After trailing by as many as 15 points in the second half, the Case Western Reserve University men's basketball team capitalized on a 36-9 run to defeat Franklin and Marshall College 75-66 and win the team title at the 2017 Sponaugle New Year's Tournament in Lancaster, Pennsylvania on Tuesday evening.
With the win, the Spartans will enter University Athletic Association competition with a 5-6 overall record, while Franklin and Marshall dropped to 7-4 with the loss.
Junior guard Colin Zucker scored a team-leading 20 points in the win, adding five rebounds and four assists, and was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player after averaging 15.0 points during the two victories. He scored seven of his 20 points in the final two minutes of the game to help secure the win, and went 10-for-13 from the free throw line on Tuesday. Freshman forward Connor Nally was also named to the All-Tournament Team, scoring 10 points and connecting on three three-point attempts during a two-minute stretch of the Spartans' second-half rally.
Senior guard Javier Alvarez and freshman forward Sam Hansen added 11 points apiece, and junior forward T.J. Duckett collected a team-best 11 rebounds on Tuesday.
Case Western Reserve remained close for the majority of the first half, but 16 turnovers in the first 20 minutes eventually caught up with the Spartans. Although the team never led in the first half, a free throw by Zucker pulled the Spartans back within three points, 18-15, with 8:24 left in the period. However, the Diplomats would close the half on a 17-7 run to take a 35-22 halftime lead. Franklin and Marshall held a 16-3 edge in points off turnovers over the Spartans during the first 20 half.
Despite an early basket by the Diplomats that gave the hosts a 37-22 lead early in the second, both teams would start off slow from the field in the second period. Down 42-28 with 14:20 remaining, Alvarez connecting on a layup for the Spartans' first made shot from the field of the half. From there, Case Western Reserve launched on a 36-9 run over the next 10 minutes to take control of the game. The Spartans defense flipped the script on the Diplomats, pressing their opponents and scoring 12 points on nine turnovers. Meanwhile, CWRU connecting on eight-of-17 three-point attempts (47.1%) in the second half, including at least one apiece from Nally, Hansen, Zucker, junior forward David Black, and freshman guard Kyle McIntosh.
Nally connected on his first three of the game with 8:52 remaining to give the Spartans their first lead of the contest, 48-47, and sank another with 8:22 left to push the advantage to four. Case Western Reserve continued to control the pace of the game, taking a 13-point lead on a three by Hansen with 4:32 remaining, putting the score at 64-51.
An 8-0 run by the Diplomats trimmed the Spartans' advantage to five, 66-61, with 2:33 to play. However, Zucker hit a layup and five free throws down the stretch to push the lead back to 10, while Alvarez and Nally each hit free throws late to put the game out of reach.
The Spartans finished the game shooting 42.3% from the field (22-for-52) and from three-point range (11-of-26), while the CWRU bench outscored Franklin and Marshall's 25-18.
Julius Stoma led all Diplomats with 21 points, while Brandon Federici added 17 in the game. The loss put an end to a three-game winning streak for Franklin and Marshall.
The Spartans will now carry the momentum of the tournament victory and back-to-back wins into the start of UAA competition next weekend. Case Western Reserve opens conference play on Saturday, January 7th, traveling to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania to face Carnegie Mellon University. Tip-off of the game is scheduled for 5:00 p.m.