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Bridgeport stuns Queens Knights in 76-69 upset

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Bridgeport men’s basketball coach Mike Ruane didn’t have to pump any extra motivation into Abdul Smith’s brain before the Purple Eagles arrived at Queens College’s Fitzgerald Gymnasium Saturday night.

The junior guard remembered all too well last year’s disappointment, which included three losses to Queens, capped by a season-ending 88-70 loss in the New York Collegiate Athletic Conference semifinals.

With the game on the line and last year’s losses still lingering in his head in the final six minutes, Smith and Bridgeport stepped up in a 76-69 victory.

“Last year we were a good team in our conference and Queens was the only team, with the exception of Adelphi, that gave us problems,” said Smith, a 5-foot-9 guard out of South Shore High School. “It’s a big win, especially since it’s on their court where they have a lot of confidence.”

Following a 6-0 Queens run, Smith stole the ball — one of six in the game — and scored a layup to cut Bridgeport’s deficit to one, 59-58 with 6:04 left.

With the game tied at 62, Smith slashed through traffic for another layup, and after Dave Trani’s off-balance three that briefly put the Knights in front, he buried a leaner in the lane to give Bridgeport a 66-65 lead with 4:08 left.

Smith also stole Alex McLean’s inbound at halfcourt and dished to Lavern Gouldborne, whose layup put the Purple Eagles ahead, 72-67 with 1:39 left.

“He wants the ball in his hands, which is not necessarily always in our plans,” Ruane said of Smith, who had 13 points on 6-for-9 shooting and five assists. “But he has a lot of heart and guts and he wants to take the big shot. We also have other guys on the team who want to take the big shot.”

Against Queens (6-3, 4-2), Ruane had several others who wanted to and who hit big shots as Bridgeport (5-3, 2-3) had five players score in double figures, including Jamaica native Jermaine Clark.

The transfer from Fairfield University had 12 points, including a breakaway two-handed dunk to seal the Purple Eagles’ second straight win and cap a 10-2 run.

Bridgeport’s Gordon James, the nation’s top rebounder, won the battle of the low post, scoring 14 points and grabbing a game-high 12 boards. Senior guard Shawn Mills, the only other returning starter from last year, had 13 points and senior T.J. Newman added 12 huge points off the bench.

Queens, which played without leading scorers Gary DeBerry (chip fracture-right ankle) and John Sikiric (partially torn meniscus-left knee), was plagued by foul trouble and ran out of gas down the stretch. The Knights, who dropped their second straight game, scored just one field goal in the final four minutes.

“Foul trouble and a lack of defense is what hurt us,” said forward Robert Villanueva, a junior college transfer from Sage Community College. “It doesn’t matter who’s out, we have to play with what we have. I guess people just gave up. At the end they had the momentum.”

Villanueva, who played in front of friends and family, including younger brother and Illinois-bound Charlie Villanueva, provided a huge lift early. The 6-foot-6 former Franklin K. Lane standout scored 11 of his game-high 16 points in the first half. But like post players McLean (12 points, seven rebounds) and Mike Leonce, who had seven points and six rebounds before fouling out with 5:22 left in the game, Villanueva racked up second half fouls.

“I started out good but then I got into foul trouble,” said Villanueva, who fouled out with 2:19 left and Bridgeport leading 68-67. “I was in and out and I couldn’t get into a rhythm. I felt I could have done better to step up and try and be a leader on the floor.”

DeBerry, who missed five straight games, is expected back for the Knights game against C.W. Post Saturday at 7:30 p.m., but Sikiric, who averaged 14.4 points per game until injuring his knee against New Jersey Tech last weekend, may be lost for the year.

“If they had DeBerry and Sikiric it would have been a different game,” Ruane said. “But they were game to win and their young guys gave them some energy. But at the end they were a little tired and we stepped up the energy on the defensive end.”

After a game at Adelphi scheduled for Wednesday night and hosting C.W. Post Saturday, Queens plays at Dowling College Tuesday at 7:30 p.m.

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by email at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.

Updated 10:25 am, October 12, 2011
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