DelVal hosts DeSales in its first battle for a Freedom Conference basketball crown

Feb 25, 2011

The Freedom Conference Men’s Basketball Championship Game will take place on campus Saturday, Feb. 26, when top-seeded DelVal battles second-seeded and two-time defending conference champion DeSales University. Tip-off at James Work Gymnasium is scheduled for 2:00 p.m.

Delaware Valley is coming off a night of firsts as it hosted a playoff game for the first time in program history and notched its first-ever postseason win with a 69-66 victory over Wilkes University in Wednesday’s semifinals. As a result, the Aggies will now go after their first conference crown and the automatic berth to the NCAA Division III playoffs. In fact, the Delaware Valley football team (2004, 2005, 2009, 2010) is the only program in school history to reach the NCAAs in a team-qualifying sport.

Both teams finished the regular-season with 9-5 marks in conference games and they split their two meetings. However, the Aggies had the tiebreaker for the top seed thanks to a season sweep of Wilkes (DeSales split its two games with Wilkes).

Delaware Valley and DeSales each won its opponent’s home court during the regular-season. The first contest was in Center Valley back on December 4 and the Aggies led by as many as 16 before the Bulldogs rallied to force overtime. In the extra session, senior guard Jason Goldheimer (Manalapan, NJ/Manalapan) drilled a 3-pointer with 2.3 second remaining to lift Delaware Valley to an 82-79 triumph. Two months later in Doylestown, DeSales avenged that setback and moved into sole possession of first place in the Freedom at the time with an 83-73 victory.

The Aggies have won a school-record 16 games this season (16-10) to continue the turnaround under Freedom Conference Coach of the Year Casey Stitzel. Stitzel took over a program that had gone 3-22 overall (0-12 Freedom) in 2007-08 and had won just a combined 37 games over a seven-year span. Delaware Valley has 41 games in Stitzel’s three years at the helm, including a pair of conference playoff appearances and this year’s run to the title contest.

Senior guard and 2011 Freedom Conference Player of the Year James Jones (Philadelphia, PA/Edward Bok Tech) is the conference’s leading scorer with an average of 20.5 points per game and he is also second in assists (5.4 avg) and free throw percentage (.898) and fourth in steals (1.4 avg). He has reached double digits in scoring in 24 of the 26 games this year, including 13, 20-plus point performances and four efforts of 30 or more points.

Jones notched 22 points in Wednesday’s win over Wilkes to up his season total to 534. That matches his total from 2008-09 and is just 23 shy of matching the school record of 557 by Jay Nichols in 1983-84. Jones is also fifth all-time with 1,474 points in just three years with the Aggies (he transferred in from Widener University prior to the 2008-09 campaign).

Sophomore center Jeremy Beckett (Reading, PA/Holy Name) had 18 points, 13 rebounds and six blocks in the semifinal win. The second-team all-Freedom selection is the lone player in the conference averaging a double-double on the season as he is fifth in scoring with 17 points a game and tops on the boards with 11.3 rebounds per contest. Beckett is also first in the Freedom and has set a Delaware Valley single-season record for blocked shots with 73.

Goldheimer is the lone healthy player on the roster that played on the 3-22 team back in 2007-08. He is currently averaging 10.4 points per game and is first in the Freedom in 3-pointers with 66. Goldheimer is second in school history with 195 career treys and he tops the list in both 3-point percentage (.430) and free throw percentage (.877).

Senior forward Chris Ellis (Phoenixville, PA/Phoenixville) and freshman guard Nathan Bollinger (Hellam, PA/Eastern York) round out the Aggie starters. Ellis, who transferred from Harcum College two years ago, averages 10.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per contest. He poured in 15 points against Wilkes on Wednesday. Bollinger has started 20 of the 26 games this season and notches 9.1 points an outing.

This is the fifth straight year that head coach Scott Coval and DeSales has reached the Freedom championship game. The Bulldogs dropped decisions in 2007 and 2008 before taking home the crown in each of the last two seasons. The 2009 squad went all the way to the Elite Eight in the NCAA Division III playoffs while last year’s edition reached the Sweet Sixteen.

DeSales advanced to Saturday’s game with a 67-59 home victory over third-seeded Misericordia University. The Bulldogs went on a 19-4 run to end the first half and the second stanza with six straight points to turn a 10-point deficit into an 11-point lead. The win improved their overall record to 19-7 on the season.

Senior guard and first-team all-Freedom honoree Brian Hunter leads the team in scoring (16.3 avg), assists (a conference-best 6.4 avg) and 3-pointers (59). He recorded 34 points in the overtime loss to Delaware Valley in December.

Sophomore forward Brett Moyer earned second-team all-conference honors and he showed why with 23 points in the semifinal win over Misericordia. He averages 15.3 points and a team-best 7.4 rebounds per contest.

Two other players to watch on DeSales are junior forward Bob Zanneo and sophomore guard Brian Kerwin. Zanneo gives the Bulldogs a spark off the bench with 10.2 points an outing and he has hit 44 shots from beyond the arc this season. Kerwin has connected on 49 treys and averages 9.7 points per contest.