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Patriot League Notebook

January 8, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments



Patriot League Notebook

by Steve Sheridan

Gearing Up For League Action

The holiday season has come to a close and now the eight teams of the Patriot League are beginning to gear up for league action, which begins this coming Saturday. At this time, it looks as if some teams are peaking at the right time, while some others are falling deeper and deeper into holes. Momentum is a key factor for success in this league, and teams that are playing well at the right time have the ability to go all the way this season, especially with the seeming parity that has permeated the league as of late.

The Lafayette Leopards continue to pace the league heading into the final week of non-conference play, as the Leopards have compiled a 9-3 non-league record. The team, despite two recent losses, still looks to be the front-runner to take the league title from Holy Cross. Senior guard Justin DeBerry leads a balanced Leopard attack, averaging 16.3 points per game, while Winston Davis also adds almost 13 points per contest for Lafayette.

In the middle of the pack, there are four teams who cannot be overlooked as the non-league schedule winds down. Lehigh (7-5) has been a very streaky team so far this season, as two two-game losing strings have been sandwiched around a five-game winning streak earlier in the season. The Mountain Hawks, who are led in scoring by freshman Jose Olivero (13.1 ppg), will have to find some consistency in order to challenge for the league title again this year after a surprising effort last season. The Colgate Raiders (6-5) seem to be playing some good ball at the best time, as the team has run off victories in three of its last five and five of its last eight games. Senior forward Howard Blue leads the Raiders in scoring, averaging 16.5 points per game, assisted by guards Mark Linebaugh (12.9 ppg) and Alvin Reed (11.6 ppg).

The defending champion Crusaders (5-7) have also had an up-and-down season to this point, with many younger players getting much-needed game experience. The Cross has had winning streaks of two and three games, while also enduring losing streaks of two and four games. The young nucleus of this team, held together by lone senior Jave Meade, should nevertheless be watched very carefully as the league season begins. With a 6-7 record, American is in a similar position as these other three teams. Senior forward Jernavis Draughn has been the biggest contributor for the Eagles so far this season, averaging over 12 points and seven rebounds per game. As has most teams, American has endured its share of tough times, having suffered through two separate three-game losing streaks in the young season. All four of these teams will be looking for some much-needed consistency if they are to contend for the Patriot League title this season.

Army seems to be going in the wrong direction at the wrong time, while the two teams that are attempting to leap frog Army out of the league cellar have both started out terribly and haven’t been able to get anything going. The Black Knights (3-7) started off the season with two wins, but have proceeded to lose seven of its next eight, including six straight, to settle into the sixth position. The main culprit for the team at this point is a lack of scoring, as the team has reached 60 points in only two of its seven losses. Bucknell (3-8) sits a half-game behind Army, having started off the season by losing five of its first six contests. Reigning Rookie of the Year Kevin Bettencourt has proved that last year was in no way a fluke, leading the league with 17.3 points per game, but he is going to need help from his teammates if Bucknell is going to make a run once league play begins. Navy (3-9) has taken up its position in last place, as it took the team nine chances before registering a defeat over a D-I school this season. The team lost its first five games, then beat two D-III teams, but fell into a four-game losing streak before finally beating its first D-I opponent on Sunday against Loyola (Md.). The Middies, along with Army and Bucknell, are going to need to show vast improvement if they are going to make any move in the league this season.

As is custom for most sportswriters, I’m going to change my order of finish as the Patriot League season begins. We’ll see if these ones pan out any better than my preseason picks:

1. Lafayette – Best team in the League to this point, by far
2. Colgate – It all depends on the bench production
3. Lehigh – Can Olivero keep up his excellent play?
4. American – Draughn is a force on the boards
5. Bucknell – Bettencourt can single-handedly raise this team’s play
6. Holy Cross – Could be higher if the young kids produce
7. Army – Many freshmen still need some seasoning
8. Navy – Let’s see ’em beat some more D-I teams first

Patriot League Player of the Week:

Jernavis Draughn, American

The senior forward averaged 17.7 points, including a career-high 20 against East Tennessee State, and 9.7 rebounds in his last three games, which have coincided with the Eagles’ three-game winning streak. Draughn currently leads the league in rebounding, and his inside presence has been a key factor in the recent resurgence of American as the league schedule looms ahead.

Patriot League Freshman of the Week:

Colin Harris, Army

The forward from West Des Moines, Iowa had a good week for the Black Knights, averaging 11.7 points and 3.3 rebounds in his last three contests. He scored a career-high 20 points in the team’s loss to The Citadel, proving to be one of the few bright spots during a dismal stretch for the Army team.

Lafayette Leopards (9-3 overall)

Lafayette endured its first losing streak of the season, falling to USC and Cal State-Northridge on its West Coast trip. The team had its eight game winning streak ended against the Trojans, as USC jumped out to a 19-0 lead in winning 81-59. The Leopards, who had received a few votes in the last two AP Top 25 polls, missed their first 12 shots in the opening seven minutes, putting themselves in an early hole that they were unable to dig out of. The team shot just 33.3 percent from the field on the evening, which was a season low for the Lafayette squad. Justin DeBerry led the team with 14 points on the day, as he did the following Tuesday in a 99-76 loss to Cal State-Northridge. DeBerry’s 21 points, however, were countered by a career-high 25 points from Etoagwara Onyenegecha (if I spelled that right, it will be a miracle). The Matadors shot a sizzling 63 percent from the floor, giving Lafayette little chance to get into the game. The team, however, ended the losing streak with the end of the year, as the team’s first game of 2004 resulted in an 82-73 win over Columbia. The team’s apparent resolution of excellent balance came true, as Rob Dill (18 points) led five Leopards scoring over 14 points. Dill also contributed eight rebounds and six blocks against the Lions. The team looks to finish up its non-league schedule strong on Wednesday when the Leopards travel to face Penn.

Lehigh Mountain Hawks (7-5 overall)

The Mountain Hawks split its two games since the holiday break, falling to #22 Vanderbilt, 85-59, and defeating Wagner, 64-59. Against the Commodores, Lehigh was able to stay with its ranked opponent for the first half, heading into the break with a manageable 12-point deficit. The quality of play of its opponent, however, wore down the Lehigh attack in the second half, as the Commodores’ 57 percent second half shooting shot down the Hawks. As usual, Jose Olivero led Lehigh in scoring for the game, dropping 18 points in 21 minutes. Against Wagner, Austen Rowland scored a career-high 23 points on 22 shots, including 16 in a second half that saw Lehigh start out with a 26-4 run that put the team out front for good. The Mountain Hawks were especially lethal from three-point range, hitting 50 percent of their shots from beyond the arc. Earl Nurse was the only other Mountain Hawk in double figures for the game, netting 13 points on 5-of-9 shooting. Lehigh has its final non-league game of the year on Tuesday, when the team travels to Ithaca to take on the Big Red of Cornell, with tip-off scheduled for 8 p.m.

Colgate Raiders (6-5 overall)

The Colgate basketball squad returned to Hamilton from sunny California just as it left, one game over .500 after splitting games with Long Beach State and Loyola Marymount. The Raiders were able to nip Long Beach thanks to the efforts of Alvin Reed, who scored 14 points including four free throws in the final 14 seconds. In their 73-71 victory, Colgate became the first Patriot League team ever to defeat the 49ers. In other good news, it seems as if the Raider bench may have finally woken up to provide some support for the starters. Besides Reed and Mark Linebaugh, reserves Kendall Chones and Jon Foss contributed career-highs in points with 12 and 10, respectively. This momentum was promptly halted when the team traveled to Los Angeles, however, as the squad fell to the Lions, 78-54. Howard Blue returned from a quiet performance against Long Beach to lead Colgate with 19 points, while Andrew Zidar added 11 in a losing effort. Thanks to the excellent Lions defense, Linebaugh was held scoreless for only the second time in his career. In another good sign for the Raiders, Keith Williams, coming back from a serious knee injury suffered last season, scored his first points of the year. Colgate prepares for its first Patriot League match-up with a Thursday meeting with Juniata at Cotterell Court.

American Eagles (6-7 overall)

American is a team that seems to be getting better as the League season comes upon us, as the team has won three of its last four following a successful run in the Rainbow Classic in Hawaii. After falling to Pepperdine in the first round, the Eagles knocked off Bowling Green and East Tennessee State to claim the consolation championship. Andre Ingram led the team in scoring in the first two games of the tourney, while Linas Lekavicius led the team against East Tennessee. Following the 82-69 loss to Pepperdine in the opening round, the team rattled off three straight victories. Ingram scored a team-high 19 points and Jernavis Draughn added 16 points and 11 rebounds in a 73-64 win over the Falcons, while the Eagles took the consolation prize with a 71-66 victory against Buccaneers thanks in large part to Lekavicius’ career-high 22 points. Draughn and Ingram seem to be hitting their strides at the right time, as Draughn added 20 points and 11 boards while Ingram recorded his first career double-double with 11 points and 10 boards. The team then returned to the mainland and made it three in a row with an 84-73 win over Yale, led by Draughn and his 17 points. The Eagles will look to start the league season with a four-game winning streak after a Monday tilt with Niagara.

Holy Cross Crusaders (5-7 overall)

Holy Cross traveled to NYC for its holiday break to participate in the Dreyfus Holiday Festival, losing both games to very competitive squads. In the first round, the team fell to a very good Manhattan squad, 56-54, despite holding Luis Flores to only nine points on 3-of-11 shooting. The Crusaders played very well at times but faltered at other times, allowing the Jaspers to steal a victory by scoring just six points over the game’s final nine minutes. Against St. John’s, the Crusaders again were almost able to pull an upset, but once again Holy Cross was outscored down the stretch (12-5 over the final 4:39) in losing another close contest. For the second straight game, a last second three-point attempt couldn’t give the Crusaders a victory. Nate Lufkin led The Cross against the Red Storm with 17 points in a losing effort. The team bounced back with a 68-55 win over Iona on the final day of 2003, as John Hurley recorded his first double-double of the year with 15 points and 11 rebounds. Holy Cross held Iona to just 20 percent shooting in the first half, as the team jumped out early and never looked back against the Gaels. The team then continued its seven-game road trip against Marist, falling in a close 59-55 contest. Holy Cross had some chances to win the game down the stretch, but it was unable to snatch victory from the Red Foxes. The team continues its road trek on Tuesday against Dartmouth.

Army Black Knights (3-8 overall)

The Black Knights continue to go in the wrong direction following three more losses to UNH, The Citadel and Fairleigh Dickinson, bringing the service academy’s losing streak to six games. Even 19 days of rest could not stem Army’s troubles against the Wildcats, as the team faded down the stretch in a 61-47 loss. A 19-8 run over the game’s final ten minutes did in the Black Knights, overcoming 11-point performances by both Bill Mohr and Marshall Jackson. Against the Bulldogs of The Citadel, a decisive 22-0 run late in the first half led to an 82-58 victory. Colin Harris paced the Black Knight attack with a career-high 20 points while Matt Bell added 14, but these two were the only Army players who broke the five-point barrier for Army on the evening. On Sunday afternoon the Knights defeated the Black Knights as Fairleigh Dickinson used a Christl Arena-record 14 three-pointers to take down Army, 57-48. Josh Wilson, who led the Black Knights with 16 points, helped Army get to within two points late in the second half, but the Knights used the three ball to up the lead for good. Army will once again try to snap its losing streak on Tuesday when it hosts St. Francis (N.Y.) at 7 p.m.

Bucknell Bison (3-8 overall)

One win in three games was enough to keep the Bison temporarily out of the Patriot League basement, as the team plods along heading into league play. At the Saturn of North Charleston Shootout, Kevin Bettencourt scored a game-high 29 points in leading the Bison to a 68-52 win over Norfolk State in the opening round. Bucknell opened up with an 11-0 run to take a lead it would never relinquish against the overmatched Spartans, who were held without a field goal for the first 7:07 of the game. The team dropped the next tourney game, however, as a 71.4 percent second-half shooting performance propelled the College of Charleston to a 76-63 win last Tuesday. Bettencourt and Davorin Skornik both scored 13 points to pace the Bison while Chris McNaughton contributed 11 points, but Bucknell couldn’t stop the Cougars from scoring, which hampered the Bison cause greatly. On Saturday against Penn State, the Bison couldn’t overcome a terrible start to the second half in falling to the Nittany Lions, 58-46. Bettencourt continued his solid play for Bucknell, as his 16 points led the team, with McNaughton adding 10. The team shot only 39.1 percent on the evening, including 29.2 percent in the second half to seal its fate. A Wednesday match-up with Robert Morris ends the Bison’s non-league schedule, with the team looking for some momentum heading into the important games.

Navy Midshipmen (3-9 overall)

The Midshipmen’s game against Mount St. Mary’s epitomized the team’s non-league schedule this season, as the team bounced back many times and yet fell victim to a last-second buzzer-beater, falling to Mount St. Mary’s by a score of 54-53. Despite having the inbounds pass tipped away twice, Landy Thompson hit an off-balance shot as time expired to disappoint the home crowd. The last-second heroics spoiled a great effort for the Middies by Carlton Baldwin, who poured in a career-best 23 points and nine rebounds. Navy then set up a battle of the D-I winless by falling to SMU, 68-54, with Baldwin again leading his team in scoring with 12 points. Navy then picked up its first D-I win of the season in its second to last non-league game by taking down Loyola (Md.), 58-54. Navy’s terrible free throw shooting (2-for-11) was offset by its good shooting from the field (48.1 percent), giving the Middies the opportunity to grab its first quality win of the season. Jeff Charles scored 16 points to lead Navy, who finishes up its non-league slate with a road trip to Eastern Michigan on Wednesday.

     

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