Published: February 22, 2012 9:20 PM
An automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament in Division III will be on the line Saturday when the Skyline Conference holds its title game. It could come down to top seed St. Joseph's (LI) and second seed Farmingdale State.
In Thursday night's semifinals, St. Joseph's (21-3) hosts Purchase (13-13), and Farmingdale (20-5) plays visiting Mount St. Mary (20-6).
St. Joseph's won the two regular-season meetings against Farmingdale, but the Rams believe they have the greater weapon in 7-foot junior AJ Matthews, the Skyline player of the year, who has recorded double-doubles in all 23 of his starts.
"The guy scores, rebounds, blocks shots, guards," Farmingdale coach Erik Smiles said of Matthews, who is averaging 22.1 points, 16 rebounds and four blocked shots. "He can block shots with both hands, pass with both hands. His footwork is unbelievable. The kid can play."
Matthews is ready. "I want to be the go-to guy," he said. "I want everybody to rely on me. It's not a problem with me at all. I accept that role of me being the go-to guy when we need a bucket, a rebound, any situation."
And Matthews, who has pro ambitions, is anxious to make the NCAA Tournament.
"I feel like we have to win, due to the fact that they beat us twice," he said of St. Joseph's. "We don't want to sit back and wait for the NCAA to choose or help us out, we should earn it on our own. We can't say they're not going to beat us three times, teams can beat teams three times. We have to trust in each other and believe in each other that we're going to win."
The St. Joseph's offense is led by Olivier Laurent (15.9), Trey Black (14.9), Chris Jimenez and Steve Velazquez (12.8). Smiles said Farmingdale has to cut down on its turnovers against St. Joseph's; it averaged nearly 20 in the two losses.
"Number one is taking care of the basketball," Smiles said. "St. Joe's runs a great 1-2-1-1 press. They fall back man-to-man, and we've done a poor job taking care of the ball against their pressure or not getting into the habit of taking quick shots after we beat the pressure."
St. Joseph's coach John Mateyko said Matthews is the key, but points to some of his teammates, too. "We just try to bother him as much as we can," Mateyko said of Matthews. "Joshua Smith [15.2 ppg.] and Dyshaun Flournoy [12.8] are very good players."