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Touring the Northeast

December 17, 2003 Columns No Comments


Touring Around the Northeast

by Phil Kasiecki

Eagles Drop Their First One, Then Almost Blow One

This past week gave Boston College’s young team an introduction and a wake-up call. On Tuesday, the Eagles traveled to Philadelphia and lost to a St. Joseph’s team that might be the best-kept secret in college basketball. Then on Sunday, the Eagles had a 17-point lead at home against Sacred Heart, then needed to hold on at the end for a 72-70 win.

Sunday, balanced scoring was the order of the day, and freshmen were key contributors before veterans made big plays later on. Jared Dudley and Sean Marshall continued to play well, while Craig Smith took over after Sacred Heart grabbed the lead in the second half, then Jermaine Watson made a couple of key plays before handing the Pioneers one last chance with an unforced turnover in the last half minute. Louis Hinnant had a quiet nine assists, running the offense very well.

The Eagles are establishing a good balance of production from freshmen and upperclassmen, but this young team showed that they have to learn to play with a lead. Maurice Bailey (27 points in an excellent game) led the big comeback, as the Eagles should have put the Pioneers away.

Boston College is off until Saturday, when they host Kent State. The Eagles lost to the Golden Flashes in Cleveland last year.

Friars Show What They Can Do

Those who have seen Providence this season certainly had an idea of how good the Friars are, but the nation didn’t get to see until Tuesday, when the Friars knocked off Illinois at the Jimmy V Classic. The Friars got a big game from Ryan Gomes, who took advantage of the national stage the game provided by posting a double-double (24 points, 12 rebounds), while Donnie McGrath scored all 15 of his points in the second half and had 5 assists with no turnovers. Rob Sanders also continued his solid play, scoring 15 points and hauling down 8 rebounds.

But as much as the Friars played well offensively later in the game, they won this game with defense, forcing 22 Illinois turnovers and holding them to under 31% from the field in the second half. They limited the high-scoring backcourt of sophomores Dee Brown and Deron Williams to just 7 points on 3-17 shooting, with a combined 11 turnovers – that gives any team a chance to win against the Illini, even as deep as they are.

The Friars improved to 4-1, and are off for final exams until December 21, when they host Central Connecticut State.

Huskies Even It Up

Northeastern enters final exams at 4-4 after splitting its games this past week. They lost at Villanova on Friday, as sophomore forward Curtis Sumpter torched them for 39 points on 16-20 shooting, then narrowly pulled out a 59-57 win against Marist at Matthews Arena on Sunday.

Despite shooting just 30% and committing 16 turnovers in the first half, the Huskies were only down 28-22. The Huskies won the game despite allowing Marist to shoot 44% and committing 21 turnovers. Where they won the game was on the glass (41-29 edge) and at the foul line (17-24, while Marist only took 12 free throws). Javorie Wilson, who is shooting over 60% on three-pointers, kept the Huskies in it in the first half and early in the second. He had 23 points on 6-11 shooting and hauled down 8 rebounds, but scored many of those points while Marcus Barnes struggled mightily. Barnes shot just 4-19 from the field, missing his first nine field goals and not scoring until over four minutes into the second half.

Barnes had four assists and just one turnover, but overall the Huskies still seem to be adjusting to the change in the offense resulting from the injury to Jose Juan Barea. But a good sign was the play of Lateef Melvin, whose 12 minutes was the second-most he has played this season. Melvin didn’t put up great numbers, but he ran the show better than he has before, and if he can continue to do that, they can have Barnes play without the ball more, as he is best suited.

“His hard work in practice and his effort is really paying off,” said Northeastern head coach Ron Everhart of Melvin’s play.

The win overshadowed a terrific outing from Marist junior guard Brandon Ellerbee, who had 29 points on 11-13 shooting, including 7-8 on three-pointers and a couple of deep ones.

“Ellerbee is just a phenomenal shooter,” said Everhart after the game. “He made some shots that were mind-boggling. I’m just glad he didn’t have the ball in his hands on that last long shot, because if he did it probably would have gone in.”

In other news, sophomore center Gene Oliynyk has quit the team and will transfer after finishing the semester this week.

The Huskies are off for final exams until they host Harvard on Friday night.

Terriers Head Into the Break Where They Want To Be

Boston University had little trouble with Harvard in last Tuesday’s 86-42 thumping of the Crimson at Case Gym. Harvard actually led 12-7 after Harvard sophomore Matt Stehle hit a three-pointer, but it was all Terriers from there. Stehle picked up his second personal foul just after the second media timeout, then the Terriers finish the half on a 37-5 run and coasted in the second half. For the game, they shot over 58% from the floor, including 11-25 on three-pointers, and forced 19 Crimson turnovers. They also had 30 assists on 35 field goals.

“It was about as good as we could play,” said head coach Dennis Wolff.

The win was their straight after losing the first three games, and that has Wolff happy as they head into a 13-day break for final exams.

“I put our guys in a hole,” said Wolff. “We had a very difficult first week, and our goal, when we were sitting at 0-3, was to go into exams at 3-3. We’re fortunate to be in that position.”

Wolff said that during exams, a lot of what the team will do consists of individual workouts.

One bright spot lately has been the play of junior guard Chaz Carr. After a sophomore year in which he often struggled and seemed to press at times, Carr is playing very well right now. He had 18 points (7-11 shooting) and 4 assists Tuesday, and now averages 14 points per game and has a 1.4 assist/turnover ratio.

“Carr is very close to where he was when he was a freshman,” Wolff added.

Sophomores Kevin Gardner and Shaun Wynn continue to improve as well for the Terriers. Gardner is second on the team in rebounding, while Wynn has a 2.8 assist/turnover ratio and had 5 steals against Harvard.

Senior forward Jason Grochowalski returned to the Terriers on Friday from his academic suspension, while sophomore center Matt Czaplinski left the team on Wednesday. Grochowalski gives the Terriers another experienced player on the wing who will help them in their drive for the America East title.

The Terriers host Cleveland State in their next game on December 22.

Crusaders Stop Losing Streak, Break On a Good Note

Holy Cross’ recent four-game losing streak was the school’s first in four years, and not something many expected of the three-time defending Patriot League champions. The Crusaders ended the losing streak on Wednesday night, heading into exams with a 66-57 win thanks to a big second half defensive effort.

The first half was sloppy at times, but close throughout with 8 lead changes and 3 ties. The Crusaders seemed to lack offensive direction at times, but got better by the end of the half and were more aggressive in the second half.

The Crusaders won with a well-balanced effort, starting with senior leader Jave Meade, who tied the school record for career steals with six in this game and 204 for his career. He added 11 points and 3 assists.

“I think this game was a big key for us,” Meade said, adding that he thinks things will start to turn around after this game.

“We have to learn how to hold leads. The team is young, and guys aren’t experienced, and the season’s young also. We’ll be all right. Come league play, the rest of the games, we’ll be fine.”

Junior center Nate Lufkin is showing signs of returning to the form of his freshman year, when he was the Patriot League Rookie of the Year. Lufkin is an athletic big man who could be a star in the Patriot League, but slumped last season.

“He has the ability to really change a game,” head coach Ralph Willard said. “He’s got to play much more aggressively both defensively and offensively for us to be good. He’s certainly capable of it. He can have a really huge year for us.”

Junior John Hurley is playing well for the Crusaders, and with the frontcourt losses, the Crusaders need him to continue the trend. He had 11 points and 5 rebounds against Fordham, and was consistently making things happen inside, though he also got knocked around plenty in Wednesday’s game.

“I think it’s going to help our confidence, and I think the next ten days are going to help us in practice,” Hurley said. “We’re on the right track, but now we have to keep making those steps forward.”

Freshman wing Keith Simmons, a terrific addition who should be the next big star for this team, scored a team-high 12 points, going 4-6 from the field. Willard certainly sees the great potential that Simmons has.

“Keith is going to be a heck of a player,” said Willard. “He has all the tools: he’s got the athleticism, he can shoot it, he’s got intensity, he has intelligence, every aspect to be good.”

Willard said that they will try to focus on offense, the main source of concern with this team, during the time off from games for final exams. He thinks the team is ready to turn the corner, basing it partly on past experience with this team.

“We’ve always made our biggest improvement from the time exams got out to the time the students come back in January,” Willard said.

Young Harvard’s Early Struggles Continue

Harvard’s young team (no seniors) is off to a slow start, which was not entirely unexpected with the personnel losses from last season’s team. Not helping matters is that the team has had several games with short turnaround times in between them, taking away some of the time they have to prepare for each game.

After the aforementioned thrashing at the hands of Boston University, the Crimson played host to Colgate on Friday. Head coach Frank Sullivan was very pleased with how his players responded in practice following the loss to the Terriers, and they put forth a solid effort in a game that was close until the final minutes, with the Crimson leading on several occasions including at halftime.

The Crimson stayed close until there were about seven minutes left and sophomore guard Michael Beal fouled out. Although Beal didn’t have a great game, it was at that point that Colgate broke the game open, going on a 22-6 run to build the lead up to 20 before a late basket made the final margin of 78-60.

“There’s a lot of pressure going into every one of these games, having not won a game yet,” Sullivan said after the Colgate game. “Now we’re actually in a situation where we have the lead at the half, we were in a position to hang around in this game and be in a position to win. I think that was a lot of pressure on some guys for the first time.”

The big star in the defeat was junior guard Kevin Rogus, the team’s leading scorer. He scored a career-high 29 points, and although he has taken some ill-advised shots, he is scoring in more ways than just the three-pointer, which he’ll have to continue doing now that his role has changed from being a shooter brought in off the bench.

“He’s worked hard at his own personal dribble game,” said Sullivan of Rogus. “He’s worked hard at trying to be more than just a catch-and-shoot guy, I think that’s the biggest thing I’m so impressed with about Kevin.”

Although sophomore forward Matt Stehle struggled against Colgate, his improvement thus far is very noticeable, as well as the potential he has to eventually be one of the better players in the Ivy League. Beal, the team’s quickest player, leads the team in rebounding, and has good potential if he can stay on the floor: Friday’s game was the fourth time in the first seven games he fouled out.

Hurting the cause for the Crimson is the absence of sophomore center Brian Cusworth, who showed plenty of potential last year. Cusworth has been sidelined with a stress fracture and is still in a cast at this point, not likely to return until sometime during Ivy League play.

The Crimson gave Vermont all they could handle on Sunday before succumbing, 48-42. The signs of improvement are coming slowly, but Sullivan will have his team playing better as the season goes along.

Other Notes From Around the Nation

• While Michigan State losing a few games against their very tough schedule is not shocking, who would have imagined the Spartans being below .500? The Spartans may be dogged all season long by their continuing question at the point guard position, even as they have no shortage of wings that can score and help them push the tempo.

• Last week’s story of Ricky Clemons claiming that Missouri assistant coaches paid players just adds to the continuing saga in Columbia. With investigations ongoing and stories like this breaking, the Tigers will continue to be challenged by off-court distractions.

• What becomes of the suspension to Kansas senior Jeff Graves will be important for the Jayhawks in the foreseeable future. Graves isn’t the guy who will lead this team to the Final Four, but his experience and bulk are important on this front line to complement Wayne Simien and allow Bill Self to let freshman David Padgett develop at his own pace.

• Although the front line was the big source of concern at Mississippi State, the Bulldogs also had to replace a fine point guard. Well, Lawrence Roberts has helped take care of things in the frontcourt as expected, averaging a double-double (16 points, 11.3 rebounds per game) and helped by Marcus Campbell’s big improvement, but the point is also in good hands – with last year’s shooting guard, Timmy Bowers. Bowers leads the team in scoring and is shooting lights out, and is third in the SEC in assists and has a 1.8 assist/turnover ratio. Freshman Gary Ervin is showing his potential in just over 19 minutes per game, handing out 3.3 assists per game.

     

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