Men's Basketball Clinches Playoff Berth As Vitkus Dominates In 82-68 Win Over Drew

Senior center John Vitkus had 24 points and eight rebounds as the Royals clinched a playoff berth with Wednesday night's win.
Senior center John Vitkus had 24 points and eight rebounds as the Royals clinched a playoff berth with Wednesday night's win.

(Editor's note: Updates to indicate a career-high 24 points for John Vitkus.)

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Ten years in the Landmark Conference continues to mean one thing for certain for The University of Scranton men's basketball team – postseason play.

The Royals clinched a playoff berth on Wednesday night as they won their sixth straight game by defeating Drew, 82-68, behind a career-high 24 points and eight rebounds from senior center John Vitkus (Mahopac, N.Y./Mahopac).

Scranton (17-5, 9-2 Landmark) has qualified for the postseason in all 10 seasons since the University joined the Landmark Conference when it formed in 2007-08. The Royals have qualified for the conference playoffs in 13 straight seasons and 22 of the past 23 seasons.

The Royals remain tied for first place with Susquehanna, a game ahead of Moravian. Catholic is in fourth following its loss at Susquehanna on Wednesday night. Each team has three conference games remaining.

Vitkus continued his dominant play of late, which has coincided with the Royals' winning streak. He finished the night 10-for-15 from the field and added three assists, two blocks and a steal. He has scored in double figures in 16 straight games and 20 of 22 this season. During the current six-game winning streak, he is averaging 20.0 points and 7.7 rebounds while shooting 69.4 percent (50-for-72) from the field.

The Royals also received a career high-tying 14 points, three rebounds, two steals, a block and an assist from freshman Matthew Mancuso (Bridgewater, N.J./Bridgewater-Raritan) in 23 minutes off the bench. Junior guard Kevin Doolan (Basking Ridge, N.J./Ridge) finished with 10 points, five assists, three steals and three rebounds, and junior guard Mitch Cross (Marriottsville, Md./Loyola-Blakefield) had 10 points, two steals and a rebounds.

Scranton took a 41-27 lead at halftime by going 16-for-33 (48.5 percent) from the field and forcing 11 turnovers by the Rangers while committing just three. Vitkus led all scorers with 10 points and Doolan had six points, four assists and three steals in the opening half.

Drew (11-11, 5-6 Landmark) closed the gap to seven at 43-36 four minutes into the second half, but Scranton responded with a 14-2 run to take a 57-38 lead with 12:08 left. Cross hit a pair of 3-pointers just 26 seconds apart to cap the run and Vitkus and Mancuso each scored four points during the run.

The Royals pushed the lead to as large as 23 with seven minutes to play and the Rangers got no closer than 13 the rest of the way.

Scranton finished the night shooting 50.9 percent (29-for-57) from the field, including 5-for-18 from 3-point range. The Royals made 19 of 27 free throws (70.4 percent) and committed a season-low eight turnovers. They also held a dominant 48-24 edge in points in the paint and a 31-15 advantage in bench scoring.

Drew shot 46.8 percent (22-for-47) from the field, including 7-for-17 from 3-point range. The Rangers were 17-for-21 (81.0 percent) from the free throw line and held a slim 31-29 edge on the glass, but committed 18 turnovers which led to 21 Scranton points.

The Royals will return to action on Saturday when they travel to Washington, D.C. to take on Catholic in a Landmark Conference game at 4 p.m.