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Touring Around New England

March 11, 2003 Columns No Comments

Touring Around New England

by Phil Kasiecki

Eagles Complete Comeback Despite Ending Ugly

Boston College will be the top seed from the East Division in this week’s Big East Tournament, completing an amazing comeback after being 1-4 and looking like they might not even make the Big East Tournament. But the Eagles didn’t end the regular season on a great note, as Connecticut crushed them, 91-54, at the Conte Forum on Senior Day.

After a great second half propelled them to a big win against a struggling Villanova team, the Eagles looked like they never wanted to be on the court Saturday. Connecticut scored the first 12 points of the game, and it was never in doubt from there. Every loose ball went to the Huskies, who also had their way on the offensive glass, and the Eagles never adjusted to Connecticut’s defense that was clearly designed to stop star guard Troy Bell. Instead, they at times tried to force the ball to Bell, leading to turnovers and easy baskets for the Huskies.

With the loss, the Eagles (17-10) need to win Thursday to have any hope of feeling safe for the NCAA Tournament. They will play the winner of St. John’s/Notre Dame on Wednesday, and a loss would have them sweating it out on Selection Sunday. Their RPI is currently 46, which is the sixth-best among Big East teams.

Friars Enter Big East Tournament on a Strong Note

Tim Welsh’s Providence Friars are peaking at the right time, as they enter the Big East Tournament having won five of six after Saturday’s overtime win against a Seton Hall team that was red-hot.

The Friars previously came up with a huge road win last Wednesday night, knocking off Connecticut 76-70. They were out-rebounded 49-34, but committed just 9 turnovers while the Huskies committed 17. Ryan Gomes had another big game, scoring a game-high 26 points to lead the way and handing out 5 assists. Marcus Douthit has continued to be a defensive enforcer, blocking a career-high 9 shots in that game and four more against Seton Hall.

If there is a concern, it’s that freshman point guard Donnie McGrath may have hit the wall. He still finishes the regular season with the fifth-best assist/turnover ratio in the Big East, but struggled shooting the ball down in the last month and had twice as many turnovers as assists in the final five games. The Friars aren’t as dependent on him as they were at times earlier in the season, as Kareem Hayletts is part of the primary seven-man rotation and will give McGrath some rest on the bench. He played well in 22 minutes on Saturday.

At the very least, the Friars should wind up in the NIT. They finish the regular season 15-13 overall and 8-8 in the Big East, and winning at least a game in the Big East Tournament is not out of the realm of possibilities, as they draw West Virginia on Wednesday.

Another Ivy League Season in the Books

Just one game remains in the Ivy League’s slate for the 2002-03 season, as league champion Pennsylvania visits Princeton on Tuesday night. Harvard finished a disappointing season in dropping the final two games at home, while Brown may be looking at the NIT after winning both of their games to finish 12-2 in the Ivy League and 17-11 overall. The 17 wins matches the Bears’ total from last season, a school record.

The NIT may take a team from the Ivy League. While Brown is the logical choice, their RPI is 144, shaky for a postseason team. The Bears picked it up after a slow start, sweeping Princeton for the first time ever along the way and finishing the season with three straight wins.

“We’ll just hold out hope,” head coach Glen Miller said about getting into the NIT.

Earl Hunt became the fourth Ivy League player to surpass 2,000 career points on Friday night, and sophomore guard Jason Forte capped a strong season with 26 points and 8 rebounds against Harvard. Alai Nuualiitia will finish as Brown’s third all-time leading scorer, moving into that spot with 10 points in the regular season finale.

In the Crimson’s final game, senior Brady Merchant went out with a bang, scoring a school-record 45 points on 17-29 shooting including a school record 9 three-pointers. Merchant already had a career-high 28 points at halftime, and kept it going in the second half. His 45 points are the most by an Ivy League player since Buck Jenkins had 47 points for Columbia at Harvard in 1990.

“To see him have that kind of game is just a fitting exclamation point to just a strong year of leadership, four years of work, enthusiasm, and dedication,” head coach Frank Sullivan said. “So for a guy to step up and have a game like that, especially Brady, was great to see.”

Also of note among Crimson seniors, Sam Winter finished the season hauling down 8.1 rebounds per game, which will lead the Ivy League, and Elliott Prasse-Freeman’s 9 assists gave him 207 for the season, tying the school record for assists in a season.

Saturday’s game between Brown and Harvard was one of the Ivy League’s best games all season, especially in the second half as there were several momentum changes and teams traded runs. Merchant kept Harvard in it, while Forte and several teammates made plays for Brown in their runs.

The signs for Harvard are good heading into next season. Sophomore Jason Norman started the last nine games and looks ready to break out, including a career-high 20 points on Friday against Yale. Freshman center Brian Cusworth had a good weekend and showed many flashes of potential during the season. His challenge now will be to get stronger and more consistent.

Sullivan likes what he sees right now among the eleven letterwinners that will return next season.

“A lot of positions are open,” he said. “The team will be a work in progress for a while, so I think the guys that are back are certainly excited.

“It’ll be exciting, I think, to look ahead. We’ve got a stable of good young players.”

He especially had words of praise for his developing big man.

“Cusworth got some good time. I think he’s shown that he’s one of the better young centers in the Ivy League right now, if not one of the best young players. He’s shown that he can do something that we haven’t had for a while, and that’s his ability to generate a shot when guys play behind him.”

On Friday night Yale senior guard Chris Leanza topped 1,000 career points with a season-high 30 points in Yale’s 95-82 win over the Crimson. It was a good way to finish off his career, especially after he struggled with a shoulder injury for most of his junior year.

“Chris knows that this is his last weekend to play college basketball, and it means something to him that he came out and played like that,” Yale head coach James Jones said. “He hasn’t played like that since he was a sophomore.”

Other Notes From Around The Nation

• Saturday was not a good day to be a senior for a home team. Several home teams that may be in the NCAA Tournament lost on their Senior Day Saturday, including Boston College, Oklahoma, Florida, North Carolina State, Ohio State, Michigan, Miami and Georgetown.

• As we head into the final week before the postseason, two number one seeds are still very much up for grabs. Arizona and Kentucky are locks, and Kansas looks to be in the driver’s seat for a third one. But Texas, Wake Forest and Florida could all have good cases for a number one seed if they win their conference tournaments, so the matter is far from decided. Marquette is a long shot if they win the Conference USA Tournament, but they would have to be looked at if some other things go right for them this week.

• The vote for Coach of the Year in the Pac Ten should be an interesting race between Stanford’s Mike Montgomery and California’s Ben Braun. The schools finished second and third, respectively, in the conference despite depleted rosters. Montgomery should have a slight edge since his already depleted roster was also beset by numerous injuries during the season.

• If there was ever any doubt about the future of LeBron James, the postseason high school games tell the entire story. A player attending college may play in no more than two postseason games, but James is already slated to play in the McDonald’s All-American game, EA Sports Roundball Classic, and Jordan Capital Classics.


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