COLLEGEVILLE, Pa. – Scorching outside shooting and opportunistic defense combined to power the Ursinus College men's basketball team to a 94-82 victory over Franklin & Marshall on Wednesday, giving the Bears their first regular-season sweep of the Diplomats since 2008.
Senior Matt Knowles exploded for 22 of his game-high 28 points in the second half as Ursinus (12-8, 9-4) picked up a critical result in the Centennial Conference playoff chase. The Bears went 12 for 24 from 3-point range, made 26 of 30 at the free-throw line, and turned 20 Franklin & Marshall turnovers into 30 points.
Junior Zach Quattro posted 15 points and freshman Shane Stark came up huge with 13 points and nine rebounds for the Bears, who finally broke free from the Diplomats (14-6, 8-5) midway through the second half. Ignas Slyka scored 25 points to lead the defending CC champs, with Brandon Federici going for 22 and J.C. McGrath adding 14 for F&M, which shot 51.9 percent overall (28 of 54) and made 14 triples but was undone by miscues and poor foul shooting (12 for 22).
The first half see-sawed back and forth, Ursinus several times appearing ready to pull away before the Diplomats made their response. Stark was a major catalyst off the bench, collecting five points, five rebounds, and three assists in addition to a block and a steal. The freshman had a highlight-reel slam at the 6:53 mark, taking a pass from sophomore Matt Williams and throwing down a one-handed flush on the breakaway to give the Bears a 31-26 lead.
Ursinus took its largest lead at 39-31 on a fast-break layup by freshman Ryan McTamney, set up by a steal by sophomore Zack Muredda, that forced a timeout by F&M. The Blue and White answered back with a 10-2 run behind Federici, who swished a long 3-pointer and facilitated a lay-up by Daniel Osley before capping the run with a pair of free throws. Junior Brian Rafferty's free throws with 28 seconds left gave Ursinus a 43-41 lead heading into the locker room.
The Bears blitzed the visitors out of the break, Knowles sandwiching two treys around one by Quattro on the first three second-half possessions to open up a 52-41 lead. But back came the Diplomats, who matched the Bears' barrage with two 3-pointers from Slyka and another out of the hands of Federici to get back within 52-50.
Stark's put-back three-point play at the 9:47 mark was the turning point. It gave Ursinus a 68-59 lead, and just over a minute later the advantage was out to a dozen (73-61) following two free throws by Knowles and a 3-pointer by Quattro. After the teams traded missed possessions, Quattro buried another contested deep ball to stretch the margin to 76-61. The lead stayed between 13 and 17 the rest of the way until Slyka's last-minute 3 capped the fireworks.
Knowles was 8 for 15 from the field and 7 for 8 from the line, knocking down five of his eight 3-point attempts in his seventh career game with at least 25 points. Quattro had 11 of his 15 after intermission.
Stark finished 5 for 7 from the field and snared four offensive rebounds, matching junior Remi Janicot and helping the home side to a 38-29 edge on the glass. Ursinus outscored the Diplomats in the paint (30-24) and on second-chance points (12-8) and got 30 points from its bench. Rafferty's 10 points gave him double digits for the first time since the first two games of the season.
The Bears had 18 assists on 28 made field goals, with three each from Rafferty, Stark, and sophomore Eric Williams Jr., who had nine points.
F&M had won 15 of the previous 17 meetings between the teams, but the last two have gone the way of Ursinus, which remained a game back of Swarthmore and Johns Hopkins in the conference standings. The Bears look to consolidate the momentum when Washington College comes to town on Saturday, February 4.