By Amie Canfield
LEXINGTON, VA. – Powered by double-figure efforts from three different players, including a game-high 30 points from senior captain Avni Mustafaj, the Vassar College men’s basketball team defeated The College of New Jersey, 81-77 in the Consolation Game of the Washington & Lee Holiday Classic on Friday. With the victory, the Brewers move to 6-3, while the Lions slip to 2-10 overall.
Mustafaj, who dropped in 21 points in Thursday, was named to the All-Tournament Team for his outstanding efforts. As a team, the Brewers shot 50.9% (27-53) from the floor for the contest, adding a 62.1% (18-29) from the charity stripe.
Vassar, which owned a 43-41 advantage at halftime, quickly saw the lead vanish to open the second half as TCNJ’s Matthew Solomon tied it up early. A back-and-forth battle ensued as each team continued to find the net. Following a layup from senior captain and forward Zach Johnson, fellow captain and senior guard Avni Mustafaj dropped in a pull-up jumper to the lead.
A rebound three from TCNJ’s Jason Larranaga answered with a three of his own to give the Lions a 50-49 edge, but another Johnson make in the paint opened a lead for the Brewers once more (51-50). TCNJ continued to battle as a kick-back shot from Nick Koch brought the Lions back into the advantage (52-51) with 13:54 on the clock.
Tied at 54, the Lions went on a 5-0 run to take a 59-54 lead, but senior guard Zev Katz added a three, followed by a layup to bring the game to another tie at 59-59 with 10:22 on the clock. The Brewers carried that momentum forward, regaining the advantage on the next play as senior guard Ethan Ellis buried a three at 9:35 for the 62-59 lead. It was a lead that continued to grow as a three from junior forward Case Parsons made it a six-point (67-61) margin with 5:13 remaining.
A pair of free throws from Jim Clemente at the 3:51 mark turned it back into a two-point game (67-65), but a 9-0 scoring run down the stretch for the Brewers, paced by seven from Mustafaj, opened a 76-65 advantage. TCNJ got a three from Anthony DiCaro and added a pair of free throw makes by Larranaga with 44 seconds to play (78-70), but Vassar continued to take advantage at the charity stripe as Mustafaj buried one of two.
Another three from DiCaro with 32 seconds to play made it a six-point (79-73) game, but the Brewers once again capitalized from the line as Katz drained one for a three-possession game with 28 seconds remaining. The Lions banked a pair of free throws late as well, but Mustafaj was fouled on the next play, returning to the line to sink his 30th point of the game.
TCNJ’s Danny Bodine drained a layup with two seconds to play, but the Brewers held on for the victory.
In addition to Mustafaj, who went 7-of-10 from the floor and 15-of-18 from the free throw line with an assist, the Brewers also saw Johnson notch 12 points with a game-high eight rebounds, while dropping in a game-high four assists, a block and a match-best three steals over 29 minutes of play. Katz added 14 points over 17 minutes of action, going 5-of-8 from the floor, including 3-of-5 from three-point range.
The Lions were paced by Koch, who came off the bench to post 25 points with two rebounds, an assist and a game-high three steals. DiCaro dropped in 12 points with five boards, while Larranaga added 11 points, four boards, an assist and a block. Rounding out the double-figures for TCNJ was Pat Higgins, who posted 10 points.