BUFFALO, NY -- On Wednesday, February 6th, the Villa Maria Vikings (20-3) survived a late run by the Bryant & Stratton College - Buffalo Bobcats (13-9) to win by a final score of 94-87. The Viking's win leaves the two teams split on the year as an intense rivalry continues to build.
Currently ranked #2 in the nation in USCAA Division II Men's Basketball, Villa Maria came into Wednesday night's game with only three losses on the season, the first one coming at the hands of Bryant & Stratton College - Buffalo. Since that win, the Bobcats have had a rollercoaster of a season. Starting 2019 on a 6-game win streak, things looked destined for a strong finish and perhaps momentum moving into post-season play. However, with inclement weather leading to game cancellations and some tough losses on the road, the Bobcats entered Burt Flickinger Athletic Center looking to shake off four consecutive losses.
In the first half, the Bobcats looked destined to get back on track. Jordan Street bumped and banged his way inside to score 9 first-half points. Isolated up top, Tyrell Mitchell handled the ball like a guard; he scored 8 points slashing to the hoop to get fouled or finish at the rim. For balance, Damone Brown Jr. held down things from the three-point arch, going 3-4 in a blaze of sharp shooting that built an early lead 9-point lead for the Bobcats.
But true to all cross-city rivalries, Villa Maria looked to throw a counter punch. Swinging back was Lonnie Taylor and Dominic Douglas, both players battling inside and also getting out in the open court for some easy lay ups. Taylor scored 8 points and Douglas contributed 10 points to a Villa Maria run that put them up at halftime, 42-36.
Starting the second half, Villa Maria quickly extended their lead to 9 points behind the play of Dejuan Owens. Owens got free for an open lay up. Then his penetration got him to the free throw line; he would shoot 4-7 from the field and score 10 second-half points. Continuing their agressive play, Taylor and Douglas battled down low, but it would be their teammates Jonathan Pozo and Gerald Bibbs that would do most of the work on the offensive end. Pozo got going scoring 10 points, but also dishing out 5 assists. Bibbs seemed to be everywhere there was a lose ball. He scored 14 points and grabbed 6 rebounds in the second half.
With all pieces working organically for Villa Maria, they built a substantial advantage over the Bobcats in the second half. Up by 16 points with five minutes remaining, it looked bleak for a Bryant & Stratton College come back. However, no one must have mentioned that to senior guard, Nicc Johnson.
As Kevin Ford penetrated and the Villa Maria defense collasped, Johnson found open spaces, moving without the ball. Ford delivered and Johnson knocked down two three pointers in a row from well beyond 25 feet out. Then Damone Brown Jr. got into the action, spotting up and knocking down a three pointer of his own. With one minute remaining, Johnson stole the ball and layed it up in the open court, cutting the Viking lead to 8 points at 90-82.
With only 45 seconds remaining, it was clear to see why the rivalry between these two teams was something to behold. Yet, in these final seconds of the game, it also became clear why the win would belong to Villa Maria.
In a crucial possession, the Bobcats would turn the ball over, and even after getting the ball back with only 30 seconds ticking away on the clock after a Damone Brown Jr. steal, the Bobcats missed crucial free throws. In fact, for the game, the Bobcats shot 61% from the free throw line going 22-36, which comes out to 14 important points they failed to capitalize on.
Mitchell scored 20 points, Johnson poured in 22 points, Brown Jr. contributed 19 points, but utlimately in a losing effort.
As the clock ran out, Villa Maria walked away victorious after a hard-fought and well-deserved win, surviving a late Bobcat surge.
On Friday, February 8th, Bryant & Stratton College - Buffalo will take on Bryant & Stratton College - Greece at Burt Flickinger Athletic Center. Tip off is 7pm.
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