BALTIMORE, Md. – The third time was the charm for the Ursinus College men's basketball team.
The Bears exorcised a number of demons with a dominating, 78-64 win at fourth-seeded Johns Hopkins in the first round of the Centennial Conference championship on Wednesday, raining 3-pointers all night and coasting to their first playoff victory since 2008. With the victory, fifth-seeded Ursinus booked a semifinal date at top-seeded Swarthmore, set for Friday at 8:00 p.m.
Junior Zach Quattro was a force for Ursinus (15-11), netting a game-high 22 points to help deliver a resounding victory for which the Bears were long overdue, in more ways than one. Johns Hopkins swept the regular-season series – albeit by a combined five points – and had taken the last eight meetings between the teams. Add that to its own playoff droughts – nine years since its last win and seven since its last postseason appearance – and Ursinus had plenty of reasons to celebrate.
Perhaps the most impressive in-game aspect of the Bears' rout was that they accomplished it without a big nights their leading scorer, senior Matt Knowles. The co-captain finished with seven points on just 1-for-8 shooting, typically an inauspicious development for Ursinus. Not so on this night, thanks to a big lift from some unexpected sources.
Freshman Ryan McTamney picked a perfect time to produce one of the best games of his young career, knocking down all three of his 3-point attempts and scoring 11 critical points off the bench. Junior Brian Rafferty, who had netted just 16 total points in his previous five games, made three of his four field-goal attempts to finish with eight and added a career-high 11 rebounds and four assists.
Sophomore Eric Williams Jr. shook off a slow start to make a trio of triples in the second half, winding up with 15 points on 4-for-7 from long range.
Though a 43-31 rebounding edge played a big role in the final result, this one was won at the 3-point line. Ursinus finished 13 of 24 (54.2 percent) from beyond the arc, Rafferty sinking both of his and Quattro going 2 for 3, while limiting the Blue Jays to a 5-for-23 effort (21.7 percent). Johns Hopkins had used the deep ball to its advantage in the regular season, knocking down 24 in the teams' first two meetings.
The Bears got off to a slow start, trailing 4-0 and 8-3 in the opening minutes before quickly finding their footing. A four-point play from Eric Williams preceded a jumpers by junior Joseph LoStracco (six points) and Quattro in an 8-0 run, and the teams settled in to a tight first frame. Leading 27-25, Ursinus hit another gear in the final three-plus minutes of the period.
Back-to-back 3-pointers by McTamney and Knowles extended the margin to eight, and that was just the beginning. After a dunk by Daniel Vila, Ursinus ran off a 10-0 burst over the final 1:20 of the half, which Rafferty capped with a buzzer-beating triple that sent the Bears flying into the break with a 43-27 advantage.
The Bears showed no let-down after intermission, leading by as much as 24 with 9:55 to go before settling for a 14-point margin.
Quattro (eight rebounds), freshman Shane Stark (seven), and Knowles (six) helped Rafferty on the glass for Ursinus, which was also 13 for 15 at the free-throw line.
Sam Gordon led Johns Hopkins with 19 points, and Ryan Curran chipped in 11.
With its first-ever victory in the first round of the CC championship, Ursinus improved to 9-7 all-time in conference tournament games, and 3-1 against the Blue Jays.
Having knocked off one playoff squad that swept it in the regular season, the Bears will look to repeat the feat on Friday when they take their third crack at the top-seeded Garnet. Ursinus is gunning to become the first number five seed in CC history to advance to the championship game. Tip-off will follow the conclusion of the other semifinal contest between second-seeded Franklin & Marshall and third-seeded Dickinson.