Junior guard Taylor Johnson scored 22 points to lead all scorers, as the 17th ranked University of Mary Washington men's basketball team topped St. Mary's College, 70-65, on Thursday night in the Capital Athletic conference semifinals. The Eagles advance to the CAC Championship, which they will host for the second time in three years, and improve to 21-5.
"This is what we've been playing for all year", said Johnson afterward. "We've played a lot of close games this year, and learned from them. It seems all we do is play tight games with them... We swept them my freshman year, they swept us last year, and now we got them this year."
The Eagles came out firing on all cylinders in the first half, taking an 18-point lead to halftime, at 44-26. After the teams traded baskets to open the game, UMW went on an 11-2 run over the next three minutes, and led, 13-4, less than four minutes into play. Johnson and Bradley Riester each made three pointers in the run.
The Seahawks cut the deficit to five at 16-11 with 13:19 remaining in the half, but an Asa Scott layup and three pointer from Dom Morra pushed the lead back to ten at 21-11 with 11:20 to go. After the Seahawks trimmed the margin to six at 21-15, the Eagles went on a 15-3 run to lead, 35-18, with 4:05 to play. A layin by Morra at the buzzer gave UMW a 44-26 halftime advantage.
The Eagles expanded the lead to 20 at 57-37 with 13:26 remaining in the game, but the Seahawks awakened offensively and began to chip away. St. Mary's trimmed the margin to 10 at 63-53 with 4:20 left, and a 9-3 run by the defending champs cut the deficit to just four at 66-62 with 1:17 to play. A pair of Marcellus Holley free throws pushed the Eagle lead to six at 68-62, but Nick Laguerre hit a three pointer with 57 seconds left to make the game a one-possession affair.
After a missed three pointer at the end of the shot clock, Johnson came away with the offensive rebound, and then made a pair of free throws with seven seconds left to clinch the victory.
The Eagles shot 41.7% from the floor (20-48), making 10-26 three pointers. The Seahawks shot 41.5% (22-53) with 4-13 shooting from long distance. UMW led in rebounding, 37-35.
Johnson scored 22 points on 6-13 shooting, with three three pointers, and went 7-8 from the line. Morra scored 13 points, and Riester and Dylan Farinet each scored 11, with Farinet grabbing a team-high 10 rebounds. St. Mary's was led by McFall's 16 points and 12 rebounds.
"We came out strong and got on them early", said Morra, who fouled out, along with Dajon Daniel, during the stretch run. "But when you back a good team like them against the wall, they are going to fight, and they did. We shouldn't have let it get that close, but we pulled it out in the end."
Mary Washington will host fifth seeded Christopher Newport on Saturday in the CAC Championship. Game time is set for 2:00 p.m. The Eagles return to the final for the second time in three years, and for the fourth time overall. UMW and CNU split their season series, with each team protecting home court.