Thanks for the love everyone. Sorry I'm late with the Week 9/10 writeup:
Season 66, Weeks 9 and 10 - Overview
Despite Freedom winning four of the seven Week 8 games vs CCIW, they still had a big task against CUNY in Week 9. CCIW went 5-2 against CUNY, so Freedom needed a similar level of success to keep pace in the Challenge. In the end, Freedom won five of nine against CUNY; not as dominant as in some other years, but enough to keep Freedom with a chance of winning the Challenge heading into Week 10. Strong performances for Freedom included Wilkes' solid 90-76 victory over York (NY), Carnegie Mellon's 67-56 win over Medgar Evers and then-#25 Delaware Valley's 90-75 win over Staten Island. All three of those winners are currently ranked in the Top 25. The CUNY highlights included John Jay's 75-64 win over FDU-Florham and Baruch's 109-76 dismantling of Lake Erie.
It is common for a couple of Challenge games to be pushed to Week 10 due to scheduling conflicts, and more often than not the Challenge victor is decided in the 'extra' week. So it came to pass in Season 66 with a matchup between two historical Titans of their respective conferences, Frostburg St. and Millikin. Frostburg has often been Freedom's top seeded team in past Challenges and has a twelve-season active NT streak with a Final Four appearance three seasons ago; Millikin has a ten-season active NT streak and made the NT Championship Game two seasons ago. These are two programs that represent the success of their respective conferences; it was appropriate that the Challenge go down to such a battle.
And a battle it was. Millikin led for much of the first half, up by as much as eight late in the first half, and went into the break with a 35-30 lead. Frostburg chipped away at the lead, though, and finally carved out a 48-43 lead with 11:47 left on back-to-back baskets by Brian Aponte (a 3-pointer to break a tie) and David Dahlke. Millikin pulled the score back to 51-51 with 8:45 left on a three-point play by David Heinen, and over the next few minutes the teams traded points, with Millikin responding to every basket by Frostburg. The game's most important sequence came with three minutes left and Frostburg St. up 62-60. Millikin forced a turnover and had a chance to tie the game, but Michael Tellez missed a layup. Frostburg rebounded and Aponte hit another big three-pointer with 2:08 left to give Frostburg some breathing room, 65-60. After two free throws from Millikin cut the deficit to three, Aponte came through for Frostburg again with an assist to Randall Schwarts to extend the lead back to five with 1:29 left. From there, the teams traded fouls; neither team was particularly effective at making their free throws, but Frostburg did enough to keep Millikin at bay and win the game 70-64. Freedom are once again the Challenge victors -- congrats to them.
Other notable games from Week 9:
NYC Tech 60, PSU-Behrend 59 -- a tough defensive battle with a dramatic ending. Jordan Gomes for PSU-Behrend made a basket with 4:01 left to make the score NYC Tech 58, PSU-Behrend 75. Amazingly, the score stayed 58-57 for the next 3:51. With ten seconds left, PSU's Richard Butcher was fouled on a layup attempt (set up by an offensive board from Gomes), and hit both foul shots to give PSU a 1 point lead. NYC Tech called timeout to set up a final shot, and got what they wanted when Leroy Oliver hit a shot from the left wing with five seconds left. But did they leave too much time on the clock? Now it was PSU-Behrend's turn to draw up a final play, and they were able to set up a lay-in attempt by Timothy Edwards. Unfortunately for them Edwards' shot rimmed out at the buzzer and NYC Tech prevailed.
Drew 75, Hunter 67 (2OT) -- Robert Focht for Hunter hit a game-tying shot with six seconds left to send the game into OT (at 50-50). In the first OT Drew opened up a five point lead on some deadly outside shooting by Bruce Soper, but Hunter's own marksman Sammy Mehaffy eventually pulled Hunter level again. Drew had three shots to win at the end of the first OT but missed them all; however, in the second OT Drew held a slim lead throughout, finally sealing the game by forcing a Hunter turnover with 27 seconds and up four points. Drew hit their foul shots in the final seconds to extend the final margin of victory.
What's next: celebrations for Freedom, back to the drawing board for CCIW and CUNY although they can be encouraged by narrowing the gap to Freedom. Each conference looks to have a few NT teams in the works, no doubt there will be some inter-conference matchups in the tournament that we all care about the most...