By Dylan Butler
It's the type of shot that is often attempted but rarely converted. But the way things were going for the Bridgeport men's basketball team in the first half Wednesday night, it wouldn't have been a surprise if Terrell Taylor's one-handed heave at the halftime buzzer went through the hoop.
Instead, Taylor's 70-footer bounced off the front rim. It was about the only thing that went wrong for Bridgeport in a stunning 20-minute offensive clinic. Queens trailed by 23 at the half and as many as 31 before falling, 87-82, in its regular-season finale at Fitzgerald Gymnasium.
Queens (20-7, 16-4) ends its regular season losing its final two games and fell behind Bridgeport into third in the NYCAC standings. The Knights will host a first-round NYCAC tournament game Wednesday against St. Thomas Aquinas, Concordia or C.W. Post.
The semifinals and final will be played at C.W. Post March 4 and 5.
“We're going to go back to work Friday and Saturday, getting ready for Wednesday,” Queens coach Kyrk Peponakis said. “They don't want to go out like this.”
Last year, Queens lost its final two games of the regular season as well but went on to win the NYCAC tournament and earn the conference's automatic bid to the Division II NCAA tournament.
And that appears now to be the only path to the Big Dance for Queens, which entered the week seeded seventh in the region but lost two straight games – to sub-.500 Molloy College and at home to Bridgeport.
With the likelihood of two teams going to the eight-team Northeast Regional, the league's tournament champion and one at-large berth, Bridgeport (20-9, 16-3) should move ahead of Queens in the race for the at-large berth. The Purple Knights swept the season series, 2-0.
“Ultimately, we just want to win the NYCAC championship,” Queens sophomore Clyde Chapman said. He had 14 points and nine rebounds. “We've got to defend that, we've got to play hard.”
While Taylor, a former standout at Division I Creighton, put a stir into the crowd at the end of the first half, it was fellow Bridgeport, Conn., native Kevin Jeffreys who electrified them early.
He scored the Purple Knights' first 16 points in the opening 4:04 en route to 27 first-half points. The senior guard shot 9-of-12 from the field, 4-of-6 from three-point range and 5-of-5 from the line in 15 first-half minutes.
“The kid Jeffreys, he just came out on fire,” Chapman said. “The guys are in the locker room talking about it right now but he must have set a record for points in a matter of minutes.”
After getting torched for 55 points in the first half and struggling in all facets offensively, Queens would turn things around in the second half but not before its deficit ballooned to 31 points with 15:13 left in the game.
Peponakis told his team to push the ball inside on offense and play tougher and tighter defense. His team responded with a 17-2 run – all from the paint and free throw line – to get within 73-57 with 9:58 left and then went on a 15-4 run, capped by a Bradd Wierzbicki three-point play to trail 81-74 with 1:45 left.
“We were smart and we got the shots that I wanted,” Peponakis said of his team's play in the second half. “We got the guys to the basket. We just did a better job in the second half.”
Shaun Bertin, one of three seniors honored before their final regular season home game, missed a pair of free throws with 1:15 left. He recovered on the defensive end to steal the ball along the baseline but he threw the ball into Jeffreys' hands, who converted a three-point play to put the game away.
It was only Jeffreys' fifth point of the second half. He finished with a game-high 33 points.
“He's a tough player, he's a first-team all-conference preseason player,” said Bertin, who along with Wierzbicki, scored 17 points. “He knocked down some shots and we didn't. But I think we showed a lot of guts coming back like that.”