YORK, PA – York College junior point guard Julian Watson hit a three-pointer with 16 seconds left in regulation to lift the Spartans to an improbable and dramatic 65-61 victory over Frostburg State University in the opening round of the Capital Athletic Conference Tournament on Tuesday night in York.
The three highlighted a 12-0 run as the Spartans turned that eight point deficit into a four point victory.
Watson's heroics couldn't have been possible if it weren't for some other key plays late in the game. Frostburg's Maurice Williams hit a deep three from the left corner with 2:37 left, giving the Bobcats a seemingly safe 61-53 lead. The Spartans got a three point play from senior Paul Kouvaris on their ensuing possession as the York deficit was cut to five. After a pair of missed FSU free throws, senior Adam Earle hit a clutch lay up with 1:43 left, drawing York to within three at 61-58.
Junior Mitch Kemp made a nice defensive play when he took a charge from Bobcat guard Bradley Nunn, giving York possession with 1:23 left. The Spartans missed a three-pointer with 1:08 remaining but Williams missed another deep three, from almost the same spot that he hit from just a minute and a half earlier and York got the defensive rebound. Unfortunately for York, Earle lost his footing on the rebound and committed a traveling violation.
On the second Bobcat inbounds play after a York foul, the Spartans created a turnover when Nunn tried to lob a pass into the back court. Junior Jeremy Skoloda tipped the ball to Earle who hit a streaking Kouvaris for the lay up as the Bobcat lead dwindled to one with 31 ticks left on the clock.
After a timeout, Frostburg's DeSean Antoine was forced into a turnover as he bounced the ball off his foot, giving York life with 29 seconds left. That set the stage for Watson's huge triple from the left corner off a pass from Earle.
Earle then made another huge defensive play as he took a charge from Nunn with seven seconds left, giving York another stop and the ball. The Spartans got the ball inbounds and Kouvaris was fouled with 4.7 seconds left. He calmly sank both free throws, giving York the four point edge. Antoine missed a three and the horn went off, giving the Spartans the dramatic win.
The first half saw the Spartans jump out to a 11-2 lead just over five minutes into the game. The Bobcats eventually tied the game at 11, setting the stage for a back and forth half. There were four ties but the Spartans never trailed in the opening 20 minutes. After the big lead early, the Spartans would not lead by more than five the rest of the way.
The second half was much like the first half as there were four ties and seven lead changes before the Bobcats took a 46-44 lead on a Tyler Logan jumper with 8:26 left. The Bobcat lead grew to a game-high eight before the Spartans went on their game-ending run.
Kouvaris led the Spartans as the senior played one of his finest games in a Spartan uniform. The forward had his second double-double of the season with 21 points and 10 rebounds. He was 8-for-17 from the floor and a perfect 5-for-5 from the charity stripe. He also handed out a team-high five assists in the win. Watson finished the game with 18 points and five rebounds in 37 minutes of work. Watson was 7-for-14 from the field including his first three-point field goal in the last five games. Senior Mo Oursler was the third Spartan in double figures with 10 points while he also collected three rebounds.
Earle had his best game as a Spartan as he pulled down a career-high nine rebounds while he also scored four points, all in the last four minutes of the game, while he also handed out three assists, including the pass to Watson on the game-winning three.
The Bobcats, who entered the game leading the CAC in scoring, were held to 61 in the loss. Williams, who entered the contest leading the CAC in scoring, was held to 13 points, as he led the Bobcats. Williams finished the game 4-for-13 from the floor including 1-for-3 from three. He converted all four free throws while he pulled in five boards. Logan chipped in with 12 points while Antonie was the third Bobcat in double figures with 10 points. Guard Troy Dockett, who entered the game shooting 50.7% from three for the year with a conference–leading 68 three point field goals, was held to 0-for-2 from distance as he finished with six points, tying his season-low. Dockett's 50.7% from distance is ranked second in the NCAA Division III. Kwambina Coker led Frostburg State on the boards with 10 caroms.
The Spartans shot 45.5% from the floor in the win while they went 3-for-11 (27.3%) from three. York was 12-for-18 (66.7%) from the free throw line but did go 11-for-14 (78.6%) in the second half. Frostburg shot 41.7% from the floor for the game while they went just 2-for-15 (13.3%) from distance in the loss. The Bobcats entered the game having made 156 three pointers, second in the CAC. Frostburg converted 9-for-15 (60%) from the line in the game but just 3-for-6 in the final 20 minutes of play.
The Spartans committed 19 turnovers in the game as Frostburg is one of the best teams in the conference in forcing miscues. However, York had just one turnover in the final 7:30 of the contest, setting the stage for the comeback. The Bobcats only got 16 points off the Spartan errors, the same number of points that York got off the 13 FSU turnovers.
The win also extends the coaching career of Spartan mentor Jeff Gamber. The win was the 491st of his career and ensures he will coach his 916th career game on Thursday night. The Spartans are now 16-10 overall while the Bobcats' season comes to an end at 13-13.
The Spartans now head to top-seeded St. Mary's for the CAC semifinals on Thursday night. Tip time in St. Mary's City is set for 7:00 pm. The Seahawks swept the Spartans this year but both wins came by just two points.
Julian Watson photo courtesy of Mike Zortman