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Patriot League 2002-03 Season Recap

June 13, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments



Patriot League 2002-03 Season Recap

by Phil Kasiecki

The Patriot League figured to be one team’s to lose this season, and the end results bore that out. Holy Cross ran through the league almost unscathed, clinching the regular season title with one week to go in the regular season before winning the Patriot League Tournament for the automatic NCAA Tournament bid. The Crusaders were in the top three of the conference in every statistical category except three-point field goals made. They tied for second in the nation in scoring defense, and their big front line helped them tie Kansas for the second-best rebounding margin in the nation (7.9).

For a while, the chief contender was Lehigh, a surprise thanks to the great coaching job by Billy Taylor. But the Mountain Hawks faded down the stretch, losing their last three before the tournament and bowing out to Bucknell in the quarterfinal. In the meantime, American hit its stride after a slow start, as the Eagles ended the regular season winning six of eight, then reaching the championship game before losing to Holy Cross.

The Patriot League was very guard-oriented, a prime reason the Crusaders’ big front line (not just by Patriot League standards) gave them a major edge in games. Eight of the ten first and second team all-Patriot League players were guards, and four of the five players named to the All-Rookie team were guards as well.

First Team All-Patriot
Boakai Lalugba, Sr. F, Bucknell
Jave Meade, Jr. G, Holy Cross
Steven Miles, Sr. G, American
Zlatko Savovic, Sr .G, Lehigh
Patrick Whearty, Sr. C, Holy Cross

Player of the Year

Patrick Whearty, Holy Cross

The anchor of the big front line, Whearty led what was also a balanced attack. He was the leading scorer (12.4 ppg) and rebounder (6.6 rpg) on a team that had four of the top 15 scorers and two of the top six rebounders in the league. He was their most consistent low-post scorer and rebounder, and he was also third in the Patriot League in blocked shots.

Freshman of the Year

Kevin Bettencourt, Bucknell

Bettencourt was an easy choice for this award, as he was the league’s Rookie of the Week most weeks of the season. The only freshman in the top 30 in the league in scoring, Bettencourt was 14th in that category (11.1 ppg) and was among the leaders in three-point shooting (34%). He will ensure that the Bison will be a contender for the next three years.

Defensive Player of the Year

Jave Meade, Junior, Holy Cross

Meade did it all this season for the Crusaders, but where he especially shined was at the defensive end. He led the Patriot League in steals as the only player to average more than two per game, and consistently shut down opposing teams’ top guards as the Crusaders had the top turnover margin in the conference and led in scoring defense and field goal percentage defense. One player who will attest to his defensive prowess is Boston College All-American Troy Bell, whom Meade shut down in the Crusaders’ 71-70 win over the Eagles on December 1.

Coach of the Year

Billy Taylor, Lehigh

The first-year head coach took a team that went 5-23 last year and turned it into a contender. Expected to finish in the second division, the Mountain Hawks were neck and neck with Holy Cross after they put together a seven-game winning streak. They slowed down in the final weeks, but finished a solid season 16-12 overall and 8-6 in the Patriot League.

Holy Cross Crusaders (26-5, 13-1)

Number of starters leaving/staying: 3/2
Key players departing:
Patrick Whearty (graduating)
Tim Szatko (graduating)
Brian Wilson (graduating)
Marc Jerz (graduating)

Key players returning:
Jave Meade (Jr. G)
Nate Lufkin (So. C)
Kevin Hamilton (Fr. G)
Greg Kinsey (So. G)
Neil Fingleton (So. C)

Leading scorer: Patrick Whearty (12.4 ppg)
Leading rebounder: Patrick Whearty (6.6 rpg)
Assists leader: Jave Meade (6.2 apg)

Notes: The Crusaders rolled through the Patriot League as expected, riding their huge front line and the great guard play of Meade and Wilson to a 26-win season. Meade was one of the best players no one heard about, leading the conference in assists and steals and being another scoring option. Lufkin slumped for a while after being the conference Rookie of the Year last year, but picked it up late, and Hamilton was a nice reserve who has a good future in Worcester. Head coach Ralph Willard did a great job with this very deep team, getting everyone to buy into the team concept and thus getting the big results. Don’t expect much to change as long as he’s at the helm.

American Eagles (16-14, 9-5)

Number of starters leaving/staying: 2/3
Key players departing:
Steven Miles (graduating)
Glenn Stokes (graduating)

Key players returning:
Jernavis Draughn (Jr. F)
Andres Rodriguez (Jr. G)
Matej Cresnik (Jr. F)

Leading scorer: Steven Miles (16.4 ppg)
Leading rebounder: Steven Miles (5.4 rpg)
Assists leader: Andres Rodriguez (4.8 apg)

Notes: Miles and Stokes were viewed by many as the best backcourt in the conference, but they didn’t seriously contend until late in the conference season. Prior to losing in the championship game, they had won eight of ten games. Rodriguez ran the show very well, allowing Miles and Stokes to do their scoring, while Draughn gave them some post production and Cresnik complemented him. The Eagles were the top three-point shooting team in the league and were second to Holy Cross in turnover margin, but were in the bottom half in rebounding margin.

Colgate Red Raiders (14-14, 9-5)

Number of starters leaving/staying: 1/4
Key players departing:
Dave Hardy (graduating)
Tim Sullivan (graduating)
Martin Marek (graduating)
Jeremy Ballard (graduating)

Key players returning:
Marc Linebaugh (Jr. G)
Howard Blue (Jr. C)
Andrew Zidar (So. F)
Alvin Reed (Fr. G)
Keith Williams (So. G)
Matt Shirley (So. F)

Leading scorer: Marc Linebaugh (13.1 ppg)
Leading rebounder: Howard Blue (6.6 rpg)
Assists leader: Dave Hardy (4.3 apg)

Notes: Although the Red Raiders finished at .500 overall, only twice all season did they win consecutive games before finishing the regular season with five straight wins and crashing against Lafayette in the quarterfinals of the tournament. They finished strong prior to the loss, as Linebaugh, Blue and senior leader Hardy got it together to peak near the end. Despite losing leading scorer Pat Campolieta from last year, scoring was not a problem for the Red Raiders, as they ranked third in the league in that category; instead, the issue was defense, as they were next-to-last in scoring defense and last in field goal percentage defense.

Lehigh Mountain Hawks (16-12, 8-6)

Number of starters leaving/staying: 3/2
Key players departing:
Zlatko Savovic (graduating)
Matt Logie (graduating)
Matt Crawford (graduating)
Mike Cowgill (graduating)

Key players returning:
Ra Tiah (Jr. G)
Mitch Gilfillan (Fr. G)
Nick Monserez (So. F)
Earl Nurse (So. F)
Chris Stephenson (Fr. G)

Leading scorer: Matt Logie (15.5 ppg)
Leading rebounder: Matt Crawford (6.0 rpg)
Assists leader: Zlatko Savovic (4.1 apg)

Notes: First-year head coach Billy Taylor made a difference instantly, as this team was a surprise contender until the final weeks of the season. He got the most out of his graduating seniors, notably All-Patriot selection Savovic and Logie. They were hot to start off Patriot League play, then slowed up late, but the Mountain Hawks made great strides and now have to maintain the progress next season.

Bucknell Bison (14-15, 7-7)

Number of starters leaving/staying: 2/3
Key players departing:
Boakai Lalugba (graduating)
Dan Blankenship (graduating)

Key players returning:
Kevin Bettencourt (Fr. G)
Matt Quinn (Jr. G-F)
Chris Rodgers (Jr. G)
Chris Niesz (So. F)
Ben Slater (Jr. F)

Key injuries: Brian Werner (played in just 7 games due to a shoulder injury, will apply for medical redshirt)

Leading scorer: Boakai Lalugba (15.1 ppg)
Leading rebounder: Boakai Lalugba (9.5 rpg)
Assists leader: Dan Blankenship (3.6 apg)

Notes: Lalugba was a stud, pacing the league in rebounding while finishing fifth in scoring and Bettencourt was easily the league’s top newcomer, but the Bison had a mediocre season otherwise. Blankenship gave them a good leader at the point, finishing sixth in the league in assists and fourth in assist/turnover ratio. A major personnel blow was a shoulder injury to forward Brian Werner, as he never played after dislocating his shoulder in practice in December. He was third in scoring and second in rebounding at the time. The Bison had a streaky league slate: lost three straight, won three straight, lost three straight, won three straight. They were fourth in the nation in scoring defense, but only Army scored less among Patriot League teams and no team shot the ball worse from the field or the foul line than the Bison.

Lafayette Leopards (13-16, 6-8)

Number of starters leaving/staying: 1/4
Key players departing:
Andrew Pleick (graduating)
Drew Dawson (graduating)

Key players returning:
Justin DeBerry (Jr. G)
Mike Farrell (Jr. F)
Winston Davis (Jr. G)
Rob Dill (Jr. C)
Andrei Capusan (Fr. F)
Jamie Hughes (So. C)

Leading scorer: Justin DeBerry (16.3 ppg)
Leading rebounder: Mike Farrell (6.6 rpg)
Assists leader: Andrew Pleick (4.6 apg)

Notes: The Leopards had some growing pains this season, as they had just two seniors. They struggled on the road and had two losing streaks immediately followed by winning streaks of the same length. DeBerry was second in the league in scoring and helped the Leopards rank second in the league in that category, while Farrell was fourth in rebounding and combined with Rob Dill, the league’s top shot-blocker, in a solid low post tandem. Pleick was third in assists, and young frontcourt players Capusan and Hughes showed potential in limited minutes. Although all five starters ranked among the league leaders in rebounds, that was the biggest problem for the Leopards, who scored and played good defense. Only Army had a worse rebounding margin, though forcing fewer turnovers than any other team in the league did not help.

Navy Midshipmen (8-20, 4-10)

Number of starters leaving/staying: 3/2
Key players departing:
Francis Ebong (graduating)
Jason Jeanpierre (graduating)
Scott Long (graduating)
Mitch Moore (graduating)

Key players returning:
Kwame Ofori (Jr. G)
Marcell Cummings (So. G)
David Hooper (Fr. G)
Taj Matthews (So. G)

Leading scorer: Jason Jeanpierre (11.3 ppg)
Leading rebounder: Francis Ebong (6.8 rpg)
Assists leader: Jason Jeanpierre (2.6 apg)

Notes: This was another uncharacteristic struggle for Don DeVoe’s team, as the Midshipment won consecutive games just twice all season. Defense is normally a staple of Navy teams, but that was not the case this season as they were fifth in the league in scoring defense and next-to-last in field goal percentage defense. When you add that to offensive woes, like struggling to score, poor shooting and more turnovers than any team except Army, the result was this season’s struggles. Jeanpierre and Ebong were easily the team’s two best players, but Ofori took over the point and Hooper showed some promise with his perimeter shooting.

Army Black Knights (5-22, 0-14)

Number of starters leaving/staying: 2/3
Key players departing:
Andy Smith (left basketball program)
Matt Collins (graduating)
Mike Canty (graduating)

Key players returning:
Sean O’Keefe (Jr. G)
Bill Mohr (Jr. F)
Josh Wilson (Jr. F)
Mike Dames (Jr. F)
Joey Payton (So. G)
Greg Wallace (So. C)

Leading scorer: Andy Smith (9.6 ppg)
Leading rebounder: Sean O’Keefe (4.0 rpg)
Assists leader: Sean O’Keefe (2.7 apg)

Notes: Familiar problems plagued this season’s Black Knights team – rebounding woes (worst rebounding margin in the league) and trouble scoring (last in the league), though the Black Knights were at or near the bottom of the league in most statistical categories. No player averaged double figures in points, and O’Keefe was the only Black Knight in the top 25 in the league in rebounding – at 17th. On the plus side, they shot the ball very well, including from downtown where only American shot better among Patriot League teams. Leading scorer Andy Smith left the program in April, but will finish his education at West Point, which marks the second big blow to the team since practice began, as J.P. Spatola, their assists leader in 2001-02, quit the team in early November.

     

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