Given an opportunity to solidify its playoff position, The University of Scranton put together one of its best all-around performances of the season on Saturday.
The Royals scored the first nine points of the game, withstood a rally in the middle portion of the game, then took control in the second half for an 84-71 victory over Juniata on Wall of Fame Day in the Long Center on Saturday.
The victory gives Scranton (16-5, 9-4 Landmark) a two-game cushion for a playoff spot with three conference games remaining. The Royals are in third place, a half-game behind Susquehanna (17-2, 8-2) and Catholic (16-5, 9-3). They have a two-game lead over Juniata (14-8, 7-6) and Drew (10-12, 7-6), who are tied for fourth.
Junior forward John Vitkus (Mahopac, N.Y./Mahopac) was a force for Scranton on Saturday, going 11-for-12 from the field en route to scoring a career-high 22 points. He also pulled down six rebounds and had two assists.
Sophomore forward Drew Schankweiler (Mechanicsburg, Pa./Mechanicsburg) also had a career high with 15 points while going 7-for-9 from the field with four rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench. Senior forward Brendan Boken (South Pasadena, Calif./Loyola) added 14 points, seven rebounds and four assists, and sophomore guard Kevin Doolan (Basking Ridge, N.J./Ridge) chipped in with 12 points, five assists and two steals.
After Scranton's fast start, Juniata closed the gap to four at halftime, 31-27, then scored the first four of the second half to draw even. After the teams traded baskets, the Royals went on a 16-3 run to take a 49-36 lead with 13 minutes left. Vitkus started the run with a dunk and finished with eight points during the spurt.
Juniata got no closer than nine the rest of the way.
The Royals also got nine points, six assists and three steals from senior guard Marcus Thomas (Clarksburg, Md./Clarksburg) and six points each from sophomore guards Ethan Danzig (Clarks Green, Pa./Abington Heights) and Chris McCullough (Greenlawn, N.Y./Harborfields).
Scranton finished the afternoon shooting 52.7 percent (29-for-55) from the field, including 4-for-13 (30.8 percent) from 3-point range. The Royals made 22 of 27 (81.5 percent) from the free throw line and committed just 13 turnovers. They forced 21 turnovers by Juniata, leading to 31 points, and outscored the Eagles, 48-26, in the paint.
Juniata shot 54.9 percent (28-for-51) from the field, including 4-for-14 (28.6 percent) from 3-point range. The Eagles were 11-for-19 (57.9 percent) from the free throw line and won the rebounding battle, 29-25.
The Royals next game will be on Wednesday, Feb. 10, when they travel to Selinsgrove, Pa. to take on Susquehanna at 7 p.m.
Immediately following Saturday's game, the University held the induction ceremony for the Wall of Fame Class of 2015. The newest members are Daniel Amspacher (men's soccer, 1976-79), Sara (Suchoski) Carroll (women's soccer, 2001-04), Tom Hughes (men's lacrosse & men's basketball, 1998-01), Kathy Coleman O'Brien (women's tennis & women's basketball, 1977-81), Brian O'Donnell (men's basketball, 2001-05) and Kristin Thomas (field hockey, 2003-05).