wildcats celebrated on the floor.
Ogundeko and Hurd led Trinity in scoring, each dropping in 17 points with Ogundeko adding a game-high 10 rebounds as well. Ajayi added 11 points while Starks finished with nine points for the Bantams. For Johnson & Wales, Greenaway led the team with 19 points followed by Garrick with 16, Lewis with 14 and Lawson with 13. This marks the final game in the Trinity College careers of Hurd, Starks, Ajayi, and Naylor.