The Purchase Panthers made it look easy in their victory over the SUNY Old Westbury basketball team – coincidentally, also named the Panthers – in the Conference Quarterfinal Tuesday night.
Purchase, the number four seeded men’s basketball team in the N.C.A.A.’s Division III, defeated fifth seed Old Westbury 86-69 at home before a crowd of 134 fans.
Following this victory, The Purchase Panthers will go on to the semifinals.
The two teams split the regular season series. Old Westbury won the first contest in January, while Purchase won the second earlier this month.
Purchase has won the two previous Skyline Championships.
At the quarterfinal, the crowd was loud and supported the home team by cheering, chanting “Let’s go Purchase,” and chiding the referees and the Old Westbury team. Old Westbury center Tevon McNair, senior, scored the first points of the game about early in the first half. Purchase responded with a layup by Craig Davis to even the game about forty seconds later. Purchase never trailed again.
Emotions ran high between the two teams during the game. With seven minutes in the first half, sophomore guard Andre Nixon made an assist to junior guard John Pressley. Pressley leapt into the air and slammed the ball into the hoop for two points. He was called for a technical foul for hanging onto the rim. The crowd chastised the referees on the call.
The Purchase team could not believe the call. Charney believed that the 6 foot 3 inch Pressley was taking his time to come down from the rim to avoid injury. “It’s not like he had a net to fall into,” said Charney.
Later in the second half, Smith and Old Westbury guard Rashawn McCarthy, junior, exchanged heated words after McCarthy fouled Smith. McCarthy knocked Smith to the ground, and appeared to continue touching him after play was stopped.
“There was extra contact after the foul,” said Smith. “I wasn’t gonna let him throw a cheap shot after that.” The two had to be separated by the referees.
The crowd jeered McCarthy with boos and taunts such as “Men don’t wear ponytails.” The game announcer then made a brief announcement on the value of sportsmanship to the crowd. Smith scored the first of his two free throw tries after the foul.
Free throws were what gave Purchase the advantage Tuesday night. Of Purchase’s 86 points, 23 came on free throws. The Purchase Panthers were 23 for 28 on from the foul line, and 7 for 7 in the first half.
Coach Jeff Charney commented that the Panthers would not have won that way during the regular season, but the team has been working on free throws. “Everyone’s been practicing free throws,” said Charney. Less than 20 percent of all of Purchase’s points came from free throws during the regular season.
Purchase used their momentum to take advantage of turnover after turnover by Old Westbury. The home team scored 14 points over turnovers in the first half, and led by 21 points midway through the first half. By contrast, Old Westbury scored six points off turnovers.
“Momentum’s a big thing,” Charney said.
Old Westbury made the game interesting in the early stages of the second half. Down by 11 points, Old Westbury went on a 24-15 run to bring the game within two. The crowd began to get antsy, and yelled at the Old Westbury players more. They didn’t have to yell long, though. The momentum shifted in Purchase’s favor shortly after, when Old Westbury freshman Rob Sanders fouled Nixon on a layup. Nixon made both of his free throw attempts, and Purchase never looked back.
“We came out a little flat,” said guard/forward Chris Fazio, freshman, commenting on Old Westbury getting close. “But we turned up the intensity.”
A collective cheer came from the crowd at the end of regulation.
After winning their first playoff game at home, Purchase's path to the conference championship is now on the road. The third seed team, Mount Saint Mary College, defeated the sixth seeded team, the College of Mount Saint Vincent on Tuesday night 84-52. Purchase is the lowest seeded team remaining in the tournament.
“We’re hoping for a third [championship], said Charney. “But it’s a tough road.”
The Purchase Panthers will face the number one seeded team next, the St. Joseph’s College Golden Eagles. St. Joseph’s swept the season series from the Panthers.
“We know we can beat them,” said Fazio. “We played close games with them, and we’ll go hard in that game.”
Photo credit: Ben Zank