GORHAM — Led by dynamic seniors Zach Leal and James Starks III, the University of Southern Maine men’s basketball team slipped past visiting St. Joseph’s College for a 74-72 win Sunday night.

With the victory, the Huskies earned the Costello Cup, which honors Dr. Richard Costello, a former USM coach and athletic director who was the only coach in NCAA history to win at least 200 games in both men’s and women’s basketball.

St. Joseph’s leads the all-time Costello Cup series, 16-12.

Leal, a senior captain, scored 23 points and was in sync with Starks despite limited court time together. Starks, also a senior, played his first three years at Shenandoah University in Virginia before transferring to USM.

“When things weren’t going our way, we went to what we do best, and that’s just attack the hoop,” said Leal. “We work really well together in transition and always seem to be able to find each other. We’re learning from each other and we’re just hoping to keep fine-tuning by the end of year.”

Added Starks: “We’re just some hoopers. If you’re a baller, you connect with other ballers. He likes to go out there and do the same things I do. He likes to run; I like to run. He likes to shoot; I like to shoot. When you’re out there with someone who has a high basketball IQ, it makes it easy to just click.”

Starks, who anchored the rebounding efforts for the Huskies (3-2) on both ends of the floor, grabbed 17 rebounds to go with his 17 points as the only player for either team to tally a double-double.

“He’s done a great job, just a fantastic job,” said USM Coach Karl Henrickson. “He’s been able to put what he can do well with our system. He’s extremely coachable. He’s a grown man so to speak, and I think that makes a difference.”

The Huskies took a 37-33 lead into the locker room at halftime, after leading by as many as 10 points. It was 28-18 after a layup by Starks, but back-to-back 3-pointers by Darian Berry and Andrew Ruffen pulled St. Joseph’s (1-3) back to within four.

Berry scored 11 of his team-high 19 points before the break.

The Monks fell behind on the opening possession of the night and didn’t take their first lead until Keiayvin Hayes sent a laser of a pass from midcourt to Quinn Richardson-Newton under the hoop for an easy lay-in and a 51-50 lead with 12:20 remaining.

From there, the lead changed 13 more times until USM went ahead for good with just under two minutes remaining. The Monks had a chance to win it at the end, but Berry missed a 3-pointer at the buzzer.

USM also got 13 points from Jacob Littlefield.

Ian Mileikis scored 14 points – all in the second half – for the Monks, while Marc Corey added 13. Richardson-Newton and Aaron Hall each grabbed 10 rebounds.


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