Elms College junior guard Aswad Thomas (Hartford, CT) poured in a game-high 18 points and the Blazers made history with a 71-53 win over the University of Scranton in Friday night's first round of the 2008 NCAA Division III Men's Basketball Championship at Hen Bream Gymnasium on the campus of Gettysburg College.
The Blazers won their 14th straight game and school-record 23rd game of the season to improve to 23-6 overall. The victory also marked the first NCAA Division III Championship victory for Elms College in any sport.
Elms College now advances to face host Gettysburg in the second round on Saturday, March 8. Game time is 7:00 p.m. at Gettysburg College. Gettysburg punched its ticket into the round of 32 with a 95-87 win over Salem State in Friday night's other first round game.
Scranton, which was making its 21st tournament appearance and fourth this decade, finished 19-9.
The game was tied 44-44 with 10:16 remaining before the Blazers broke away with a 21-6 run over the next 8:23 to seal the program's first tournament win in four all-time appearances.
Following a pair of free throws by freshman guard Zach Ashworth (Doylestown, PA) that pulled the Royals to within 49-46, freshman guard Dan Gonzalez (East Windsor, CT) knocked down a deep 3-pointer, Thomas forced a turnover on Scranton's ensuing possession and freshman guard Nate DiSessa (Westfield, MA) drained a 3-pointer seconds later to give the Blazers their largest lead of the night at 55-46.
Although Asworth converted a layup on Scranton's next possession to cut the deficit to 55-48, Gonzalez and Thomas each netted a pair of free throws to extend Elms College's lead to 59-48.
From there, Scranton would get no closer than 11 points as Elms College scored 14 of the game's final 19 points.
Junior guard Ellis Jones (Roxbury, MA) matched his season-high with 12 points, including a clutch buzzer-beating layup as time expired in the first half that gave the Blazers a 32-30 lead at intermission.
Sophomore point guard Juan Galdon (Holyoke, MA) also finished with 12 points and added a game-high four assists in the victory.
Scranton 6-8 senior center Tom Bicknell (Melbourne, Australia), who came into the game averaging a team-best 14.3 points, was held in check with a team-high 13 points and game-high 17 rebounds in the loss.
The Royals had roared out of the gates to take an 8-2 lead in the game's opening 4:41.
The Blazers responded with a 24-13 run over the next 8:01 to take their largest lead of the half at 26-21.
Thomas knocked down a pair of jumpers and a 3-pointer, Galdon drained a 3-pointer and a jumper, and senior forward Nate Hawes (New Hope, MN) chipped in with a layup and a pair of free throws to help key the run.
Scranton, however, answered by scoring seven of the next nine points to knot the score at 28-28 with 4:52 remaining in the half.
From there, the half featured two more ties and two more lead changes before Jones converted his buzzer-beating layup to give the Blazers a slim 32-30 lead at intermission.
Elms fell to Gettysburg 66-65 in the NCAA second round.