FREDERICKSBURG, VA – The York College men's basketball team gave retiring head coach Jeff Gamber a great going away gift as the Spartans earned their second Capital Athletic Conference tournament championship Saturday night, besting the second-seeded University of Mary Washington Eagles 59-51 in the title game in Fredericksburg, VA.
The Spartans improve to 18-10 overall as they earn their fourth NCAA Tournament trip under Gamber. The Eagles finish the campaign with a mark of 18-9.
The game was played in a fantastic championship atmosphere as the Eagles' new home, the Anderson Center, played host to one of the most exciting games in CAC tournament history.
Unlike the last two tournament contests for the Spartans, they didn't need a dramatic shot or defensive stop to win the game. They just needed a great team effort to deliver the championship game win.
The Spartans started off the scoring with an unlikely tally as senior Andrew Pawlyk hit a triple to give York the game's opening salvo. The two teams went back and forth over the first four minutes of the game. The Eagles forged a five-point lead over the ensuing four minutes as neither team seemed to have their footing on offense. That changed as Mary Washington slowly gained control of the contest, pushing out to a 20-12 lead. The 7-2 run got the partisan crowd energized as the Spartans looked like they were back on their heels.
The Spartans didn't let the lead grow past eight as they climbed back into the game, eventually pulling to within four on an Adam Earle rebound and put back. The Eagles increased the lead back to six before the Spartans cut it to a deuce on a pair of Paul Kouvaris free throws with 56 seconds left in the half. The Eagles ran the clock down at the end of the break and got a bucket with one second left in the half to take a 30-26 lead to the intermission.
The second half started with tremendous defense on both sides as neither team was able to get anything going. The Spartans put together a sustained run, outscoring the Eagles 14-5 over the first 9:45 of the second stanza. That gave the Spartans a lead they would not lose the rest of the game.
The Eagles cut the Spartan lead to just one on a Tad Dickman triple with 6:27 left as the Spartan lead was in jeopardy. The Green and White answered with a Kouvaris free throw and a defensive stop followed by a big-time three from the right corner from junior Julian Watson at the 5:34 mark. The Eagles trimmed the York lead to four twice over the next two minutes but senior Mo Oursler took an inbounds pass after a Mary Washington timeout and went the length of the floor for a dagger lay up that pushed the York lead to six with 3:12 remaining.
That's when the Spartan defense took over. The Green and White forced missed shots on consecutive Eagle possessions followed by back-to-back turnovers on the next two possessions as the Spartan lead grew from six to eight, but more importantly, the clock went from 3:12 down to 50 seconds left. The Eagles had to go into foul mode and the Spartans made enough free throws to push the lead to ten before settling for the eight-point win.
The Spartans were led by Kouvaris as the senior proved why he is one of the top players in the league. He poured in a game-high 16 points on 5-of-12 shooting including 6-for-8 from the free throw line. He added eight boards, three assists, a blocked shot and two steals in his 40 minutes of play. Oursler was the other Spartan in double figures with 13 points on 5-of-10 shooting including a trio of threes in the win. Watson chipped in with nine points in his 33 minutes of play.
Dickman led the Eagles with 15 points, six rebounds, two assists, three blocked shots and two steals. Freshman Sean Armstrong tallied 12 points, seven rebounds, four blocked shots and a steal before fouling out for the Eagles. Sniper Bradley Riester added 11 points off the bench for the Eagles.
The Spartans concluded the game shooting 36.7% from the floor while they shot 40% (6-for-15) from three. The Spartans made enough at the line, converting 17-of-28 (60.7%) in the championship game win.
Mary Washington shot 36% for the game after shooting a sizzling 50% in the first half. The Spartans held the Eagles to just 23% (6-for-26) shooting in the second stanza as they outscored UMW 33-21 in the second half. Mary Washington made 7-of-20 (35%) from three while they went just 8-for-14 (57.1%) from the stripe.
Both teams finished with 37 rebounds in the game and both squads had 14 points in the paint. Turnovers didn't hinder either team as Mary Washington had 20 miscues and York had 14. The Spartans got just seven points off the Eagle errors in the game.
The Spartan victory gives Gamber 493 career wins and also gives him the chance to coach his 918th game in the opening round of the tournament.
The Spartans will now wait to see where they are going and where they are playing as the NCAA Tournament field will be announced Monday. York's win ensures they will make their fourth appearance in the big dance.