Selinsgrove, PA – The USMMA men's basketball team saw a 16-point lead in the second half dwindle to just two points before ultimately defeating Susquehanna, 79-73, in its regular season finale. The victory moves the pressure in the Landmark Conference playoff race to Moravian, who will face first-place Catholic tonight at 7:45 pm. A Catholic victory would secure Merchant Marine the fourth seed in the 2013 Landmark Conference Tournament.
USMMA will be the fourth seed in the upcoming Landmark Conference Tournament semifinals after Catholic defeated Moravian Saturday night. #4 Merchant Marine will take on #1 Catholic Wednesday night at 7:30 pm in Washington, DC
Merchant Marine (14-11, 7-7) was paced by the 20 points of Reed Buck (Lawrenceville, GA), who was also a clutch 8-of-8 at the free throw line. Freshman Scott Dennin (Gilbertsville, PA) led the Mariners with 11 rebounds and also added five assists and three blocks to his stat line. USMMA also improved on its league leading rebounding totals by controlling the glass, 44-30. The Mariners finished the game shooting 46.4 percent (26-56) from the field and 45.5 percent (5-11) from beyond the arc.
Susquehanna (9-16, 5-9 Landmark) opened up an early advantage with a Harley Sellinger lay-up to make it 15-9 after the first six minutes of action. The Crusaders offense was ultimately led by the duo of Harvey Pannell and Brandon Hedley as both registered 15 points. Susquehanna sank nine three-pointers on the game and shot 74.1 percent (20-27) from the free throw line.
The Mariners quickly closed the gap and a Preston Padgett (Leavenworth, KS) triple tied it at 19-19 with 8:46 left in the first period. USMMA closed the opening frame with five consecutive points to carry a 31-27 lead into halftime. George Hatzioannides (Oakland Gardens, NY) dished out four of his game high six assists in the first 20 minutes of play.
Hatzioannides kicked-off USMMA's second half surge as the freshman guard scored six straight points to push the Mariner lead to double-digits at 43-33 at the 15:41 mark. Buck drilled a trifecta to make it nine straight points for Merchant Marine and one minute later Padgett buried another three-pointer to extend the cushion to 58-42 with 11:44 on the clock.
The home team began to chip away and seven straight points from Josh Miller, including a three-ball of his own, made it a 67-60 affair with 4:35 remaining in regulation. The Crusaders continued to use the long ball to get back into the game as Brandon Hedley made three's on back-to-back possessions to ignite the crowd and close the gap to 73-71 with 1:35 to go.
Buck, the 2011-12 Landmark Conference Player of the Year, came through in crunch time and made two free throws on the next possession to move the USMMA lead back to four points. The Crusaders came up empty on their next turn with the ball setting up a Hatzioannides connection with Buck for a layup that made it 77-71 with 46 ticks left.
The Mariners held on down the stretch to secure the 79-73 triumph and claim its fourth victory in the last five games. USMMA can now only wait and watch as Catholic and Moravian square-off with the Mariners fate in the balance. Fans can watch the game or follow live stats of the Greyhounds-Cardinals match-up at http://www.cuacardinals.com/landing/index