NEWARK, N.J. -- St. Benedict's exploded for 29 third quarter points, riding terrific offensive performances from Alex Galindo and UMass-bound Art Bowers (right) in a 75-68 victory over Blair Academy at Dalton Gym.
The Gray Bees trailed Blair 28-19 midway through the second quarter, but hung in the game in the first half thanks to gutsy efforts from 6-8 junior forward Stanley Branch and 6-0 senior point guard Bashir Mason (Drexel).
Branch scored 12 points in the first half as St. Benedict's sliced the Bucs' lead to 30-29 at the half. Galindo erupted for 12 of his 18 points in the third quarter, canning a pair of three pointers, while Bowers tallied nine as the Gray Bees outscored Blair 29-14 in the decisive period.
Blair simply turned the ball over too much, resulting in a string of empty possessions in the third quarter. On the other side of the ball, Galindo and Branch treated the Buccaneer defense like a punching bag.
Galindo's three pointer with 1:29 left in the third quarter pushed the St. Benedict's lead to 53-41. On Blair's next possession, Galindo and the Bucs' 6-10 All-American forward Charlie Villanueva (Illinois) got into a sparring match. Galindo shoved Villanueva, but the refs saw only Villanueva retaliate with an elbow.
The result was a technical foul on Villanueva (his fourth foul of the game). Galindo calmly stepped to the line and sank a pair as the lead mushroomed to 55-41 with 1:22 to play. Because of the technical foul, the Gray Bees maintained possession, and Mason capped the burst with a three pointer at the one minute mark to make it 58-41.
"I thought maybe that we lost our poise for the first time all year," said Blair Head Coach Joe Mantegna, whose team dropped to 16-2 with the loss. "We've been great against pressure all year and actually look forward to being pressed, but we let problems with our offense affect our defense, especially in the third quarter when we started to give up open threes and they made shots."
Midway through the fourth quarter, Villanueva fouled out, but Blair had one more run left in it. Thanks to All-American swingman Luol Deng (Duke), the Buccaneers rallied to pull within 73-68 with 14.4 seconds remaining. Deng scored 15 of his game high 32 points in the fourth quarter, and it was his three free throws that allowed the Bucs to pull within five points.
"I thought Luol played terrific and he battled," Mantegna said. "I was happy that our kids didn't quit, I thought we played hard right until the end to cut the lead with not much of a chance to win the game."
Bowers, who led St. Benedict's with 20 points, capped the scoring and put the final nail in the Blair coffin by nailing a pair of free throws with 12.6 seconds remaining.
In addition to Galindo and Bowers, the Gray Bees put two other players in double figures. After a strong first half, Branch finished with 16 points, while Mason netted 11. J.R. Smith played a solid overall floor game for St. Benedict's and scored nine points.
Aside from Deng, Villanueva was the only other Buc player to hit for double figures. He scored 14 points before fouling out.
"I don't want Charlie to let guys hit him, but he has to know when to pick his spots," Mantegna said. "He took two elbowing fouls that he probably could have avoided."
St. Benedict's Head Coach Danny Hurley was happy that his team got back in the win column after suffering a difficult loss to Our Savior New American Tournament on Monday in the championship game of the Flying to the Hoop Tournament in Ohio.
"I think after our total meltdown in the finals in Ohio, some guys started to question themselves a little bit," he said. "But Bashir, Artie and Stanley showed us the right way, leading by their energy and intensity."