SWARTHMORE, Pa. – The Ursinus College men's basketball team had its chances in Friday's Centennial Conference semifinal battle with Johns Hopkins. When the dust settled on a nip-and-tuck affair, the defending champion Blue Jays made a few more plays down the stretch and used one decisive run to separate for a 67-60 victory inside Swarthmore's Tarble Pavilion.
Junior Ryan McTamney finished with 17 points and 10 rebounds to lead the third-seeded Bears, who saw their season come to a close with a record of 15-11 and their second consecutive appearance in the CC semifinals. The Blue Jays advanced to the title game for the third straight year, where they will take on top-seeded Swarthmore in a rematch of last season's final.
McTamney kept Ursinus within range in the early portion of the second half, scoring six consecutive points for his team to pull within 40-39 after a mid-range jumper off a curl at the 15:37 mark. But the next nine minutes spelled doom for the Bears, who were outscored 16-4 during that stretch as Johns Hopkins gradually built an insurmountable advantage.
Ursinus had plenty of clean looks during that stretch, but none fell, and the Blue Jays went up 48-39 on Braeden Johnson's second straight 3 from the left wing off a loose-ball scramble. The Bears got within 50-43 on another McTamney jumper, but a Michael Gardner delivered a bucket and set up Daniel Vila's easy lay-in to make it 56-43 with 6:16 to go.
McTamney tried to keep the Bears alive, drilling a deep 3 to beat the shot-clock buzzer to trim the deficit to 56-48 at the 5-minute mark. Ursinus had its opportunities to apply more game pressure, but turned it over three times and missed three free throws to short-circuit its hopes of a rally. Noah Ralby banked in a tough jumper to make it 60-51 with two minutes left and Gardner hit 5-of-6 from the line to push the Blue Jays over the finish line.
Senior Zack Muredda finished with nine points, ten rebounds, and four steals in his final game for the Bears, while senior Eric Williams Jr. had five points to wrap up his sensational career with 1,335 points and a Centennial-record 313 made 3-pointers.
Freshman Ryan Hughes had seven points, four rebounds, three assists, and two steals in his first playoff action, while sophomores Lucas Olshevski (eight points) and George Gordon (six) gave Ursinus great minutes off the bench.
The Bears went just 3-of-19 from 3-point range, including a 1-for-10 mark after halftime, and committed eight of their 13 turnovers in the second period.
In each of the two regular-season meetings with the Blue Jays, Ursinus found itself trailing by double digits at halftime. The Bears were right in it from the opening tip this time, never trailing by more than six in a first half that featured six lead changes.
Johns Hopkins threatened to gain separation on a few occasions in the first half, but each time the Bears had an answer, usually in the form of Gordon and Olshevski. Gordon scored six straight Ursinus points early in the first half, the last of them coming on a beautiful drive and dump-off pass from classmate Bruce Edwards.
Muredda got a one-legged fall-away jumper to rattle home and give the Bears a 15-14 advantage with 11:17 remaining in the first half before the Blue Jays pulled ahead by five on the strength of a 6-0 run. Undeterred, Olshevski scored consecutive baskets and Hughes banked in a challenged runner to regain a 21-20 upper hand at the 7:47 mark.
Johns Hopkins went ahead, 30-24, late in the opening stanza but Edwards found Williams for a left-wing triple to slice the margin in half, and the Blue Jays ultimately took a 35-31 lead into the break.
Olshevski (eight points) and Gordon (six) were sensational in the first half, keeping Ursinus in it all the way with 14 combined points on 6-of-8 shooting.