It took a career-high 42 points from senior John DiBartolomeo, but the UR men’s basketball team was able to overcome Fitchburg State in the opening round of the NCAA tournament on Saturday, March 2 at the Louis Alexander Palestra. On paper, the 22-4 Yellowjackets were expected to comfortably handle 16-11 Fitchburg State, winners of the Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference. The game turned out to be a much closer encounter than anticipated, however with the ’Jackets overcoming a second half deficit to survive with the 91-86 win.
As impressive as All-American DiBartolomeo was on that night, his efforts were closely matched by Fitchburg’s Tom Henneberry, who put up 33 points of his own to keep the Falcons in the game. Prolific scoring was only part of why the ’Jackets were able to come out on top, though. Offensive rebounding by the home team proved to play a pivotal role in the game, with UR grabbing 18 offensive boards compared to Fitchburg’s six.
Head Coach Luke Flockerzi was pleased with his team’s performance, saying, “Fitchburg is a very good rebounding team, but we did a great job in the second half controlling the boards.”
Another UR senior, big man Rob Reid, had a nice night as well, finishing with a double-double. His 13 points and 10 rebounds were among his best stats of the season. Sophomore Kent Coyne also pulled down 10 boards – six on the offensive side. Junior Nate Vernon went four of nine from the field for part of his 16 points on the night, three of which came from a three-pointer with 5:11 remaining, a triple that put UR up by seven, their largest lead of the game.
“We trust Nate to hit the big shots and make plays down the stretch,” DiBartolomeo said.
Fitchburg protected the ball well throughout the game, giving up only four total turnovers. The aggressive play under the basket for UR proved to counter Fitchburg’s low turnover numbers, though.
“Those offensive rebounds we gave up really hurt us,” Fitchburg head Coach Derek Shell said. “Those amount to a turnover in some way because it gives them another opportunity to score.”
As exciting as the win was for the ’Jackets, it has not been the only good news for the team as of late. On Monday, March 4, it was announced that DiBartolomeo was selected as a finalist for the Jostens Trophy, an award given to the most outstanding NCAA Division III basketball player. The recipient is selected based on contributions on the court, in the classroom, and in the community. The winner will be announced on Thursday
, March 21 in Salem, Va., which is also the site of the Division III basketball quarter- and semifinal games.
Next up for the ’Jackets in the second round of the NCAA tournament will be Ithaca College, which will travel to the Palestra on Satuday, March 9 for a 7 p.m. tipoff. At stake is a birth in the Sweet 16, the winner of which will face either Middlebury College or SUNY Cortland.
Shapiro is a member of the class of 2016.