America East – Round 1
by Philip Kasiecki
The 2002 America East Conference Tournament tipped off on Saturday at historic Matthews Arena at Northeastern University. The crowd was sparse and disappointing despite a good deal of promotion during the past week, including on a local sports talk show. Those who did come saw basketball that was worth watching.
The day opened with Boston University beating Northeastern in a game that was never really in doubt. The Terriers came with a balanced attack and beat up on the Huskies inside with many second-chance points and a 53-32 rebounding edge, while also breaking their press consistently and methodically for easy baskets. After staying close for most of the first half, the Huskies’ offense went into a tailspin as they started settling for jump shots very early in the possession. They would make mini-runs in the second half, but the Terriers had an answer each time. Freshman Aaron Davis played very well, giving Husky fans something to look forward to.
The Terriers’ semifinal opponent will be Hartford, the winner over Albany in the second game of the afternoon. Albany stayed close in an ugly first half in part from some bad officiating that was to their benefit. Hartford led 24-23 at the half, but scored the first 10 points of the second half and never looked back in holding the Great Danes to just 35.1 percent shooting from the field. The Hawks had a balanced attack.
The evening session featured two games that each would appeal only to a certain type of fan. Vermont’s easy win over Stony Brook behind a balanced attack and an early barrage of threes appealed to Vermont fans. This game was never in doubt, though D.J. Munir did all he could to keep the Seawolves within striking distance for a while with some nice plays. Keep an eye on Munir, who is just a sophomore and finished the regular season among the conference leaders in several statistical categories.
Maine’s victory over New Hampshire would appeal to anyone who likes watching a clinic for how not to play the game. This game was ugly from the get-go – the halftime score was 18-16 in favor of Maine, and neither team was scorching hot in the second half, as turnovers, easy misses, and other errors dominated the game. Maine put the contest away with free throws in the final minute, something neither team did much of the game since they combined to make less than half of their free throw attempts while also shooting a combined 35.3 percent from the field.
Looking ahead to the semifinal matchups, we first have Boston University taking on Hartford. In the regular season, the road team won both games in the series between the Terriers and Hawks. The Hawks will be at an advantage if they can make this into a running game, as they are better equipped for an up-tempo game than the Terriers. The Hawks’ forwards can match up well with the Terriers’ front line, and is a little more athletic.
The other semifinal pits Maine against Vermont. After the final game of the night, it’s hard to imagine Maine knocking off anyone, much less regular season champion Vermont. The teams split the regular season meetings, but Maine did not attack the zone New Hampshire threw at them very well, and Vermont has inside players who can match up with Justin Rowe despite his height advantage.
Prediction: I look for a Terriers-Catamounts final, but a Hawks-Catamounts final would not be surprising at all.