COLLEGEVILLE, Pa. – The Ursinus College men's basketball team went almost a decade between playoff victories until last year's first-round triumph at Johns Hopkins. Now the Bears are making it a habit.
Ursinus squandered a 13-point second-half lead before making a number of massive plays down the stretch to hold off Dickinson, 80-76, in the Centennial Conference first-round game on Tuesday night. With the hard-fought victory, the Bears booked a rematch with Swarthmore in the semifinals, set for Friday night at Tarble Pavilion.
Ursinus caught fire late in the first half, took a five-point edge into the break, and expanded it to 13 three times in the first ten minutes of the second stanza, leading 59-46 on a pull-up jumper by junior Eric Williams Jr. with 10:09 remaining. But back came the Red Devils (15-11), who were making their eighth consecutive CC playoff appearance.
Dickinson scored the next eight points before sophomore Shane Stark brought a packed house down with a thundering driving dunk. Trailing 65-60, the Red Devils tied it at 67 on Bryce Allen's deep jumper and took a 69-68 lead on Justus Melton's free throws with 2:45 to play. That's when Stark and classmate Ryan McTamney – teammates since high school – took over.
Stark got a left-handed baby hook to drop on the next trip, handing the Bears the lead back for good. After senior Zach Quattro stepped in front of a pass, McTamney made a tough jumper to put the hosts up 72-69. McTamney's free throw after a missed three by Dickinson stretched the lead to four.
Jon Stenger's corner 3 brought Dickinson to within 73-72 with 1:07 left before McTamney made the play of the game, coming up with an offensive rebound off an airball and putting in a layup just before the shot-clock buzzer for a 75-72 advantage.
Senior Brian Rafferty knocked down two clutch free throws after a Red Devil basket, and Stark was on the receiving end of an errant pass on the other end. He quickly passed off to Eric Williams, who hit both to make it 79-74 with 9.5 seconds left.
After a Dickinson bucket, the Red Devils were called for an intentional foul, and although Williams missed both foul shots, the Bears got the ball back. Rafferty missed the first but iced the game with the second free throw with 4.3 ticks showing.
Stark was an all-around monster, compiling 17 points, eight rebounds, six assists, and three steals in a standout effort. Williams matched him with 17 points, while McTamney scored nine of his 12 in the second half. Quattro finished with 11 points, and senior Remi Janicot had nine off the bench.
Ursinus shot 51.0 percent for the night (26 of 51) and was 6 for 11 from 3-point range. The Bears owned a 36-31 edge on the glass and got 14 points from its bench to just three for Dickinson. The Red Devils, who placed four players in double figures, shot 43.3 percent overall.
Mike Hinckley topped Dickinson with 19 points, while Justus Melton posted 18 points and 13 rebounds. Moses Romocki had 15 points, and Allen added 13 with seven assists.
The lead changed hands several times in the early going, as both teams attempted to feel each other out in a tense atmosphere. It was the Red Devils who found a rhythm first, upping their lead to as high as nine on a driving bucket by Hinckley at the 7:58 mark of the period.
Ursinus still trailed 24-18 before catching fire in the last six minutes of the half. McTamney buried a corner 3-pointer to cut the deficit in half, and the Bears took the lead for the first time since the game's first six minutes on a right-wing trey by Janicot, who punctuated his follow through and gave a look to the student section as he came back down the court.
Rafferty's slashing layup extended the lead to 31-28 the next time down, and sophomore Shane Stark's transition finish made it a five-point game inside the final minute of the frame. Melton responded with a straightaway triple, but Eric Williams sent the home side flying into the locker room with a 36-31 lead on a catch-and-shoot bomb from the right wing that had head coach Kevin Small pumping his fist even as the ball swished through the net.
Eric Williams had three of the Bears' five treys in the first period, and Janicot provided a massive lift with eight points.
The Bears now get another crack at 12th-ranked Swarthmore, which rode home-court advantage to its first CC title a year ago. Tip-off for Friday's semifinal is set for 8 p.m. and follows the other contest between third-seeded Franklin & Marshall and second-seeded Johns Hopkins.