Last night was a desperate one for Jay Gangemi and Mark West, the only seniors on the Johns Hopkins basketball team.
Gangemi will enter medical school next fall and West is an engineering major, but basketball has been a central part of their college experience, as they helped coach Bill Nelson build an unprecedented era of success at Hopkins. Their careers will continue after a 60-52 victory last night over Muhlenberg in a Middle Atlantic Conference Southern Division semifinal at the White Center.
In tomorrow's Southern Division championship game, Hopkins will play at Franklin & Marshall, which beat Widener, 75-57, in the other semifinal. The champion gains an automatic berth in the NCAA Division III tournament, but the Blue Jays probably locked rTC up at least an at-large spot with last night's victory, their 20th against six losses.
Gangemi, a 6-foot-3 forward from Rochester, N.Y., scored 11 of his 18 points and grabbed eight of his game-high 11 rebounds in the second half, when the Blue Jays limited Muhlenberg (16-10) to two baskets over a 13-minute span.
West, a utility man from Camp Hill, Pa., didn't score, but he provided a crystalline moment during that stretch, as he dived headfirst for a key steal with 3:26 left. His hustle is one of those often-overlooked factors that could put him, Gangemi and junior guard Danny Knee into the NCAAs for the third straight year.
"From a senior standpoint, you don't want to know that you might never play again," said Gangemi, who has 1,335 career points and 512 career rebounds. "We didn't want to lose and have to wait around until Monday to see if we were in the NCAAs. I like the way we kept our composure. We also played some solid defense."
Gangemi and sophomore Luke Busby, who also had 18 points, were both hit with their third fouls in the first five minutes of the second half. Twelve seconds after Gangemi's foul, he drove the baseline for a dunk over three defenders.
Muhlenberg outscored Hopkins 8-2 over the next two minutes for a 44-43 lead with 13:15 remaining, but the Mules scored just two field goals over the next 13 minutes against a Blue Jays defense that is one of the best in the nation. Hopkins opponents have made just 40 percent of their field-goal attempts this season, and Muhlenberg was a woeful 20-for-61, 9-for-31 in the second half.
Sophomore center Frank Gryzwacz had 12 points and 10 rebounds for Hopkins. Sophomore forward Dennis Adams had 18 points and eight rebounds for Muhlenberg.
At the start, the Blue Jays continued the hot shooting from the perimeter that sustained them last week on the way to their first MAC Southeast Section title. While building a 17-9 lead in eight minutes, they made five of six three-pointers. Muhlenberg went on a 14-2 run that gave the Mules a 23-19 lead, but Busby did his John Havlicek imitation over the last seven minutes of the half, helping the Blue Jays to a 34-29 lead at halftime.