Queens blows late lead, falls to St. Thomas Aquinas

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SPARKILL, N.Y. - Nobody was particularly happy leaving Aquinas Hall Sunday afternoon, not even host St. Thomas Aquinas, which beat Queens College in a sloppy 76-70 foul fest.

But nobody was angrier than Knights basketball coach Kyrk Peponakis, who lambasted his team after the ugly New York Collegiate Athletic Conference road loss.

After Queens (4-4, 3-2) took its first lead of the second half at 68-67 on a pair of free throws by John Sikiric, Peponakis was livid watching the Knights stumble down the stretch, punctuated by a pair of traveling violations in the final 1:42.

“I’ve got so much anger inside of me right now,” said Peponakis. “They didn’t give me anything. There’s nothing there, nothing good, nothing I liked. We should have been the man and played like that, but we did nothing.”

Both teams were coming off long layoffs — St. Thomas Aquinas had not played since Dec. 13 and Queens’ last game was Dec. 20 — and it showed.

The Knights led early, but St. Thomas Aquinas (5-3, 4-2) took advantage of early trouble to post players Shaun Bertin and Rob Villanueva — who would both eventually foul out — and led 41-37 at halftime.

With a distinct size advantage down low, the Spartans pushed the ball to 6-foot-7 Robert Epps, who scored a game-high 28 points, including 12-for-13 from the foul line.

The Bronx native knocked down a pair of free throws to put St. Thomas Aquinas ahead, 75-70, with 19.7 seconds left.

“That was the game plan from the beginning,” Epps said. “We knew we had a big size advantage and that was the game plan, to feed the ball inside the paint.”

After falling behind, 49-39, Queens picked up its defensive intensity late, but after Sikiric put Queens ahead, 68-67, on a pair of free throws, Michael Rossmell (14 points, eight rebounds) hit a tough fadeaway jumper with 1:24 left to put St. Thomas Aquinas ahead for good.

“I told them (before the game) if we’re sloppy, we have to make sure they’re sloppy, and we were sloppy,” said St. Thomas Aquinas coach Dennis O’Donnell. “We’re young. Of the 13 we dressed, eight are brand new, so when you win you take it.”

With Bertin and Villanueva sitting for huge chunks of the game, freshman Bradd Wierzbicki played well in his first extended stretch of playing time.

The former Cathedral Prep star, who scored nine points off the bench, was arguably the Knights most consistent player, although the 6-foot-2 string bean from Maspeth missed an ill-advised three-point attempt during the Knights’ disastrous final two minutes.

“We played pretty good down the stretch defensively, but offensively I don’t know what to tell you,” Wierzbicki said. “You work on execution in practice, we put the clock up and do situations, and to not execute here, that’s the most frustrating thing.”

Gary DeBerry scored 16 points and Sikiric added 15 for Queens, which is home for Adelphi Thursday and Molloy Saturday after playing at Southampton Tuesday night.

St. Thomas Aquinas 64, Queens College 56. Shonda Holder scored a game-high 22 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, but it was not enough for the Queens College women’s basketball team Sunday at St. Thomas Aquinas.

Erin White and Patti Cronin scored eight points apiece for the Knights, who shot 28 percent (17-for-61) from the field.

Brittney Thomas scored 21 points, Regina Cunningham added 14 points, Kelly McManus had 12 points and 10 rebounds and Caitlyn Hayes added 11 points and 10 boards for St. Thomas Aquinas (7-2, 6-0).

After playing at Southampton Tuesday night, Queens (3-4. 2-2) is home for Adelphi (Thursday) and Molloy (Saturday) before heading to Dowling Monday.

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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