COLCHESTER, Vt. - In a battle of unbeatens, the Saint Michael's College men's basketball team rallied from 14 points down in the second half to upset 23rd-ranked Franklin Pierce University, 68-66, on Wednesday evening in the Ross Sports Center. Each team was competing in its Northeast-10 Conference opener, as the Purple Knights improved to 5-0, while the Ravens slipped to 5-1.
Saint Michael's is 5-0 for the first time since 2000-01, when the squad last qualified for the NCAA Tournament, ultimately reaching the Sweet 16. The Purple Knights also clamped down on a Franklin Pierce team averaging 90.4 points. Franklin Pierce advanced to last year's NCAA Tournament Elite Eight and is ranked this week by the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC).
Junior James Cambronne (De Bary, Fla./The Winchendon School) came within two points of his career high during a 17-point, five-rebound, two-block evening, shooting 7-of-14 for the hosts. First-year Matt Bonds (Accokeek, Md./North Point) added career bests of 16 points and 15 boards, with nine coming on the offensive end alone. Junior Mike Holton Jr. (Portland, Ore./The Winchendon School) had nine points and seven rebounds, classmate Corey Crawford II (Dover, Del./The Phelps School) turned in eight points and three steals, and junior Dom Ditlefsen (Portland, Ore./Sunset) had seven points and six rebounds. First-year Zaire Williams (Paterson, N.J./Newark Academy) tallied four steals in 12 minutes, and sophomore Morrell Gaskins (Cambria Heights, N.Y./Archbishop Molloy) notched six points and four caroms, three being of the offensive variety, as the Purple Knights held a 17-9 advantage on the offensive glass.
Senior Ellis Cooper (Northampton, Mass./Northampton) notched 18 points for Franklin Pierce, and junior Ryen Vilmont (Philadelphia, Pa./Hamden South) contributed 11 points and 10 boards. First-year Donte Gittens (Hartford, Conn./The Master's School) tacked on 11 points and three assists.
Cooper converted a three-point play to put the visitors ahead by a 55-41 count with 13:32 remaining in regulation before the Purple Knights regrouped, with Bonds posting consecutive put-backs and Cambronne adding back-to-back hoops during an 8-0 run, capping the stretch with a dunk at 10:56 that closed the gap to 55-49. After Franklin Pierce pushed its lead back out to 10, Saint Michael's finished the game on a 19-7 run, which Ditlefsen sparked with a three-point play and Cambronne continued with another dunk. Gittens' fast-break lay-up allowed the Ravens to hold a 64-59 advantage with 4:51 remaining before Holton hit an off-balance three and Bonds' put-back at 3:19 forged a 64-all tie.
Cooper's lay-up put the visitors back on top, 66-64, with 2:22 left, but Cambronne found Bonds down low for a tying bucket before Bonds completed the three-point play at 1:42. After holding the Ravens to three straight empty possessions, the Purple Knights saw sophomore Greg Grippo (Edison, N.J./Rutgers Prep) hit an insurance free throw with 0.8 ticks left before Franklin Pierce threw away a long ensuing inbounds pass at the buzzer.
Franklin Pierce scored the game's first 10 points by the time 2:51 had elapsed in the opening half and pushed its lead to 18-7 on a Vilmont three-pointer at 12:58. The Purple Knights closed to within seven points on a Holton hoop at 11:13, but the Ravens extended their advantage to 28-16 with 6:21 remaining on a Gittens bucket. The Purple Knights countered with the next nine points, as Gaskins' three-point play brought Saint Michael's within 30-28 at 2:39. Cambronne drilled a trey with 2:07 left to produce a 32-31 margin, but the Ravens scored the final seven points of the stanza. Saint Michael's came no closer than six points during the early portion of the second half before the visitors pushed their lead to a game-high 14.
The Purple Knights are on the road for three of their next four games, beginning with a Saturday match-up at Southern New Hampshire University, which won the 2013 NE-10 Championship, at 3:30 p.m.