Led by 34 points and 12 rebounds from Darius Watson (New Britain, Conn.), the Albertus Magnus men's basketball team earned its second-consecutive Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) Tournament Championship title as the Falcons came from behind to defeat top-seeded Anna Maria College 87-80.
With the win, the Falcons improved to 24-4 on the year and have earned an automatic bid into the upcoming NCAA Tournament, which is set to begin on Saturday, March 2.
Today's win also gives the Falcons their third GNAC title in the last four years and their second-straight as they become the first team since Norwich University (2004-05, 2005-06) to win back-to-back conference titles. The Falcons also snap the AMCats' 17-game winning streak as the host team fell to 20-8 on the year.
Watson, who was named the GNAC Tournament Most Valuable Player, paced the Falcons' offense with his 34-point tally as he surpassed Ari Crooks' (1996-2000) career tally of 1,473. Watson now has 1,482 points in his career and is in third place on the Albertus Magnus men's basketball all-time scoring list.
Both James Jennings (Stratford, Conn.) and Jefferson Lora (Bronx, N.Y.) were named to the All-Tournament Team as Lora contributed with 11 points and nine rebounds in today's contest, while Jennings added 17 points as he hit 4-of-9 from behind the arc.
Albertus opened the contest with a 5-0 run before the AMCats answered with their own run to take a 12-5 advantage seven minutes into the game. Anna Maria pushed its lead out to 18-7 a minute later. Anna Maria took its largest lead of the game with 10:45 to go before intermission as the AMCats' used a Tyler Delorey layup to take a 20-8 advantage.
The AMCats then led 22-13 at the 8:12 mark of the frame before the Falcons used a 9-0 run to tie the game at 22.
The teams traded baskets down the stretch as Watson scored eight of the final 10 Albertus points in the half. Anna Maria led at the break 36-32 led by 10 points from Anthony Click.
After an early layup for the AMCats, the Falcons went on an 8-2 run to tie the contest at 40 with 17:20 left in regulation. Javier Bristol hit a jumper in the paint to give the AMCats a two-point lead before Jennings knocked down an NBA 3-pointer to give the Falcons their first lead of the second half at 43-42.
With less than six minutes remaining in the contest, Albertus scored 11 unanswered points to take its largest lead of the game at 12 with 2:51 left on the clock. During that three minute and 26-second run, Watson tallied six points, while Jennings scored the other five.
Anna Maria hit nine of its final 12 free-throw attempts in the final three minutes but the Falcons secured the victory by finishing the game 6-of-6 from the charity stripe.
Albertus finished the contest shooting 40.3% from the floor, including a 10-of-21 clip from behind the arc. The Falcons hit 5-of-10 from three-point land in the second half, while they also made 22 of their 27 attempts from the free-throw line in the second frame.
Anna Maria's Click scored 17 points and pulled down 10 rebounds on the afternoon, while Brad Peterson added 17 points and 11 rebounds.
The Falcons will now make their second-straight NCAA Tournament appearance and will find out their opponent on Monday afternoon with the 12:30 p.m. NCAA Division III Selection Show.