RADNOR, Pa. — Gerry Matthews’ team won one for the New Jersey Athletic Conference on Friday.
Rich Suhr scored 18 of his 21 points in the second half, Josh Blamon added 20 and Richard Stockton College defeated Bowdoin College 72-66 in the first round of the NCAA Division III men’s basketball tournament at Cabrini College.
It was the Ospreys’ first NCAA tournament appearance since 2010 and the first tournament win by a New Jersey Athletic Conference team since 2009, when Stockton reached the D-III national championship game before losing to Washington University.
“I guess it took us to get back into the tournament, because we had the last seven. Now we’ve got the last eight that our league’s won in the NCAA,” Matthews said. “I did remind our commissioner (Terry Small) of that. So maybe our league will get a little more respect.”
The Ospreys will face host Cabrini in the second round at 7 tonight. Cabrini (26-1), which is ranked No. 4 in the nation in the d3hoops.com poll, beat Bridgewater State 100-69 in Friday night’s other first-round game.
The Ospreys (24-4), ranked No. 22, faced a tall task against Bowdoin (19-5) — literally. The Polar Bears featured 7-foot junior center John Swords, and their other four starters’ average height was 6-foot-3. Stockton, meanwhile, started three players 6-foot or shorter, and 6-foot-4 Nnamdi Usuwa was charged with guarding Swords for most of the game.
But what the Ospreys lacked in height, they made up for with quickness. While Swords did plenty of damage inside — 16 points, 16 rebounds, five assists and three blocks — Stockton pressured Bowdoin’s slower guards into 11 turnovers. Kevin Johnson (5-foot-9) had three steals, much to the delight of the 100 or so Ospreys fans who made the trip.
“When we defend, we’re not bad,” Matthews said dryly.
Swords credited Stockton for playing strong defense. Usuwa even blocked one of his shots in the second half.
“Even though it was a pretty big height difference, the guys who were on me were pretty good players,” Swords said.
Offensively, the Ospreys had to avoid Swords inside but were able to make big shots when they needed them. Blamon had the hot hand in the first half with 13 points, and Suhr took over in the second. Stockton never trailed after the first five minutes.
“I thought there was a stretch where we played extremely well, but they shot extremely well,” Bowdoin coach Tim Gilbride said. “Every time I thought we could get back into it, someone hit a big shot for them.
Suhr said he felt strong in warm-ups, but that didn’t carry over into the first half, as he made just 1-of-4 shots.
In the second half, though, Suhr made 3-pointers on Stockton’s first two possessions and scored 11 points in the first 6 minutes, 35 seconds of the half.
“I shot a few deep ones, and it got me going,” he said.
Stockton eventually built a nine-point in the final 2:30, but Bowdoin made two 3-pointers to cut it to five with 45 seconds left. Stockton made its free throws down the stretch, though, going 11-for-15 in the second half.
The Ospreys, whose starting lineup features four seniors and one junior, turned the ball over just once in the game. Matthews said that was partly due to the strategy of not forcing the ball inside against Swords.
Still, he was impressed.
“We took care of the ball,” Matthews said.
Bowdoin College 28 38—66
Richard Stockton College 34 38—72
B—White 3 0-0 9, Mathias 2 0-0 6, Madlinger 6 0-0 16, Pieri 4 0-2 10, Swords 8 0-1 16, Hausman 2 0-0 6, Palecki 1 0-0 3. Totals 26 0-3 66.
RS—K. Johnson 4 2-5 10, R. Johnson 1 0-2 2, Blamon 6 5-5 20, Suhr 6 4-4 21, Usuwa 4 1-2 9, Woodard 1 0-0 2, Williams 3 1-2 8. Totals 25 13-20 72.
3-pointers—White (3), Mathias (2), Madlinger (4), Pieri (2), Hausman (2), Palecki B. Blamon (3), Suhr (5), Williams RS.
Records—Bowdoin 19-5, Stockton 23-4.