The St. Thomas Aquinas College men's basketball team dropped an 84-79 decision to Ferris State in a battle of nationally-ranked teams at the Hall of Fame Classic in Evansville, Indiana. The contest, the first of the season for both squads, lived up to its billing as the Spartans entered the game ranked #5 in the nation and Ferris State carried the #10 ranking in the National Association of Basketball Coaches in their pre-season poll.
Justin Reyes led all scorers with 26 points and 10 rebounds and Kameron Murrell added 14 for STAC. Drew Cushingberry led three Ferris State players with 21 points to go with five assists.
Both teams were eager to get the new season started and that resulted in an explosion of points early, with the score tied at 13-13 less than four minutes into play. Turnovers hurt the Spartans as Ferris State took off on a 13-2 run to grab their biggest lead at 24-15 eight minutes into play. STAC's defense generated some stops in trimming the margin to as few as three points, but the Bulldogs shook off their drought with an 8-0 run to open a 36-25 gap. Jamar Sudan's three-point play in the closing seconds of the half drew the Spartans to within 49-39 at the break, and St. Thomas Aquinas carried that momentum after the break.
Murrell scored the first four points of the second half and Chris Atkinson drained a three, followed by a pair of Murrell free throws as the 9-0 run cut the deficit to 49-48. After a Murrell three tied the score at 51-51, the Spartans offense ran cold, with Ferris State running off a 14-5 spurt over the next five minutes to reclaim some breathing room at 65-56.
STAC remained within striking distance from there, with a Reyes layup and a pair of free throws drawing back to 74-73 with 4:42 to play. A pair of Cushingberry foul shots was answered by another Atkinson trey, tying the score at 76-76 with four minutes to go. A Zach Hankins hoop followed by a two more free throws by Cushingberry put the Bulldogs back on top at 80-76. Reyes hit a layup with 1:08 left, and added one of two from the line with 54 seconds left to close to 80-79. On the next possession, Noah King would deal the big blow, hitting a three pointer with 30 seconds left to open a lead that Ferris State was able to hold.
STAC winds up the tough opening weekend against Findlay at 3:30 pm on Saturday afternoon. The Spartans will then play three in a row at home, opening the season at Aquinas Hall in the annual Tip-off Classic, with the University of New Haven visiting on Saturday, November 10 at 8:00 pm, followed by a tilt with St. Michaels College on Sunday, November 11 at 2:00. STAC then hosts the newly-renamed Jefferson (formerly Philadelphia University) on Wednesday, November 15 at 7:30 pm.