Men's Basketball Knocks off #19/22 St. Thomas Aquinas, 75-73

Bess shared the team lead with 15 points, while adding five rebounds, in today's win. (PHOTO BY SportsPix)

Bess and de Graaf combine for 30 bench points to lead Skyhawks

EASTON, Mass. (November 26, 2017) – Stonehill College turned in a sound offensive performance and a strong defensive effort in knocking off nationally-ranked Saint Thomas Aquinas College, ranked 19th in this week's D2SIDA Top 25 media poll and 22nd in the National Association of Basketball Coaches (NABC) Division II poll, in a battle of the last two NCAA East Regional Champions on Paula Sullivan Court at Merkert Gymnasium this afternoon.

Senior Isaiah Bess (LaGrange, Maine/Hampden Academy) and freshman Owen de Graaf (Beamsville, Ontario/Choate Rosemary Hall) combined for 30 points in 10-of-11 shooting from the floor, including 7-for-8 from three-point distance, to lead Stonehill to a big early season triumph. Bess made 5-of-6 shots, including 2-for-3 from deep, for his 15 points to go with five rebounds, while de Graaf buried all five of his three-pointers for a season-high 15 points, with four rebounds and two blocked shots for the Skyhawks.

Senior Joel Berroa (Lawrence, Massachusetts/Bridgton Academy) rounded out Stonehill's double-figure scorers with a season-high ten points on 4-of-7 shooting, including 2-for-3 from beyond the arc, while classmate KJ Lee (Huntington Station, New York/Long Island Lutheran) contributed a season-best nine boards to go with seven assists. Sophomore Will Moreton (Minneapolis, Minnesota/Edina) chipped in with eight points, six boards and two steals.

de Graaf made all five shots from three-point range for a season-high 15 points today. (PHOTO BY SportsPix)

Senior swingman Justin Reyes (Haverhill, Massachusetts/Whittier Tech) led St. Thomas Aquinas with a double-double of 24 points and ten rebounds in 23 foul-plagued minutes, shooting 8-for-19 from the floor and 7-for-9 from the free-throw line, to go with two assists, two blocked shots and a steal. Junior Kameron Murrell (Long Beach, California/Long Beach Poly) added 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting, including 3-for-4 from three, with two rebounds and two assists, while senior James Mitchell (Washington, D.C./St. John's College) added 11 points, three assists and two boards.

Stonehill trailed by four (39-35) after a first half in which it grabbed a grabbed a six point lead (16-10) midway through after three-straight three-pointers from Moreton, Bess and de Graaf. STAC emerged from a timeout with nine straight points, leading to a 15-3 run to take a six-point lead of its own (25-19) following back-to-back threes by Atkinson. STAC led by as much as seven over the final five minutes of the opening half, but Stonehill was able to pull back within a point, before Mitchell capped the stanza with a triple for the four-point Spartans halftime lead.

STAC held a five point cushion (43-38) after a Reyes layup 1:17 into the second half, but Stonehill reeled off nine straight points to regain the lead (47-43), keyed by four straight points by senior Paul Graves (Marion, Massachusetts/Old Rochester Regional). The Spartans grabbed the lead back (50-49) with a Murrell layup with 14:42 to play, but the Skyhawks responded with s 10-2 spurt to open a seven-point lead (59-52) after a Bess three with 11:18 to go.

STAC cut the deficit to three (59-56) after a layup from freshman Zachary Rzewnicki (Harwood Heights, Illinois/Ridgewood Community) at the midway point of the second, when Stonehill exploded with ten straight for a game-high 13 point advantage (69-56) with 5:34 remaining, in a run which was bookended by a pair of de Graaf threes.

The defending regional champions would not go down quietly; pulling even with 67-seconds to play after a 15-2 run that was sparked by back-to-back triples from Murrell and then capped by four straight points by Reyes. However, the 2016 regional champs didn't buckle as de Graaf answered with his fifth three of the day with 38-seconds left and then Bess made one of two at the line with five-seconds to go, after Reyes drained a pair following de Graaf's triple. The Skyhawks weathered an off-balance three-point attempt from Mitchell as time expired to claim its second-straight win (81-68 vs. #18/23 SNHU) over a nationally-ranked opponent since a 79-73 #6/7 STAC win in Sparkill, New York last November.

Stonehill (2-4, 1-2 NE10) returns to action on Wednesday, when it visits Merrimack College, ranked 24th in the NABC Division II poll, for a Northeast-10 Conference battle in North Andover, Massachusetts, at 7:30 p.m. The Skyhawks return to Merkert Gym next Saturday, December 2, to host Franklin Pierce University for an NE10 matchup at 3:30 p.m. St. Thomas Aquinas (5-3, 0-0 ECC) visits No. 17 Bloomfield College on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.

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