The Vaughn College Warriors made it interesting. But a spirited second half could not overcome a sluggish first, and the Warriors fell, 84-69, to St. Joseph's in the Hudson Valley Men's Athletic Conference semifinals Saturday at Albany College of Pharmacy.
Stung by shooting troubles and an inability to control St. Joseph's near the basket, the Warriors fell behind 18-5 and 23-7 early in the first half. The half ended with Vaughn behind, 45-21, and the Warriors having hit on only 6 of 29 shots. St. Joseph's, meanwhile, was red hot, connecting on 18 of 30 first-half shots.
Vaughn saved its best basketball for the second half, when it outscored St. Joseph's, 48-39. The Warriors closed a 24-point deficit to 12 with two minutes remaining, but St. Joseph's made its essential foul shots to finish off Vaughn in the semifinals for the second straight year.
"I was much happier with the guys in the second half," said first-year Coach Jon Hochberg, whose team finished the season 10-13 overall and 5-1 in the HVMAC. "I have to credit St. Joseph's; they were the better basketball in every way in the first half."
The Warriors were led by junior forward Jihad Ceaser, who scored a game-high 25 points. Sophomore guard Jared Ndiba added 21. Junior guard John Brooks had a team-high 10 rebounds.
"Jihad gave a great effort, everything he had," Hochberg said. "I can't say enough about him. But we just couldn't overcome our first half."
Indeed, it was a surprisingly one-sided first half between two evenly matched teams. In fact, second-seeded Vaughn defeated third-seeded St. Joseph's, 67-64, on the Brooklyn team's floor in January.
That was not to be the case Saturday. Vaughn turned the ball over on its first two possessions, missed its first two shots and trailed 6-0 two minutes into the game. Ceaser scored Vaughn's first five points before St. Joseph's went on an 15-2 run to take control of the first half.
"They looked like the more experienced team today," Hochberg said. "We're very young and we seemed a little slow in the first half."
For the second consecutive year, St. Joseph's will play Berkeley College for the championship. Berkeley, the defending champion and top seed, survived a game effort from host Albany Pharmacy to win Saturday's first semifinal, 91-83. It was an unexpectedly difficult game for Berkeley, which did not play its best but had enough to defeat fourth-seeded Albany. Berkeley defeated Albany by 37 points Jan. 28.
HVMAC SEMIFINALS AT ALBANY: Left, Vaughn's Jihad Ceaser dribbles the ball up the court against St. Joseph's on Saturday. At right, Vaughn's John Brooks defends against St. Joseph's Jan Rogowski.