By David Tanklefsky (@DavidTanklefsky)
BABSON PARK, Mass. – For the third straight season, No. 3 Babson College men’s basketball is heading to back to the ‘Sweet Sixteen.’
The Beavers took control late during a back-and-forth second half to finish off Skidmore’s NCAA run with a 72-65 victory at Staake Gymnasium on Saturday evening.
“To lose this game is disappointing,” Skidmore coach Joe Burke said following his team’s seven-point setback. “To lose to them is not.”
Babson senior and three-time New England Women’s and Men’s Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) Player of the Year Joey Flannery had 25 points and 10 rebounds, while junior Nick Comenale added 16 points and senior Charlie Rice grabbed nine rebounds and 12 points, including a corner three-pointer at the buzzer to give Babson a 36-29 lead at the break.
“I came off that ball screen (and) I was looking to attack, and I saw Chuck in the corner,” Flannery said after the game of Rice’s first half closing trifecta. “I have all the trust in the world in him, (so I ) just kicked it to him (and) I knew that was going in.”
It was a momentum-building play in a stilted first half for Babson, which shot just 34-percent from the field and 5 of 19 from beyond the arc.
Skidmore sophomore Jack Morrow opened up the scoring with an early three-pointer and connected on two more within the first 3:42 of play to give the Thoroughbreds an early advantage.
The Thoroughbreds converted four of their first five triples and led 14-6 with 15:41 remaining in the opening session.
Babson’s offense began to shows signs of life as the Beavers went on an 8-0 run with a Flannery three from the left side wing that tied tied the game at 14.
The Beavers took their first lead with 6:20 remaining in the first on a Comenale layup and went into the half up with a seven point advantage, thanks to Rice’s three-pointer.
Skidmore would get hot again in the second half, starting the stanza on a 21-9 run to secure a 50-45 lead.
The five-point advantage would shortly be forgotten when Comenale sent the packed crowd into histrionics with two gigantic triples, including the go-ahead trey that provided the hosts with a 53-51 advantage around the midway point of the second half.
The Thoroughbreds would take another five-point lead later in the half, going up 60-55 on a three from sophomore Jack Byrne. However, Burke admitted after the final horn sounded that his team was a little bit gassed by the final minutes, which is why a seven-point lead with just under six to play became a one point deficit.
Skidmore would never lead again as a Flannery steal led to a Rice layup that put Babson ahead, 65-62, with 1:34 remaining. Babson would convert its final free throws to secure the second-round victory.
“(It’s) definitely senior leadership,” Flannery said of his team’s resiliency in tight contests. “We had thee or four seniors on the court pretty much the whole game, so guys that have been there (and) guys that were on the ‘Final Four’ team.
“We never get nervous, even when we were down five or seven points late in the second half (because we said) ‘it’s our time.’”
Skidmore’s Edvinas Rupkus and Morrow led the way with 18 points each. As a team, they converted 13 of 36 three-pointers.
The Beavers advance to the’ Sweet Sixteen’ for a fourth time in school history and will face No. 14 Tufts on Friday, March 10th.