The University of Scranton men's basketball team took Susquehanna's best shot in the first half on Wednesday night in the Long Center. In the second half, the Royals gave the 15th-ranked River Hawks more than they could handle.
Scranton used a 14-4 game-ending run to cap an impressive second half in a 75-66 victory that gives the Royals (18-6, 10-3 Landmark) the inside track at the top seed in next week's Landmark Conference playoffs. The Royals can clinch that spot with a win over Goucher in the regular season finale on Saturday in the Long Center.
Senior center John Vitkus (Mahopac, N.Y./Mahopac) continued his dominant play, finishing with a game-high 24 points to go along with 10 boards. Junior guard Ethan Danzig (Clarks Green, Pa./Abington Heights) had 12 points, six rebounds, three assists and a steal, and junior guard Chris McCullough (Harborfields, N.Y./Greenlawn) added 11 points and a team-high four assists.
The win was the second of the season for Scranton over Susquehanna (20-4, 10-3 Landmark). The Royals beat the then 11th-ranked River Hawks on their own floor back on Jan. 11, 76-68. The two wins in the head-to-head matchups give Scranton the tiebreaker over Susquehanna should they finished tied atop the Landmark standings.
Susquehanna looked every bit like one of the top teams in the country early, racing out to a 15-2 lead a little more than six minutes into the game. Scranton head coach Carl Danzig used three early timeouts, and they worked as the Royals responded with a 13-4 run to close within 19-15 with eight minutes left in the half.
The River Hawks eventually stretched the lead back to nine at halftime and built the lead to 11 at 49-38 with 14:48 to play in the game. But that's when Scranton found its rhythm, using an 11-3 run to get within three on a pair of free throws by Vitkus with 8:30 left.
Susquehanna responded by pushing its lead to six twice more, the second time with 6:22 left. But Danzig responded with a 3-pointer and was fouled. When he canned the free throw for the four-point play, the Royals were within two (58-56) for the first time since it was 4-2 in the opening minutes.
The Royals scored the next four points on a layup by freshman Kyle DeVerna (Rockville Centre, N.Y./Kellenberg Memorial) and a rim-rocking dunk by Vitkus on a perfectly executed pick-and-roll with McCullough.
The River Hawks used a mini 4-1 run to take its final lead, 62-61, with 3:06 to play. Vitkus and Danzig answered with back-to-back layups, DeVerna canned two free throws and junior guard Kevin Doolan (Basking Ridge, N.J./Ridge) added a free throw to give Scranton a 68-62 lead with 1:10 left and spark the game-ending 14-4 run.
Scranton sealed the game at the line in the final 70 seconds with Danzig hitting all four of his attempts, Doolan making two and Vitkus adding one. Doolan finished the night with seven points and three assists against just one turnover, the 11th time this season and fourth time in the past five games he has committed one or no turnovers.
The Royals finished the night shooting 48.1 percent (25-for-52) from the field, including 6-for-17 (35.3 percent) from 3-point range. They made 19 of 24 free throws (79.2 percent) and committed just seven turnovers, including only one in the second half.
Susquehanna shot 46.6 percent (27-for-58) from the field and 7-for-16 (43.8 percent) from beyond the arc. The River Hawks made five of six free throw attempts and held a 34-27 rebounding edge, but committed 17 turnovers, which led directly to 22 Scranton points.
The Royals also had a 21-8 edge in points off the bench, as DeVerna finished with eight, freshman Matthew Mancuso (Bridgewater, N.J./Bridgewater-Raritan) had seven and junior guard Mitch Cross (Marriottsville, Md./Loyola-Blakefield) had six points on two big first-half 3-pointers that kept the Royals in the game early.
Prior to the game, Coach Danzig presented Vitkus with the John "Les" Dickman award as the team's MVP this season. The award has been presented annually since 1954.
Scranton will complete the regular season on Saturday when the Royals host Goucher at 3:15 p.m. in the Long Center. At the completion of the women's game between Scranton and Goucher, the University will induct the athletics Wall of Fame Class of 2016 in an on-court ceremony. Prior to tip-off of the Royals' game, the team will hold Senior Day ceremonies, as well.