DALLAS — Tempers were running hot. Matt Greene cooled it all down with one big splash.
Misericordia’s lone senior doused an ornery FDU-Florham side in the final minutes with likely his biggest shot of the season. Greene’s three-pointer with 1:21 left put away Wednesday’s Freedom Conference semifinal as the Cougars held on for an 80-74 win at the Anderson Center.
With the win, Misericordia will go for its second league championship in three years. Up next will be top-seeded DeSales as the Cougars travel to Center Valley for 3 p.m. Saturday with a trip to the NCAA tournament on the line. The Bulldogs beat Manhattanville 77-68 in the league’s other semifinal.
Misericordia led by 10 after a technical foul against Devils coach Peter Marion with 7:37 to play. Things were tense enough that the father of an FDU player took several steps down the bleachers, heading toward the court and the official who called the technical before being restrained.
But the sequence had its intended effect on the FDU players, who quickly fired back to cut the lead to 72-69 with just under two minutes to play.
“Down the stretch (this season), they’ve been able to just claw and claw to win games late,” Cougars coach Trevor Woodruff said of FDU. “So we talked about that. We said, ‘Somebody’s gotta make a play.’ “
And it wasn’t just Greene who came through. In a particularly balanced performance, the Cougars got big sequences from six different players.
Leading scorer Steve Ware had 20 points to go on top of Greene’s 16.
Junior Joe Busacca carried the Cougars (16-10) early after a slow start that saw them fall behind 11-2. Busacca finished with 16 points, five assists and a pair of steals.
Cael Evans gave Misericordia critical minutes off of the bench, finishing with 14 points and a team-high eight rebounds.
Woodruff also pointed specifically to a three-pointer from freshman Griffin Sponaugle with just under five to play and FDU surging.
“Enormous. Just enormous,” Woodruff said. “Because they were getting easy buckets and we were kind of leaking oil a little bit. So that was really a big shot.”
Most importantly, the Cougars were able to create havoc in the paint, getting to the foul line 32 times and hitting 25. Ware was a perfect 8-for-8 from the stripe.
FDU (13-13) was well aware of those numbers, loudly protesting the gap between them and the Devils’ own eight free-throw attempts against the Cougars’ tough zone defense.
“We want to force people to make tough shots,” Woodruff said. “We don’t want to bail them out with fouls. We play a lot of zone and there aren’t a lot of teams in our league playing zone. So we’ve been the beneficiary of some free-throw advantages all year.”
The fouls became a particularly big issue in the second half for the Devils when two starters — Kevin Furlong and Will Green — both picked up their fourth fouls midway through the frame.
The boiling point came on a disputed charge call against FDU that led to Marion’s technical and, ultimately, the Devils’ final rally.
On the Devils’ last trip to the Anderson Center, they used a similar surge in the second half to rally past the Cougars for an important win.
This time, Misericordia was the more composed team, earning the win and a trip to the Freedom finals for the third time in five seasons.
“I think we showed some maturity,” Woodruff said. “We’ve got a mixture of youth and experience and I think that showed early. But to have guys like (Busacca) step up, it shows that we understood the moment and made the right plays.”
Freedom Conference semifinals
Misericordia 80, FDU-Florham 74
FDU-FLORHAM (74) — Andrew Stress 2-2 0-0 6, John Flete 9-17 2-2 23, Kevin Furlong 5-9 0-0 12, Trevor Sykes 5-13 1-2 13, Will Green 8-17 1-2 17, Kevin McTiernan 0-0 0-0 0, Donte Ali 1-1 0-0 2, John Orsino 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 30-60 5-8 74.
MISERICORDIA (80) — Joe Busacca 7-13 2-2 16, Matt Greene 4-9 4-4 16, Griffin Sponaugle 2-8 3-4 8, Steve Ware 6-12 8-8 20, Erik Kerns 0-1 6-8 6, Anthony Sergio 0-1 0-0 0, Cael Evans 6-9 2-6 14. Totals 25-53 25-32 80.
Halftime — Misericordia, 43-35
Three-point field goals — FDU 9-20 (Flete 3-5, Stress 2-2, Furlong 2-6, Sykes 2-6, Orsino 0-1); MU 5-14 (Greene 4-8, Sponaugle 1-6)