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Men’s Hoops Historic Postseason Run Concludes, Falls to Wheaton (IL) in NCAA Tournament Sweet Sixteen

The USJ men's basketball team lost March 10 in the Division III Sweet Sixteen. Courtesy photo

The men’s basketball team from the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford made it through the first two rounds of the NCAA Division III tournament before losing in the Sweet Sixteen Friday night.

Submitted by the University of Saint Joseph Athletic Department

The nationally-ranked No. 4 University of Saint Joseph (USJ) men’s basketball team saw its historic 2023 NCAA Tournament run come to an end, falling in the Sweet Sixteen to the No. 9 Wheaton College (IL) Thunder, 74-67, Friday night inside The Freeman Center on the campus of Christopher Newport University in Newport News, VA.

The postseason run was the furthest the Blue Jays have ever gone in the NCAA Tournament as they are now 2-3 all-time in NCAA Tournament games at the conclusion of their fourth full season in program history. USJ, which started its men’s basketball program in 2018, has been to the Big Dance in each of the last three full seasons. With tonight’s result, the Blue Jays end the 2022-23 campaign with a 29-2 overall record and are 99-21 (.825) since starting the program.

Wheaton started out of the gates strong, jumping out to a quick 7-0 lead, forcing USJ to call a timeout with 18:08 on the clock. The Blue Jays regrouped out of the break in play, using an easy layup from senior forward Jalen Samuels (Franklin, MA) and a free throw from senior guard Jaecee Martin (Hartford, CT) to cut the gap to four, 7-3. The Thunder would stop the quick USJ spurt, but Martin would drain a pull-up jumper from the elbow, keeping USJ within four, 9-5, at the 16:39 mark. Graduate student guard Ryan O’Neill (Litchfield, CT) pulled USJ even closer after a jumper from just inside the three-point arc with 15:52 left in the half. However, Wheaton would score again from a driving layup, giving the Thunder an 11-7 lead entering the first media timeout at the 15:09 mark.

The Blue Jays continued to mount the comeback out of the timeout, using a 4-0 run, capped off by a Jake Sullivan (Branford, CT) fastbreak layup after he picked off a pass, tying the score at 11-11. Samuels quickly gave USJ their first lead of the game, driving to the basket and finishing through contact, establishing a 13-11 edge for USJ with 12:44 left in the half. The Thunder went on to tie the game, but graduate student forward Alec Kinder (West Haven, CT) swung the lead back in USJ’s favor with a layup right at the rim, 15-13. Wheaton levelled the score immediately, but an old-fashioned three-point play from senior guard Chaylyn Martin (Hartford, CT) increased the USJ lead to three, 18-15, heading into a media timeout with 7:54 left in the first half.

USJ continued to put its foot on the gas, increasing its scoring run to 7-0 after a Sullivan jumper and a pair of free throws from Kinder, and forcing Wheaton to call a timeout, trailing 22-15 at the 6:44 mark. The Thunder mirrored what USJ did after the first timeout of the game, exploding for a 6-0 run, cutting the deficit to one, 22-21, at the 4:27 mark. USJ would not let the quick momentum swing affect them, as freshman forward Friedrich Feldrappe (Berlin, Germany) and Chaylyn Martin sparked a 3-0 run, establishing a four-point Blue Jays’ edge, 25-21, as the game reached the final media timeout of the first half with 3:29 to play. Wheaton would get back within two, 27-25, but a pair of Kinder free throws reestablished a four-point USJ lead, 29-25. The Thunder would strike last though, pulling back within two late, as USJ entered the halftime break ahead, 29-27.

Wheaton struck first in the second half, knocking down a triple to retake the lead, 30-29. However, O’Neill did not let the lead last long, making a nice cutting layup after a great find from Samuels, reestablishing a 31-30 edge for USJ. Senior guard Delshawn Jackson Jr. (Hartford, CT) followed up the play with a mid-range pull-up jumper, increasing the lead to 33-30, but another Thunder triple tied the score at 33-all at the 18:15 mark of the second stanza. The Blue Jays and Thunder continued to trade shots, as an O’Neill jumper saw USJ take a one-point lead, 41-40, with 15:04 left to play. Jaecee Martin increased the run to 3-0 with a smooth eurostep layup, while Jackson Jr. knocked down a pair of free throws, increasing the USJ lead to 45-40 with 11:52 left to play.

The Thunder cut the lead back to two after a three-pointer, but Kinder sank a free throw, reestablishing a 46-43 lead for USJ at the 10:17 mark. Wheaton would keep the game close, pulling back within one entering a media timeout at the 7:58 mark, before taking a 47-46 lead with a pair of free throws out of the break. Wheaton went on to extend the lead to four, knocking down another triple and establishing a 53-49 lead, and called a timeout with 6:08 left to play. The long ball continued to drop for Wheaton as another timely triple increased the gap to 10, 59-49, forcing USJ into a timeout at the 3:51 mark.

USJ finally connected for its first three-pointers of the game, as Jackson Jr. knocked down back-to-back triples, cutting the deficit to five, 62-57, with 2:35 left to play. The Blue Jays tried to extend the game and mount a late comeback, getting within seven, 68-61, before Jackson Jr. closed the gap to 70-64 after knocking down three free throws with 16.2 seconds left to play. Jackson Jr. again tried to give the Blue Jays one last life, sinking another three-pointer, keeping USJ within five, 72-67, with 7.6 seconds on the clock. However, Wheaton iced the game out at the free throw line, advancing to the Elite Eight with a 74-67 victory.

Jackson Jr. finished with a team-high 22 points on the night. Jaecee Martin joined him in double figures with 11 points. Kinder was the leading rebounder for USJ, hauling in 12 boards. The Thunder outshot the Blue Jays 40.0 percent (22-for-55) to 37.7 percent (23-for-61). Wheaton also outshot USJ from three-point land 31.8 percent (7-for-22) to 21.4 percent (3-for-14). The Blue Jays won the rebounding battle, grabbing 41 to the Thunder’s 33.

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