NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. - The Saint Michael's College men's basketball team stood tied with regionally-ranked Merrimack College with fewer than three minutes left on Tuesday evening but was unable to pull off its second straight upset, ending the season with an 81-70 loss on Hammel Court. The Purple Knights, who had downed regional power Saint Anselm College on Saturday, finished the year 7-19 overall and 4-17 in the Northeast-10 Conference. The Warriors, who were 10th in the latest NCAA East Region poll, moved to 18-10 and 14-7, including 9-3 at home.
Junior Levi Holmes III (East Brunswick, N.J./Rutgers Prep) concluded a historic season with 22 points, his 19th 20-point outing, while finishing with 627 points, the fourth-most ever by a Purple Knight, with the top three totals all collected by eventual NBA Draft selections. Holmes finished 8-of-8 on free throws with two steals while becoming just the sixth player in the history of the NE10, founded in 1980-81, to average at least 24.0 points in a season (24.1). Sophomore Eli DiGrande (Essex Junction, Vt./Essex) notched 13 points with nine rebounds, four assists and two blocks.
First-year Jason Heter (Andover, N.J./Newton) scored 12 points with four boards in just 10 minutes off the bench, and junior Derek Cheatom (Buffalo, N.Y./The Park School of Buffalo) had 12 points and eight rebounds. Senior Colin Richey (Upton, Mass./Choate Rosemary Hall) added nine points, three assists and two steals in his final college appearance, while sophomore Jordan Guzman (Staten Island, N.Y./Xaverian) totaled four assists and two steals.
Sophomore Juvaris Hayes recorded 16 points, seven assists and three steals for the hosts, while junior Ryan Boulter collected 16 points behind 4-of-8 three-point shooting. Senior Kyle Howes had 13 points and four steals, while sophomore Jaleel Lord notched 11 points and seven rebounds. Redshirt senior Tawayne Anderson Jr. ended with 11 points and 10 boards.
With his team down 4-0, DiGrande scored six points during an 8-1 run before Saint Michael's still led 10-8 on Cheatom's jumper at 14:30 of the first half, but Merrimack countered with the next 13 points, as Lord scored five to lead four scorers. Holmes scored five points in 23 seconds to cut the deficit to 21-15 with 9:25 to go, and his assist on Cheatom's triple made it 26-22, capping a run of 12 straight Purple Knight points in which he had a hand. He netted the other nine himself.
Heter then went to work, scoring eight consecutive Saint Michael's points in a matter of 3:17, but the Warriors buried three three-pointers in that time to pull ahead 41-30. Anderson's lay-in at 46 seconds kept it an 11-point halftime deficit, but DiGrande and Holmes twice alternated baskets to trigger an 8-0 run to kick off the second half. Holmes' lay-in at 17:20 had his team down just 43-40. After Merrimack scored the next five points, Holmes buried a three, Heter provided two hoops, and Richey knocked down a triple to bring Saint Michael's within 51-50 at 12:11.
Hayes scored the next five points, and Lord's trey made it 59-54, but Holmes netted four straight points and Cheatom drilled a go-ahead three with 6:47 remaining, accounting for the first of four lead swings in a 2:27 stretch. Two Holmes freebies snapped a tie and pushed the lead to 65-63 with 4:41 left, but junior Troy McLaughlin and Boulter buried threes 36 seconds apart to put the Warriors back in front. Richey banked home a runner before Guzman was fouled on a drive soon thereafter, leading to his tying free throws with 2:57 remaining. Hayes drove for a go-ahead bucket just 11 seconds later, and a Purple Knight turnover under the hoop led to Hayes' transition basket at 2:13. A three-point miss by the visitors was then met by Boulter drilling two treys in 57 seconds, as the hosts ended the game on a 12-1 run.
Holmes' final scoring average this season of 24.1 points tied Tom Hoey '79 (1978-79) for the third-highest figure in school history, and the best since 1965 NBA Draft pick Rich Tarrant '65 turned in 26.3 during the 1964-65 season. With 627 points, Holmes ended with the fourth-most points by a Purple Knight, and the most since 1967 NBA Draft selection Dick Falkenbush '67 had 648 in 1966-67. Only Tarrant ever had more points, scoring 702 in 1963-64 and 685 in 1964-65. During the evening, Holmes, who already had the most points in a season since Saint Michael's joined the NE10 in 1987-88, passed George Daway '88 (609 in 1986-87) on the program's all-time season scoring list.
With a 24.1-point average this year, Holmes joined Southern New Hampshire University graduate student Chris Walters (24.3) to become just the fifth and sixth players in NE10 history (since 1980-81) to average at least 24.0 points, with Holmes just the second junior. They are the first since Springfield College senior Hassan Robinson, with 25.0 in 1994-95, to turn the feat. Springfield senior Ivan Olivares (26.0, 1985-86), Stonehill College junior Bob Reitz (25.1, 1981-82) and Bryant University senior Ernie DeWitt (24.4, 1980-81) were the first three to reach the plateau. While he finished second in the NE10 in scoring average to Walters, Holmes ended up with the highest average in league contests, with 24.9 points.
Holmes knocked down his 89th and 90th three-pointers of the season on Tuesday in his 26th game, joining Todd Roberts '01 (92 in 31 games, 2000-01) and James Sorrentine '08 as the only Purple Knights to hit 90 threes. Sorrentine had 97 in 27 contests during the 2004-05 season, as well as 91 in 29 games in 2006-07. Holmes' three-point percentage of 47.1 was good for fourth all-time, just shy of his third-place 47.5 percent last season, while he broke BJ Robertson's '06 12-year-old program record (87.7%) by knocking down 89.9 percent of his free throws, going 107-for-119. Holmes' 215 field goals also place him ninth in school annals. Heading into his senior year, he is 21st in program history in scoring, with 1,299 career points, after passing Bob Toner '74 (1,282) and Monroe Blakes '92 (1,288) on Tuesday. Holmes is sixth with 207 threes.