Rochester (22-4) was able to outrebound the Falcons 50-32, including an 18-6 advantage on the offensive glass to power past an upstart Fitchburg program making its first ever NCAA appearance. Those offensive rebounds led to 17 UR second chance points.
"The offensive rebounds stat should have been reversed," said Rochester coach Luke Flockerzi. "Fitchburg is a very good rebounding team, but we did a great job in the second half controlling the boards."
The Falcons (16-11) entered the game riding a three game road winning streak in their conference tournament and didn't shy away from playing in the raucous Louis Alexander Palestra. "In our conference tournament we played in a very hostile environment, said Fitchburg's Tom Henneberry, "we were excited to come and play in this atmosphere".
Henneberry led the Falcons with a season high 33 points on 11-21 shooting while adding nine rebounds. Big man Zach Valliere was strong inside as well for Fitchburg State, finishing with 16 points and 11 rebounds.
The game was played very up-tempo and evenly matched. Overall, the contest featured 16 ties and 14 lead changes throughout. "I was really impressed with Fitchburg, they played with confidence and came out ready [to play]" said Flockerzi.
The teams came out of the gate firing, with each team shooting around 50% in the first half. Fitchburg was right at that number (17-34) while UR was 17-35 from the floor. Henneberry was on fire in the first 20 minutes, scoring 20 points on 7-10 shooting including two 3-pointers. DiBartolomeo paced the Yellowjackets with 17 and Rob Reid added 10 in the first half on 5-5 shooting. At the break, the teams were tied 48-48.
The visiting Falcons showed their toughness and built a six point lead five minutes into the second half after Henneberry connected on an old fashioned 3-point with 15:51 to play. "I knew this could possibly be my last game," said the Fitchburg senior "so whenever I got the ball, I wanted to attack the basket."
The Yellowjackets would rally to tie the game four times in the next five minutes with the last coming at 10:46 after DiBartolomeo made his fourth and-one of the night. Said DiBartolomeo, "I try to stay aggressive to make plays and get to the line, that helps me get and stay in a rhythm."
UR then took the lead for good when Reid made a layup exactly halfway through the second half. The Rochester lead would get built up to as many as seven when junior Nate Vernon hit a 3-pointer with 5:11 to play. "We trust Nate to hit the big shots and make plays down the stretch" said DiBartolomeo.
Fitchburg would again battle back, getting within three points with just four seconds to play after a Henneberry lay-up coming after two rare DiBartolomeo misses from the charity stripe. UR then was able to get the ball inbounds safely and the senior would nail his next two free-throws to seal the 91-86 win.
DiBartolomeo finished with 42 on 11-27 shooting, 3-5 from long range and 17-22 from the free throw line. He also added six rebounds and six assists. Vernon finished with 16 points and nine boards while Reid had a double-double with 13 points and 10 rebounds. Sophomore Kent Coyne chipped in three points and 10 rebounds, six of which came on the offensive end.
For Fitchburg State, Henneberry finished 11-21 with two threes and was 9-10 from the free throw line for his 33 points. Mike Ingram-Rubin made five 3-pointers to finish with 16 points as well. As a team, the Falcons committed a season low four turnovers.
"Committing only four turnovers was great," said Fitchburg coach Derek Shell, "but those offensive rebounds we gave up really hurt us." "Those amount to a turnover in some way because it gives them another opportunity to score."
Looking ahead to the second round, Rochester now will move on to face Ithaca College who defeated host Springfield in its first round matchup on Saturday.