The St. Thomas Aquinas College men's basketball team rallied to a high-paced 106-100 victory over Mercy College in an East Coast Conference game at Aquinas Hall. The Spartans have now won eight straight games and 13-of-14 overall to improve to 13-3 overall, and retained sole possession of first place with a 4-0 conference mark. Mercy fell to its fifth loss in six games overall to drop to 6-7, 2-3 with the loss.
Earlier in the evening, the US Basketball Writers' Association announced that Justin Reyes had earned Division II National Player-of-the-Week honors. Reyes, who had already earned POTW from the East Coast Conference on the strength of 49-point performance against Adelphi on Saturday, including a torrid 18-of-21 shooting from the field.
Despite their recent struggles, Mercy jumped out to a quick 10-2 advantage punctuated by a Kelvin Howard three-pointer at the 16:21 mark. STAC scored the next six points, though the Mavericks held a narrow 20-16 edge midway through the half. Dequawne Richards hit a pair of foul shots to cap a 9-2 burst, giving the visitors a 29-18 lead with eight minutes left.
STAC's defense dug in and held Mercy scoreless for over three minutes, and Chris Atkinson reeled off seven points in a 14-2 run to close the margin to 33-32 with just over four minutes left. The Mavericks held tough, however and never trailed while holding a 49-46 halftime lead despite James Mitchell's late three-pointer.
It wasn't until a JR Connell bucket with 17:36 remaining that the hosts grabbed their first lead, a narrow 53-52 gap. Several lead changes ensued and the affair remained tight until a Richards dunk opened breathing room for the Mavericks at 71-64 with 13 minutes left. Reyes scored four points as the Spartans reeled off the next eight straight to reclaim a 72-71 lead.
With the struggle continuing, Sal Barbetto put Mercy back on top at 81-80 with 8:12 to go, but a Connell dunk followed by a Chris Atkinson trey touched off a 12-1 run to give the hosts a lead they would not relinquish. After trailing by as many as 11 down the stretch, the Mavericks shrunk the deficit to as little as four before finally succumbing.
Reyes led all scorers with 29 points to do with a dominant 18 rebounds, seven assists and four blocks to lead the way. Joining the senior among the five Spartans in double-figures were Shaq McFarlan with 21, along with James Mitchell (11), Atkinson (11), and Zach Rzwenicki. Richards had a strong showing to lead Mercy with 27 while Barbetto added 26.
The Spartans return to action for a big ECC showdown at the University of Bridgeport on Saturday, January 6. After two more road conference tilts, they return to Aquinas Hall to host LIU Post on Saturday, January 20.