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Immaculata MBB advances in Atlantic East playoffs in thriller over Neumann

02/20/2024, 1:45am EST
By Josh Verlin

By Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

The crowd was roaring inside the Mirenda Center for the second half of the evening, as neither Neumann nor Immaculata wanted its season to end. 

Neumann’s student section had already rattled the nerves of one Immaculata freshman, a couple missed foul shots with 23 seconds left allowing the Knights to tie things up with 10 seconds left on a Ja’bri White put-back. 

But Mandon Seapoe wasn’t rattled enough as he stepped to the line with three seconds left, and after missing the first, he buried the second, allowing the Mighty Macs to silence the crowd — save for the group of IU fans losing their minds — and escape with a 70-69 win. 

Tyler Tillery (above) and IU have played in four straight Atlantic East semifinals. (Photo: Josh Verlin/CoBL)

“I said, you got it, you do this,” Immaculata coach Jayson Hyman told the freshman as he went to the line. “He does this, and he did it. So it’s always great to rely on that. Especially at a young age.”

Hyman’s been relying on a young backcourt in his seventh season at Immaculata, starting Seapoe and Dinero Washington (Collegium Charter) — whose missed foul shots won’t spoil what’s otherwise been a terrific rookie year — alongside a core group of veterans. And it’s a mixture that’s working, as the Mighty Macs are into the America East semifinals for the fourth year in a row, looking for the breakthrough into a title game. 

That’ll have to come on Wednesday night against top seeded Marymount (Va.), a long bus ride down 95 coming in a couple days.

Graduate student Tyler Tillery, a 6-5 forward from Baltimore, led Immaculata with 14 points and eight rebounds and also picked off the three-quarter-court pass Neumann attempted with a couple seconds left to try and set up a game-winning shot which never happened.

It was a game that featured 14 lead changes and eight ties, a combined 75 foul shots and 21 players in the scoring column, both teams leaving it all on the court with the season on the line. 

“Neumann, Cabrini, Gwynedd, Marymount, no matter where you go in this conference, that’s how it is,” Tillery said. “My mindset is to win, win a championship, like everybody else’s ultimate  goal. We’ve got a very talented group.”

Tillery’s been a centerpiece of the Macs since his arrival, starting 97 of the 101 games he’s played in in his career, putting up remarkably consistent numbers (11.0 ppg, 7.2 rpg) as he’s stayed productive over the course of his career.

He’ll be spending one more year at Immaculata next year as he finishes his graduate degree in athletic training, but these are his last few weeks of hoops.

“Crazy atmosphere, but if you’re a basketball player, you get up for these kinds of games,” he said. “I love it, a lot of energy, love the crowd, if they’re for us or against us.”

Hyman’s roster is expansive at 20-deep, with eight freshmen, two sophomores, five juniors, three seniors and two grad students, Tillery and Tim Schultice, who hit a critical 3-pointer down the stretch against Neumann, are the only two in their final year of eligibility. 

That depth allows Hyman to get some production from some unlikely places. Monday night, that was partly in the form of senior forward Keith Farmer (Penn Wood), who tied with Tillery for a team-high 14 points in 18 minutes, just three days after playing only two scoreless minutes in a game against Neumann on that same court. Freshman guard Idan Zuker, a freshman from Israel who was just ruled eligible by the NCAA in the last couple weeks, played 16 minutes off the bench and hit a 3-pointer of his own. 

“Those surprises help,” Hyman said. “We just have to figure out what surprise we can throw out next.”

Immaculata has reason for optimism at Marymount, as they only lost by two in Arlington (Va.) on January 3 and won by 11 on Feb. 3 back home, getting 23 points from Washington and an 11-point, 14-rebound double-double from Tillery, plus 11 more from senior Gregory Vlasspoulous (Garnet Valley). 

“Playoff’s a whole new season,” Hyman said. “We have to adjust and keep playing and see what happens. Any given team can win any given night.”

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