Uniontown, PA – The USCAA 2017 National Basketball Championships may have saved the best for last. Two-time defending national champions Berkeley College Knights of New York outlasted their toughest opponent of the year, Penn State York, to win a third straight USCAA Men's Division II National Championship. The Knights kept their 53 game-winning streak alive and won in 80-76 in overtime, escaping what would have been a stunning upset Saturday night at Main Arena at Penn State Fayette.
This game had it all. With five lead changes – and Berkeley up by as much as 13 approaching the first half – neither team could find a way to put the other away. The Knights were led by USCAA Men's Division II Player of the Year Massiah Merritt with 28 points, 4 rebounds, 3 steals, and 2 assists, who added to his trophy collection with Tournament MVP honors.
Berkeley came out hot. After two made free throws by Johnnie Green, Merritt drained a 3-pointer to give the Knights quick 5-0 lead. York's Trent Thomas, who would end up leading all scorers with 40 points, would score Penn State's next 9 of 11 points to tie the game at 11.
Berkeley held a commanding lead throughout the first half. Only committing 4 turnovers and shooting 11 of 12 from the free throw line, the Knights entered the locker room with a 9-point lead. York would come out of the gates in the second half with hot shooting. Penn State York was nearly 60% from the field in the second half, including 4 of 5 from the 3-point line. Thomas and Richard Grant scored 27 of York's 35 points in the second half.
At the 15-minute mark of the second half, Berkeley appeared to have control of the game after a Dondre Simmons 3-pointer to put the Knights ahead 54-47. Nearly three minutes passed without either team scoring, and a Paul Johnson free throw and Merritt lay-up put the Knights ahead by 10 at 57-47. But then a three-pointer and layup from York's Thomas in less than a minute cut the deficit to five and started an 11-0 run that gave Penn State York their first lead of the second half. With less than 10 minutes in regulation, the Men's Division II National Championship was a dogfight the rest of the way.
With 3 minutes to go in regulation, Merritt stole the ball from York's Jewell for a layup, cutting York's lead to 68-67. Neither team would score until 12 seconds left in regulation. York's Thomas was battling a cramp and Penn State had three consecutive turnovers in the final minutes. With York still up 68-67, Lucas Jewell had a key steal with 16 seconds that led to a Matt Achille free throw. Several York team fouls ensued to drain the clock against Berkeley. With four seconds remaining, Berkeley got the ball to their All-American, Merritt who swished a fade away jumper to tie the game at 69 with one second remaining.
On York's inbound play, a Stephon Jennings foul sent York's Jewell to the foul line to shoot a one and one. Jewell would miss the free throw, but was fouled trying to get his own rebound. However, Jewell missed the free throw and the game would head to overtime.
Thomas would score five of York's seven overtime points, but with the help of Jennings, Berkeley had enough in the tank to hold off York and secure the National Championship.
Men's Division II All-Tournament Team
Tyrie Orosco, Central Penn College
Jeremy McMunn, Penn State Greater Allegheny
Richard Grant, Penn State York
Trent Thomas, Penn State York
Stephon Jennings, Berkeley College NY