The men’s basketball team defeated the Bridgeport Purple Knights on Saturday, March 4th, by a score of 86-67 to win the East Coast Conference Championship and to earn an automatic bid in the NCAA Tournament. Senior guard Stefan Bonneau, named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, led the Pioneers in scoring with a game-high 29 points and five assists.
The Pioneers (23-5) initially started the game slow, as their first basket came four minutes into the game, when Bonneau drained the first of his five three-pointers of the contest. Soon after the first bucket made by Bonneau, the Pioneers found their form. The offense picked up, and the defense swarmed the Purple Knights, consistently causing difficult shots. The first half was a very competitive, back-and-forth battle in which the lead changed several times. The Pioneers, who came into the tournament as the top overall seed in the conference, went into the half leading the third-seeded Purple Knights by a score of 36-31.
Early in the second half of play, the Purple Knights cut the lead to two points as the Pioneers led 45-43, but that is as close as Bridgeport came for the duration of the game. The Pioneers immediately answered back, going on an 11-0 run fueled by baskets made by Bonneau, junior guard Tobin Carberry, and freshman forward Charles McCann.
The Pioneers completely dominated the final 20 minutes of the game in almost every way. The Pioneers outscored the Purple Knights 50-36 in the second half due to shooting an outstanding 57 percent from the field, while the Purple Knights struggled from the floor, shooting only 43 percent. Also in the second half, the Pioneers were more frequent visitors to the free-throw line as they attempted 16 more free-throws than the Purple Knights.
The Pioneers played a great team game, as several players stepped up their efforts in the biggest game of the year thus far. Bonneau led the Pioneers and electrified the crowd while doing so, scoring 29 points and taking over control of the game. Carberry also played a pivotal part in the win, notching a double-double, scoring 19 points and grabbing 11 rebounds.
The frontcourt for the Pioneers played excellent on both sides of the ball. Sophomore forward Vaughn Allen had a double-double, dropping 11 points and securing 10 rebounds. Freshman forward Tyuan Williams made timely shots throughout the game, finishing with 13 points on an efficient 6-8 shooting while adding six boards. Off the bench, freshman forward Charles McCann displayed toughness down low, scoring nine points and blocking four shots.
Another major reason for the win was the Pioneers’ solid defense on the Purple Knights’ All-ECC First Team senior guard Darian David. He scored 17 points, but he could not get into a rhythm, as he was 6-20 from the floor.
The Pioneers, the sixth seed in the East Region in the upcoming NCAA Tournament, have their next game on Saturday, March 10th, against the third-seeded Adelphi Panthers (20-8). The last time these two teams met was on December 13th,o f this season when Adelphi edged out the Pioneers in an 83-79 victory. Tune into WCWP at 88.1 FM or wcwp.org to listen to all the action.