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Widener men roll in NCAA Tournament opener; Swarthmore MBB, Widener WBB advance

03/01/2024, 11:30pm EST
By Joseph Santoliquito

By Joseph Santoliquito (@JSantoliquito)

CHESTER, PA — A few days later, the dust plume still hovered. The Widener men’s basketball team would need a little more time to rinse the Eastern loss in the MAC Commonwealth championship last Saturday out of their collective system.

It took about 10 minutes to rid the Pride of their pain Friday night in the opening round of the NCAA Division III Tournament.

Widener took out its frustration on poor Roger Williams, 101-70, at Widener’s Schwartz Athletic Center to reach the round of 32.  

Steven Matlack (above) and Widener's men rolled Roger Williams on Friday. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

The No. 16-ranked Pride (24-4) will now play defending Division III national champion Christopher Newport (22-6), a 79-59 winner over Hobart, on Saturday at 7 p.m. back at Widener’s Schwartz Athletic Center.

The victory marked the first time the Pride won an NCAA Tournament game since 2009, when they beat Virginia Wesleyan, 74-66, on March 6, 2009, when the current Pride team was in grade school.

The 101-point output was Widener’s second-highest total this season.

Widener’s Steven Matlack led all scorers with 21 points, while Mike Kane chipped in with 12, Kevin Schenk had 11, and Luke Mazur, Howie Rankine, and Matt Daulerio each had 10 (with 10:31 to play, Rankine scored his 1,000th career point).

The Pride finished as the 1978 NCAA Tournament national runner-up and reached the Division III Final Four in 1985—the last time the Pride won a second-round NCAA Tournament game.

But before they could think about the future, they had to come to grips with the recent past—the 98-69 upset loss to Eastern.

“This week was hard, it was hard, I don’t want to overdo it, but we were disappointed that we did not finish what we started (winning the MAC Commonwealth),” admitted Widener coach Chris Carideo. “We talked about it Monday, still carrying it a little bit. Once we found who we were playing at home and practiced Tuesday, it started to ease up a little bit. By Wednesday, we were good. We moved on.

“We are past it. We are ready to move on and we showed it tonight.”

The Pride did.

They outrebounded the smaller Roger Williams by a total of 50-28, doubling the Hawk’s inside the paint, 56-28, and in second-chance points, 24-4.

“Coming out hot, it gives us energy for the team,” Matlack said. “We got everyone involved and picked each other up throughout the game. Just trusting each other got us going, and I was lucky enough to get my shots.”

Howie Rankine (2) contributed 10 points, 11 rebounds and five assists to the win. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

The game was over by halftime. Well, actually, within the first 9 minutes, 22 seconds. That is when the Pride forged a 30-10 lead after a Xavier Ernest layup off a nifty backdoor pass from Daulerio.

The Pride’s largest lead of the game was 49-14 with 3:06 left after a Kane three-pointer. For the half, the Pride shot 22-of-39 (56.4%), while holding Roger Williams to 10-of-34 (29.4%).

Anything the Pride wanted to do, they did. It took Widener 3 minutes and 36 seconds to reach 12 points in the game. It took Roger Williams 14 minutes, 13 seconds. The game was tied once, 2-2, then Widener went on a 19-5 run and that spelled the end for the Commonwealth Coast Conference champ Hawks (14-15).

By halftime, Matlack had 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting (4-of-5 from three-point range). Nine different Widener players scored in the first half, as the Pride outscored Roger Williams 30-8 in the paint, and 24-2 off the bench.

“We played a really, really good team tonight, however, these guys (Roger Williams) had quite a season, and I don’t think too many expected us to be here,” Roger Williams coach Mike Tully said. “The second half we played more the way we are capable of playing.”

The matchup Saturday night pits not only two of Division III’s best programs in Christopher Newport and Widener, it also pits together two close friends, Captains’ coach John Krikorian and Carideo.

“John and I were talking yesterday during the shoot-around, and we were supposed to meet up and never did, and he said, ‘If we play you guys, you know I can’t talk to you (laughs),’” Carideo said. “That’s John’s own rule. He doesn’t like talking to the opposing coaches, even though we are really good friends. I obviously have a huge amount of respect for John and what he does for his program. This is going to be a war out there, with two good teams. We have to prepare ourselves.”  

Joseph Santoliquito is a hall of fame, award-winning sportswriter based in the Philadelphia area who began writing for CoBL in 2021 and is the president of the Boxing Writers Association of America. He can be followed on Twitter here.


In other local Division III NCAA Tournament results…

— Widener’s women equaled their men, taking down Springfield College (Mass.) 57-50 at Bates College (Maine) to advance to Saturday’s second round. The Pride (24-4) got 16 points from Gianna Samuels and 13 from Mia Robbins as they forced 21 turnovers, with six different players scoring six-or-more points in a versatile offensive attack. Springfield led 19-12 after one quarter and by nine at halftime, but Widener held its opponents to 15 second-half points, ending the game on an 11-3 run over the final four minutes to take the win.

— After romping over Widener in the MAC Commonwealth championship, Eastern’s men had a little bit of a tougher time with TCNJ, but the Eagles held on to survive not one but two potential game-winning shots in the final 45 seconds as they advanced, 80-79. They’ll play host Keene State (N.H.) in Saturday’s second round. Four players finished in double figures for the Eagles (21-7), led by 18 points (plus eight boards) from Jaron Fairweather and 17 from Arkese Claiborne.

— The late-season rally by Swarthmore’s men continues. The Garnet won their 10th game in a row, downing Virginia Wesleyan 67-59 on Friday night to set up a game at No. 3 Trinity College (Conn.) on Saturday. Vinny DeAngelo became Swat’s all-time leading scorer as he scored 17 points with eight assists, though it was Michael Caprese’s 20-point, 14-rebound double-double which led the way. Swat got out to a huge first-half lead, going up 37-19 at the break, but that got as low as five with 3:30 to play before buckets by DeAngelo and Caprese got it back to 10.

— DeSales women and men had different first-round results; the Bulldog women beat Southern Virginia 53-42 for their 19th win in a row, while the men’s season came to an end in a 77-51 loss to Williams College (Mass.). The DeSales women got yet another double-double from Mikaela Reese (17 points, 12 rebounds), her ninth of the season, who was one of four in double figures. But it was really about DeSales’ defense; they held SVU to 31.1% from the floor and forced 21 turnovers. The men struggled across the board against Williams, shooting 30% from the floor as Williams made half of its shots, won the rebounding battle and only turned it over 10 times.

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