PROVIDENCE, R.I. -- York (N.Y.) made school history on Thursday evening, wining its first NCAA tournament game by defeating Rhode Island College 79-54.
The Cardinals had failed in their first five attempts to advance in the NCAA tournament, losing in the opening round each time (1995, '96, '97, 2006, '07) but York finally broke the drought with a dominant performance against Rhode Island College in front of the Anchormen's home crowd.
With the win, York (22-7) now advances to the second round to take on defending national champion Amherst -- who received a bye into the second round -- at 3 p.m. Saturday.
Though Michael Woods -- the 2014 CUNYAC Player of the Year and second-leading scorer in Division III -- has been the story for York for most of this season, it was Omar St. John who carried the team on Thursday. St. John netted a career-high 31 points on 10 of 17 shooting, to go along with six rebounds and five assists. Woods added 20 points and five assists, while Just Garvin chipped in 11 points off the bench. Jaron Williams was a force down low, as he grabbed 15 boards and blocked five shots.
The Anchormen, who were making their eighth consecutive appearance in the tournament, were led by Chris Burton with 14 points and Victor Smith with 11 points. They finish the season with a record of 20-9.
Nerves were evident for both teams in the opening minutes with each side committing a number of turnovers at the start. Three minutes into the game, the two teams only had two points apiece.
The Cardinals settled down though and quickly created some separation, after a 16-0 run put York up 16-2 with 12:34 left in the half. A 3-pointer by Woods and then made jumpers by Donald Rodriguez and St. John on consecutive possessions helped spark the big run.
After Rhode Island cut the lead down to 10 points (17-7), the Cardinals followed with another big run, this time going on a 13-2 stretch, to go up 30-9 with 7:01 in the opening half. The Cardinals would continue to maintain that 21-point advantage into the locker room, leading 39-18.
Early in the second half, the Cardinals pushed their lead to 27 points, after a pair of St. John free throws made the score 45-18. But a 13-1 stretch ensued for the Anchormen and they cut the deficit to 15 points. Chris Burton helped Rhode Island get back in it with a three-point play early and Eric Alleyne capped off the run with a 3-pointer.
But that would be as close as Rhode Island would get, as the Cardinals regrouped and put the game away shortly after. Six consecutive York points put the Cardinals back up by 21 with 13:40 left. The Cardinals then iced the game a few minutes later thanks to St. John. He drained a shot from long range and then followed that up with a pretty pass that set up Jaron Williams for an emphatic dunk on the next possesion. The dunk put York up6 60-37. The Anchormen could only get as close as 17 points the rest of the way.
Defensive pressure was a big reason for the Cardinals' success Thursday evening. York forced 24 turnovers, which it converted into 18 points. It also held the Anchormen to just 31 percent shooting from the field and 20 percent shooting from 3-point range. The Anchormen hoisted up 30 3-point attempts, making just six of them. Conversely, York shot 46 percent and only turned the ball more than six times.