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Patriot Leauge Notebook

November 28, 2002 Conference Notes No Comments

Patriot League Notebook

by Matt DaSilva

American University
A Cinderella 2001-2002 season saw the Eagles take a new conference by storm when they seized the regular season Patriot League title in its inaugural campaign. The unlikely turn of events drew attention across the country. Two games into a fresh 2002-2003 season, this baby-faced bunch has quickly realized the paradoxical punishment and reward that comes with increased recognition: the non-conference schedule.

What better way is there to gauge a team’s chances of building on success than pitting it against a national powerhouse? That’s exactly what head coach Jeff Jones did when he signed up for a November 22nd season-opening game against No. 18 Missouri. He must be a glutton for punishment.

Well, not quite. Jones’ Eagles displayed an uncharacteristic resolve by battling back from a 17-point second half deficit behind junior Jernavis Draughn and senior captain Steven Miles. Draughn, who also pulled nine rebounds, drained all ten of his points while Miles bucketed nine of his twelve points in the second half to bring the Eagles back from a poor-shooting (27.6 %) first frame.

A Miles three-pointer with 1:31 remaining cut Missouri’s lead to seven points, 63-56, but the Tigers closed out the game with a free-throw shooting clinic to down American, 72-57. Raimondas Petrauskas, cited as preseason newcomer of the year, looked sharp in hitting three of his five field goal attempts and grabbing five boards in limited time.

UNC-Greensboro was no more forgiving in the Eagles’ second tough outing in as many games on November 26th, a heartbreaking 80-79 overtime loss in North Carolina.

For American, senior guard Glenn Stokes busted out for 25 points, none more important than the three he sank from behind the arc with just two seconds left to force overtime, where his heroics continued.

Miles’ fifth three-pointer of the night tied the game at 77. Following a faulty Spartans possession, Miles then threaded a perfect pass to set up a Patrick Okpwae two-handed dunk that gave American the lead with 20 seconds left. But James Maye, much to the Eagles dismay, drained the game-winning trey with 14 seconds remaining to send American home with a 0-2 start.

Jim Crews courageously inherits a team that went 12-16 and finished sixth in the Patriot League in 2001-2002. What’s his reward? He gets a season-opening date with Coach K and the Duke Blue Devils. How’s that for your first day on the job?

For Crews, it meant a 101-53 drubbing at the hands of the No. 7 Blue Devils. Duke, led by freshman Shavlik Randolph’s 23 points, silenced even the whisper of an upset by putting four players in double figures. Army’s young guard tandem of sophomore Joey Payton (ten points) and junior Mike Dames (nine points, six boards) were lone bright spots for an otherwise hopeless cause against the unflappable Blue Devils.

With a forgettable debut under his belt, Crews and company were at Fairleigh-Dickinson on November 25th for the teams’ first meeting since 1970. Once again, it was the Black Knights against the Knights. Army’s Black Knights got burned by poor perimeter defense as the Fairleigh-Dickinson Knights dropped 13 three-point bombs to carry them to a 76-54 victory.

Lionel Bomayako, T.J. Leis and Neven Cuzela netted twelve points a piece to send Fairleigh-Dickinson to a win despite a game-high 20 points from Army junior guard Andy Smith. The Black Knights now stand at 0-2 on the season.

In yet another case of an early season scheduling nightmare, the Bison took on undefeated Big East foe Notre Dame in Indiana for their season-opener. An abysmal 21 percent shooting effort left Bucknell exposed in a 73-42 thrashing by the Fighting Irish. Notre Dame jumped out to a 40-21 halftime lead and never looked back.

Despite twelve points and seven rebounds from All-Patriot League forward Boakai Lalugba and ten points from guard Dan Blankenship, the Bison never had a chance with the Irish shooting 48 percent, forcing 20 turnovers and holding a 47-37 edge in rebounding.

Bucknell rebounded on November 26th, however, by edging out Albany in a 56-53 nail-biter in New York on a last-minute tip-in from senior center Brian Werner. The tip, which came with 23 seconds remaining in the game, propelled the Bison past the Great Danes, who thought they had the game in hand 20 seconds earlier when Earv Opong drained a go-ahead three.

Bucknell, which heated up to shoot 52 percent from the floor in the second half, saw freshman guard Kevin Bettencourt burst out for nineteen points. Lalugba recorded his 12th career double-double with fifteen points and twelve boards.

A tough non-conference slate continues after Thanksgiving when the Bison head to George Washington for the Red Auerbach Colonial Classic.

The Raiders picked up their first victory of the season on November 26th with a 76-58 win over Cornell. Junior forward Howard Blue scored seventeen points despite playing with a taped left ankle due to a nagging injury.

For Colgate, it marked its first win of the season following tough losses to Eastern Michigan (66-65) and Marist (72-65). Mark Linebaugh, the Raiders’ leading returning scorer, did the grunt work by scrapping for seven rebounds and dishing out three assists in the winning cause.

Holy Cross
It must be comforting to go from one extreme to another, to take on the No. 2 team in the country in the preseason NIT and follow the act up with teams that can barely be defined as even mid-major programs.

Such was the case for the Crusaders, favorites to repeat as Patriot League champions. It looked like a rerun of last year’s NCAA Tournament opener when Holy Cross and Kansas were going punch-for-punch in the first half of a November 22nd rematch. The Crusaders even held a lead at 17-15 with nine minutes to play in the first half, but the Jayhawks used a 24-4 run to close out the frame and cruised to an 87-51 win over an overmatched Holy Cross.

Guard Brian Wilson scored all twelve of his points in that first half. The reigning Patriot League three-point champion lived up to his billing to help the Crusader cause, and preseason player of the year Tim Szatko added another twelve points. But this was Kansas, a freight train that seems destined for Final Four status yet again.

Yet Holy Cross got to lick its wounds thoroughly by topping the century mark for the first time since 1996 in a 101-66 win over weak Dowling. Wilson led four Crusaders in double figures with eighteen points.

Then, a 71-66 win at Harvard (Wilson was at it again for 27 points), put Holy Cross over .500 and in position to carry momentum into a landmark annual battle against Boston College coming on December 1st. The Crusaders will host this time in Worcester, MA in the intrastate rivals’ 106th all-time meeting. Match-up to watch out for: A scorching hot Wilson against BC All-American guard Troy Bell. Tip-off is set for 2 p.m.

The Leopards take to the air this weekend with an uncomfortable 0-2 record on their shoulders heading into a big game at Arizona State this Saturday. Moral victories do not count for much, but a surprisingly strong showing against a formidable Atlantic-10 squad in LaSalle could make the western swing a bit more interesting.

On November 26th, Lafayette went wire-to-wire with the Explorers behind a career-high eighteen points and eight rebounds from Winston Davis. The game was knotted at 63 with a little over three minutes remaining at Tom Gola Arena, but LaSalle’s Gary Oneal scored four of his game-high 24 points on consecutive possessions to push the Explorers ahead.

An Andrew Pleick three-pointer cut the lead back to one, but it was the closest the Leopards would get as LaSalle closed the game out on free throws for a 71-66 victory.

Lafayette also dropped a game they should have won against Binghamton, 77-68 earlier in the week. Winston, who has quickly established himself as an early-season go-to guy, scored sixteen points in the loss.

They had defeated the Ivy League’s Dartmouth 68-62 in the season-opener, but the real measuring stick for Mountain Hawks’ competitive capabilities came in a November 25th meeting at Big Ten power Illinois.

The mismatch was eerily similar to the Holy Cross-Kansas preseason game, as Lehigh took it at Illinois for the first ten minutes, battling to a 15-15 tie. But the proverbial backbreaking run came in the form of a 32-11 stretch to close the half and send the Mountain Hawks to a predictably lopsided 90-56 loss.

The Patriot League would not let a valiant effort go unnoticed, however, when it awarded senior Zlatko Savovic conference player of the week honors. Savovic had set a tentative career-high with sixteen points in Lehigh’s win over Dartmouth, only to eclipse that with eighteen against a fierce Illinois defense. The Mountain Hawks take on local small-college rival Swarthmore on November 27th.

Perhaps the most surprising first-week Patriot League finding is that the Midshipmen were undefeated heading into their November 27th game against Davidson. Senior swingman Scott Long tied a career-high with fifteen points as Navy picked up a vengeful 57-51 win over The Citadel to improve to 2-0.

The Midshipmen, who had been hammered by the Bulldogs by 36 points last season, made it two straight wins after upsetting the University of Central Florida in the season-opener. That victory was the milestone 500th in a storied 30-year career for Navy head coach Don Devoe. Now in his 11th season with the Midshipmen, Devoe was serenaded to a repetitious chorus of “500!” as Navy headed off the court at Alumni Hall. It may be a sign of things to come from a spirited Midshipmen squad.


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