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Touring the Northeast

December 2, 2003 Columns No Comments


Touring Around the Northeast

by Phil Kasiecki

Young Eagles Off to a Flying Start

Boston College has a young team this season, as the Eagles will be relying heavily on four freshmen and two sophomores in its rotation. But thus far, the Eagles are 4-0 and playing solid basketball, winning the Paradise Jam in the Virgin Islands and blowing out cross-town rival Boston University on Saturday with a good defensive effort.

Thus far, the Eagles’ freshmen are playing well, and it certainly showed on Saturday against Boston University, which has played three games against tough opponents thus far. Sean Marshall led the team with 14 points, while Jared Dudley continued his strong play and Steve Hailey (19 assists and just 3 turnovers in the first four games) played well. Fans will especially enjoy Dudley, who isn’t a super athlete or possess world-beating skills, but does things that helps a team win games. The primary thing he has done thus far is clean the glass, as he’s second on the Eagles in rebounding with 7 per game.

Helping the younger players is the return of Uka Agbai, who redshirted after sustaining a neck injury early last season. While sophomore Craig Smith figures to be the focal point of this team and was the MVP of the Paradise Jam, Agbai will be the team’s primary leader and was named to the Paradise Jam All-Tournament team.

A point of concern for the Eagles is the health of sophomore guard Louis Hinnant, who injured his left hand last week and re-injured it on Saturday. Before the game, head coach Al Skinner said on the radio that Hinnant will be evaluated by a hand specialist on Tuesday to determine the extent of the injury.

Friars Are 2-0, But Almost Blew One

Expected to be one of the better teams in the Big East this season, Providence is 2-0 after Saturday night’s 76-71 win over Alabama – a game the Friars looked to have in the bags early on.

Junior forward Rob Sanders and the Friars started quickly, scoring nine straight points in a 16-2 run to go up 18-7 within the first 6 minutes, with Sanders scoring 10 of those points and hitting three three-pointers. The Friars would shoot 54.5% from the floor in the half, including making 9 of 16 three-pointers, and led 50-30 at the half.

But Alabama mounted a comeback in the second half after the Friars reached their largest lead of the game at 55-33. The Crimson scored eight unanswered points, then later scored seven more unanswered to get within 60-56 past the halfway point of the second half. They would later get within two on three occasions, but could never break through.

Head coach Tim Welsh saw the letdown in the second half coming, and tried to warn his team.

“I was concerned at halftime because the guys all looked at me cross-eyed when I told them about ‘fool’s gold’,” said Welsh. “What that means is that, when you’re 9 for 16 in the first half with the three, that’s great, but to back that up with something like that in the second will be tough.”

Senior guard Abdul Mills, who redshirted last season with a hip injury, sat out Saturday’s game with a stiff back. Welsh said that Mills should be back within a week.

Minutemen Have a Promising Start, Then Tumble

The season started promisingly enough for Massachusetts, as they blew out St. Francis (NY) in the Preseason NIT opener, 80-58. The Minutemen played well in all facets, controlling the glass against the smaller and perimeter-oriented Terriers, and even shooting three-pointers well.

But it all went downhill after that, as Texas Tech manhandled the Minutemen, 90-50, in the second round of the Preseason NIT, then Hartford beat the Minutemen despite lacking a proven frontcourt player. The Hawks led throughout the game despite playing without their best player, Jerell Parker, and the Minutemen didn’t use their size advantage on the glass as much as they could have, out-rebounding the Hawks by just 1.

Gabe Lee has been one bright spot thus far, as he’s emerging as a big shot-blocker with 7 each against St. Francis and Hartford. Rashaun Freeman has started off his career nicely as well, with a double-double in the opener and 19 points against Hartford, and earning Atlantic Ten Rookie of the Week honors each of the first two weeks.

How they shoot the ball will go a long way towards determining how far this team goes. Against St. Francis, they made 6 of 10 three-pointers, taking shots in the flow of the offense; against Hartford, they made six as well, but attempted 28. Overall, they are shooting just 26% on three-pointers.

Huskies Get On The Board, And How

Northeastern didn’t start out on the right foot, losing at Rhode Island in a game that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated and then losing at Bradley. But the Huskies rebounded to beat Louisiana-Monroe, then won at West Virginia on Saturday behind a career-high 31 points from Miami transfer Marcus Barnes.

The Huskies didn’t play their best basketball in the season opener at Rhode Island, though for a while it looked like they had a chance. They kept the Rams off the offensive glass in the early going – the Rams didn’t get an offensive rebound until just over five minutes into the game, and didn’t get their second one until about 6 minutes later, but finished the half with 12 and the game with 23 (as part of a 51-30 rebounding edge) and took advantage with 22 second-chance points, as well as taking advantage of the Huskies’ general struggles on offense with 28 fast-break points.

“I didn’t think we took very good shots tonight,” head coach Ron Everhart said. “I thought we played selfishly tonight.

“I thought they outplayed us in every facet of the game, and I think the real evidence of that is when you look at the rebounding stats.”

Everhart had hoped the Huskies would get a good test in preseason games, as practices had been going very well to where he thought they needed a test. This game sure gave it to them.

“This is probably the first time as a head coach where I didn’t know we were capable of not playing like we practiced,” said Everhart. “I just thought we played so much different than what we’ve been doing in practice, both offensively and defensively. I’m really disappointed with our ball club right now.”

After splitting the next two games, beating Louisiana-Monroe for their first win, the Huskies traveled to West Virginia, the school Everhart grew up rooting for.

One area of concern is the times when Jose Juan Barea rests and Barnes runs the show. Barnes doesn’t handle the ball nearly as well, and is better coming off screens to either get shots or create after that.

Central Connecticut Lets One Get Away

Central Connecticut, which figures to be a top contender in the Northeast Conference, opened its season in the Mohegan Sun Classic this weekend, which it hosts. The Blue Devils started with a win over Charleston Southern on Saturday, then came up against Loyola Marymount in the championship game on Sunday.

The Blue Devils started fast, scoring the game’s first 8 points, but Loyola came back to eventually take the lead on a 17-3 run and went into the locker room up 21-20. In the second half, the Blue Devils regained the lead, going up 50-41 and then taking a 56-49 lead on a dunk by Ron Robinson (14 points, 13 rebounds) when the game turned around.

On the next possession, Robinson was whistled for his fourth foul, then a technical after his reaction. The technical foul was his fifth, putting him out of the game with 2:38 to play. Loyola hit the four free throws that ensued, and without their star, the Blue Devils struggled to rebound in the final minutes – Loyola got 5 offensive rebounds in that time, after getting just six the entire game prior to that point.

The Lions would then end the game by scoring 9 of the last 10 points, with the only Blue Devil point coming on a free throw by freshman guard T. Ron Christy (14 points). Sherman Gay’s layup with 30 seconds left gave the Lions the 58-57 victory.

“We had this game won I don’t know how many different times, I lost count,” said head coach Howie Dickenman.

How much did Robinson’s absence mean to the Blue Devils?

“That took away our leadership, with him being the only senior, that also took away a lot of energy, and Ron usually makes big plays and gets big rebounds,” said freshman forward Obie Nwadike, who had six points and nine rebounds.

“We were like a sheep without a shepherd out there,” said Dickenman, who also cited the team’s struggles at the foul line (they made 13 of 25 free throws).

“This is a tape that’s not going to be fun to watch, I can assure you,” Dickenman said, adding that he was planning to give the team the day off on Monday, but planned to have them work on free throws.

Other Notes From Around the Nation

• Can things get any worse at St. John’s? Mike Jarvis is deservedly on the hot seat, and now we have the sad story of Willie Shaw reaching the lowest point. As a freshman, he showed a lot of promise for the Red Storm and looked like he would have a nice career ahead. But he shot the ball poorly as a sophomore, had a so-so junior year, and has had some off-court troubles that culminated thus far with his arrest on charges of marijuana possession.

• In recent years, the ACC-Big Ten Challenge has caught the attention of many college basketball followers during non-conference play. Last year, there was some talk that the SEC and Big 12 may be the next conferences to do such a thing, and according to Alabama head coach Mark Gottfried, that should become a reality next season.

• One of the unpleasant surprises of the early going is La Salle. Billy Hahn’s team figured to be one of the risers in America with its young cast, particularly on the perimeter. But after losing to Lafayette on Saturday and finishing eight in a Paradise Jam that they had the personnel to win, the Explorers are now 0-4.

• One of the better early season quotes came from new Mount St. Mary’s head coach Milan Brown, who said (with a laugh) after his team lost the season opener to New Hampshire, ” Now I am officially a college basketball coach. I took my first one on the chin, I’m now in the club for sure.” Brown is taking over for legendary coach Jim Phelan, who retired last season after 49 years at the helm.

     

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