HUNTINGDON, Pa. --- The second seeded Moravian College men's basketball team connected on 7-of-8 free throws in the final 27 seconds to post an 81-78 victory over top seed Juniata College to capture the 2018 Landmark Conference Championship Saturday afternoon in Huntingdon and earn an automatic berth to the 2018 NCAA Division III National Championship Tournament.
The Greyhounds recorded their 20th win of the season, now 20-7, and it marks the first time in the program's 81-year history that Moravian has hit the 20-win plateau. The conference title is the first in the 11 years of the Landmark Conference for the Hounds, and Moravian's only other conference championship listed in the record books was in 1940. The Blue and Grey will be making their third appearance in the NCAA Tournament and first since 2008. The program's other NCAA appearance came in 1983.
"I thought both teams played physical, tough and aggressive today," commented Head Coach Justin Potts, who improved his career mark to 50-30 in just his third season leading his alma mater. "I give Juniata Coach Greg Curley a lot of credit. He has a really good team that deserves a chance to get in the NCAA Tournament. I thought they had a good environment in Huntingdon for the game. I thought our guys stuck with things. We didn't play our best today. We continued to keep clawing and grinding, and I think our pressure eventually wore them down late in the second half.
"We started to get a little more pace in the second half," continued Potts. "It was a win because of our depth. We had multiple guys play. Oneil made some big plays for us, and guys just kept believing. We talked about being in the moment and having some experience from last year's loss at Scranton, which I think helped. This is a win not only for these guys but everyone that has ever worn the uniform. We've had great support all year at home, and we had great support here today. I think it is just a special moment for Moravian basketball."
Moravian was led by junior forward Oneil Holder, who was named the Landmark Conference Championship Most Valuable Player after netting a game-high 28 points to go with five rebounds, two assists, two steals and a pair of blocked shots in the title game Saturday. Holder was also 9-for-9 at the foul line as he helped the squad go 25-for-28 at the charity stripe.
"It was a team effort today," stated Holder. "I'm glad we were able to prevail and win the championship today, and the MVP award is definitely a team award because I couldn't have done it without my teammates."
Junior guard Nicholas Casazza was the only other Greyhound in double figures with 10 points to go along with three steals and two rebounds. Sophomore forward C.J. Barnes added nine points including 7-of-8 at the foul line, and he added three rebounds and two steals. Junior guards Jimmy Murray and Will Brazukas each scored eight points with Brazukas adding four assists and three boards.
Holder and Murray both moved into a tie for 16th in school history with 1,118 points, tying Bernie Ivin '88, and Holder is now 12th in program history with 524 career rebounds.
Sophomore forward Addis Ralph tossed in five points with two boards while sophomore guard Mike Martino had five points, three rebounds and a pair of steals. Senior guard Matt Cardonne had four points as he became just the 14th player to play in 100 career contests with the Greyhounds while senior forward Khalil Rhett had five rebounds and two points. Freshman guard Matt O'Connor added two points and a rebound while junior guard Elijah Davis grabbed two rebounds.
The Greyhounds connected on 24-of-65 field goal attempts and 8-of-33 beyond the three-point line in the victory. Moravian's pressure defense forced Juniata into 22 turnovers in the game while the Blue and Grey turned the ball over just 11 times. The 81 points scored by the Greyhounds give the squad a school-record 2,324 points, and Moravian also has school marks for assists with 444, steals with 310, three-pointers with 309 and blocked shots with 107.
Holder opened the scoring basket of the game, but Juniata quickly scored the next six points, and the Eagles would race out to a 12-4 advantage with 14:48 left in the first half. Moravian answered with seven straight points with Casazza cutting the deficit to a point, 12-11, at 13:24. Holder tied the contest at 18-18 with a three-pointers only to see Juniata score the next seven points and take a 25-18 lead with 9:11 to play in the first half.
The Eagles had a 30-22 lead with 6:15 before the intermission before Casazza hit a three-pointer to pull the Hounds within three, 30-27. Juniata had a seven-point lead before a lay-up by Rhett sent the teams to the locker rooms with the Eagles holding a 39-34 edge.
Juniata scored 14 seconds into the second half for a 41-34 advantage, and Moravian answered with seven straight points, tying the game for the third time at 41-41 on a lay-up by Martino with 17:29 still to play. The Eagles moved ahead again, this time by five points, 52-47, before Murray knotted the score at 52-52 on a three-pointer at 12:34.
The Greyhounds eventually moved back in front, 57-56, on a Holder three-pointer with 10:23 remaining only to see Juniata retake the lead and push its edge to 67-61 with 6:22 to play. The Blue and Grey slowly fought back and took a 74-73 lead on a pair of Holder free throws with 2:26 on the clock Juniata moved ahead by a point before Brazukas went to the line with 27 seconds left after Holder was injured. Brazukas hit both free throws to give the Hounds a 76-75 lead, and Barnes would hit 3-of-4 free throws in the final 23 seconds and Murray added a pair of free throws with 1.2 ticks left on the clock to seal the victory.
Moravian will find out its opponent and site for the 2018 NCAA Division III Tournament First Round on Monday, February 26 when the NCAA televises its Selection Show on NCAA.com at 12:30 p.m.