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Touring the Northeast

January 14, 2004 Columns No Comments


Touring Around the Northeast

by Phil Kasiecki

Eagles Schooled By National Champs

Boston College has continued to win close games, some closer than they should be (such as last Saturday’s win over St. Bonaventure, where they led 28-8 early and had to hold off the Bonnies late). But on Saturday, they visited the defending national champions and lost convincingly, 96-73.

The Eagles fought back valiantly against the Orangemen, trailing by 20 at the half as the Orangemen played excellent basketball. They would get within 6 at 61-55, but the Orangemen just turned it on again from there to win going away, led by a terrific game from Gerry McNamara (26 points, 7 assists).

Sophomore Craig Smith is playing very well at the right time for the Eagles. Earlier in the week, he scored 19 of his 24 points in the final ten minutes and grabbed 12 rebounds to lead the Eagles over previously undefeated Georgetown, their first road win against the Hoyas since 1996. Then on Saturday, he had 27 points and 9 rebounds in the losing effort. Smith is anchoring the Eagles’ team, but they need to get more consistent offense on the perimeter aside from freshman Sean Marshall. Louis Hinnant, playing with a broken left wrist, is admirably running the show, but he’s not a big scoring threat, and Steve Hailey isn’t there yet.

The Eagles have their Big East home opener on Wednesday against Villanova.

Friars Lose Two Tough Matchups

By now, most have seen or heard about the end of Monday night’s contest between Providence and visiting Texas, where the Longhorns won in overtime on a last-second layup by freshman P.J. Tucker that left his hand just before the light went on behind the backboard.

The Friars then went to New Jersey for their Big East opener against Rutgers and dropped that one, losing 65-64 on a three-pointer by Herve Lamizana with less than one second left. The Friars played both games last week without junior forward Rob Sanders, a key player at both ends of the floor. Sanders was injured on January 3 against Virginia, and did not play in Monday night’s 63-60 win at Seton Hall. His importance was not lost on head coach Tim Welsh when asked about him after the loss against Texas.

“Well he leads us in steals, he’s our best wing defender, he’s our best guy outside-inside in our zone defense,” Welsh said. “When a guy leads you in steals, that means he’s pretty darned good at what he does on the defensive end of the floor.”

Although the loss against Texas will be remembered for how it finished, the game was one for the ages, which both head coaches elaborated on after the game.

“Obviously, that was a great college basketball game,” said Welsh. “It’s a shame now – everyone’s going to talk about the last play, after you’ve watched 45 minutes of just intense, great basketball.”

“It’s a shame the game comes down to that because it will be remembered for that, but it should be remembered for two teams battling their tails off and playing great basketball. We didn’t play great early, obviously, but we fought our way back into it. It was an NCAA Tournament-type game in early January.”

Rick Barnes had similar sentiments while being happy with how his team played.

“I’m not sure you could ask for a better game leading into conference play on the road, because of the fact that P.J. Tucker, Kenton Paulino, Edgar Moreno have never played in an environment like this,” Barnes said. “We needed something good to happen to us. We’ve taken care of what we needed to do at home, but we did not show well in New York either time in terms of being as good as we can be. But the truth be known, tonight’s the first time we’ve had our whole team together.”

Texas dominated early, jumping out to leads of 21-4 and 32-11, and Providence had more turnovers than field goals attempted for most of the first half, not making a field goal until Tuuka Kotti’s jumper with 6:38 left in the half. It was part of a run of 10 straight Friar points in a run that ultimately got the Friars within 41-33 at the half.

The halftime box score was just plain ugly: Providence had 13 turnovers, 16 field goal attempts, and stayed in the game by forcing 11 Texas turnovers and missing just one of 21 free throws (including Ryan Gomes going 11-11 en route to 17 of his game-high 28 points).

For a while, it looked like the Longhorns would have an answer for every rally, as the Friars got within four once, then five twice, but no closer until the final four minutes. After Brandon Mouton (20 points, 7 rebounds) hit two free throws to put the Longhorns up 71-62, the Friars ran off 12 straight points, capped by two Donnie McGrath free throws with 30 seconds left, to take a 74-71 lead. Royal Ivey (career-high 22 points to lead Texas) hit a three-pointer with 15 seconds left to tie it and ultimately send it to overtime, where four Providence turnovers hurt them before the final play.

Rams Finish Non-Conference Slate Strong

Rhode Island finished its strong non-conference showing with a 12-3 mark, getting a big overtime win over Charlotte before Christmas and dropping only their game at Seton Hall before starting conference play with an 81-67 home loss to Xavier on Sunday.

On Sunday, the Rams got off to a fast start against the Musketeers after allowing the first five points of the game. Dawan Robinson sparked a 17-2 run with 9 of his game-high 23 points, including two quick steals and breakaway layups, and the Rams led for most of the remainder of the half. But Lionel Chalmers (21 points) and Justin Doellman (12 points, 9 rebounds) kept the Musketeers going until senior star Romain Sato (team-high 22 points) got going late in the half and in the second half.

In the second half, the Rams got within five with just over 13 minutes left to play, but would get no closer as Xavier had answers for every mini-run the Rams had.

“They outplayed us today, they’re a good team,” said Robinson. “But we’re a good team also and we just didn’t have it today. Those guys just played harder.”

As he has done all along, head coach Jim Baron wasn’t taking too much from the team’s good non-conference record. After the win over Charlotte, Baron talked about how far the team has come in his tenure.

“We just tied the amount of wins we had two years ago – we just tied it today (December 23),” he said. “We still have a lot of basketball to go, but that’s what’s incredible about these kids and this program of what we’re trying to develop.”

He had similar sentiments after they finished the non-conference slate, and then kept it all in perspective after the loss on Sunday.

“We’re still trying to get there,” Baron said. “I said it all along. Two years ago, we only won eight games. We can’t put the cart before the horse in this situation; it takes a lot to keep going the way we’ve been going. Now we’re facing good basketball teams, and you have to bring your ‘A’ game each and every time. It’s a challenge, and each team plays you differently.”

“We’ve been fortunate to win they games that we’ve won, but we’ve got to work to improve. We have to work to get better.”

Not helping in Sunday’s game, especially with the foul trouble that plagued the Rams, was the one-game suspension senior guard Steve Mello served. He violated a team rule the night before the game, and Baron knew he needed one of his seniors.

With Xavier up 76-62 and 4:01 left, Ram senior Brian Woodward was ejected from the game for a flagrant intentional foul as he elbowed Doellman to the mouth. Woodward, who was honored with a game ball before the game after passing 1,000 career points Wednesday night, may face further disciplinary action from the Atlantic 10, which will review the game tape.

Minutemen Assess Their Standing

Massachusetts finished its non-conference slate with a 74-66 home loss to Tennessee on January 3. The Minutemen headed into Atlantic 10 play with a 5-6 record, one that includes devastating losses to Central Connecticut State and Hartford.

Both players and head coach Steve Lappas couldn’t really assess the team’s state as they prepared to enter conference play. Lappas said he thinks the team needs a game that sparks them for the rest of the season.

“We’re going to have a win that’s going to be the one that gets you rolling and gets you going,” he said after the Tennessee game. “I really think there’s going to come a time this year that we are capable of going out and beating anybody in our league.”

With the relative youth on this team, Lappas may be right, but the Minutemen have to play consistently and not sleep on the weaker opponents. Freshmen Maurice Maxwell and Art Bowers, the latter of whom has been slowed by an injury and returning from it, have plenty of potential. Gabe Lee and Rashaun Freeman can be solid inside players, but have to be factors consistently for this team to succeed, and it wouldn’t hurt if the perimeter players were more consistent shooters.

Terriers Among the Nation’s Hottest Teams

With Saturday’s 63-59 home win over Binghamton, Boston University has now won ten straight games, among the nation’s longest active winning streaks. The Terriers have road wins at Fordham and Michigan during that streak, as well as a 4-0 start in America East play.

Saturday’s win came with leading scorer Chaz Carr and Matt Turner combining to go 1-8 with three points, but the lone field goal proved to be the game-winner by Carr with 26 seconds left. Ryan Butt led the way with 18 points on 7-11 shooting, drawing shot-blocker Nick Billings away from the basket frequently as he was 4-5 on three-pointers. Shaun Wynn played his best game, scoring a career-high 17 points and leading the way with 6 rebounds while playing good defense.

Head coach Dennis Wolff can’t find many negative things to say about his team right now, as they have developed more depth that has helped them immensely in the current winning streak. BU’s bench has outscored opponents in all but one game during the streak, including a 34-point edge at Albany last weekend.

“We continue to be fortunate because of our depth,” Wolff said after Saturday’s game. “I think that in a game like this, that was important. I thought we had four or five guys that played very hard.”

Wolff said they would get a day off on Sunday, the first one they have had since coming back from the Christmas holiday. His main concern now is if the team can sustain their play.

“In three of the last four games, we haven’t played at a high enough level to sustain this,” he said. “We have to get to that point. I would sound like somebody who had something wrong with them if I said I wasn’t happy with a team that’s won ten games in a row, so I am very happy with how hard they’ve worked. But I think we have to regroup and play a little bit better.”

Binghamton played the game without forward Sebastian Hermenier, who watched the game on the bench in warm-ups. Head coach Al Walker said he was serving a one-game suspension for an internal matter.

With 7:08 left to play, Bearcat forward Alex Adediran was ejected for a flagrant foul against Kevin Gardner. He may face further disciplinary action, as the America East Conference will review the game tape.

Huskies Come Alive

Although they suffered a setback last Wednesday at Vermont, Northeastern is coming alive early in America East play. The Huskies improved to 3-1 in conference play with a 77-70 win over visiting Albany on Sunday, one weekend after recording a home win over Stony Brook (82-63) and a good road win over improved New Hampshire (75-72).

The win over Stony Brook marked the fourth straight loss for the Seawolves, and the Huskies did what other teams did in that streak (which eventually reached five games) – they shot nearly 54% from the field en route to the 82 points, led by red-hot Marcus Barnes. Barnes had 23 points, including 6-9 on three-pointers, in the first half en route to finishing with 26. Jose Juan Barea complemented him well, scoring 18 points and handing out 8 assists, prompting head coach Ron Everhart to note once again what Barea does for this team.

“When Jose is as good as he was tonight, and passes the ball as sharply and sees the floor as well and shares the basketball, he just makes Marcus (Barnes) so much better, and he makes Javorie (Wilson) so much better,” Everhart said. “He makes our whole basketball team so much better.”

Everhart went on to say that while Barea was improving physically, he was concerned about the short turnaround time between the Stony Brook game and the next game, played on a Sunday afternoon. Barea put that to rest with a superb 31-point effort (12-21 shooting) and the Huskies forced 21 turnovers in beating the Wildcats. The Huskies led for most of the game, but the Wildcats made a late run that fell short.

Barnes complemented Barea with 16 points, while freshmen Bennet Davis and D’wan Youmans (8 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 2 blocks) each gave them a good lift off the bench at both ends of the floor. Davis has steadily come along, while Youmans played the best game of his young college career until Sunday’s 77-70 home win over Albany.

Against Albany, Everhart started Davis, and he produced. In his first career start, he scored a career-high 16 points and blocked two shots, complementing big perimeter efforts from Barea (20 points) and Javorie Wilson (18 points, 6 assists) and making it easier inside for Sylbrin Robinson, who had 9 points and 12 rebounds. The Huskies forced 25 Albany turnovers.

The Huskies welcome Hartford to Solomon Court on Wednesday, then travel to play UMBC on Saturday.

Wildcats Have Improved, Really

One team that many see as being noticeably improved is New Hampshire. The Wildcats are more athletic and deeper, and though they had some struggles in non-conference play, the improvement was noticeable. They started conference play with tough losses to two of the better teams in Boston University (56-51) and Northeastern (75-72), then welcomed injury-riddled Albany to Lundholm Gym last Thursday night.

Playing with just eight players dressed, the Great Danes led for most of the game, warding off several Wildcat rallies to win at Lundholm for the second straight time, 57-52. Freshman Jon Iati, the early leader for America East Rookie of the Year, had a career-high 23 points and handed out 5 assists, but in the second half he needed sophomore Levi Levine (9 of his 14 points in the second half) and others to step up and make big plays at both ends.

Head coach Phil Rowe said he saw this game coming – a game the Wildcats shouldn’t lose on paper, with the Great Danes missing star guard Jamar Wilson and playing just seven players.

“This is as disappointed as I’ve been as a coach,” he said. “We got exactly what we deserved from practices the last three days – two out of the three days were the worst practices this team has had because they’re starting to believe that they’re pretty good. We’re nowhere near that.”

“This is a league, just like any other league in the country, that everybody when they come to play a league game – especially on the road – knows that they better step up. Until these young men figure it out, they’re going to be inconsistent for the whole year. And that’s too bad. We needed better leadership and we just didn’t get it today.”

On the other side, Albany head coach Will Brown was pleased that the team is buying into what he’s taught them so they can win while short-handed.

“We’ve been spending a lot of time in practice talking about defense and rebounding, because that’s the way we’re going to be able to survive this year,” Brown said. “This team, right now, with 7 guys in the rotation, we can win games in this league without question. We just don’t have a lot of room for error, and we need to understand that.”

Craig Walls, who leads the conference in double-doubles, was the only Wildcat in double figures with 14 points and 8 rebounds. New Hampshire shot under 44% from the field and committed 18 turnovers, and got to the free throw line just seven times in the game.

Yale Struggles Into Ivy League Play

After Wednesday night’s loss at Rhode Island, Yale fell to 4-8 with a six-game losing streak as it prepares to enter Ivy League play. The veteran Bulldog team, with nine juniors and seniors, certainly has the personnel and experience to contend in the Ivy League, but their play of late doesn’t reflect that.

The Bulldogs are the Ivy League’s top shooting team, but they have been out-rebounded and haven’t taken good care of the ball – only two Ivy League teams turn the ball over more than the Bulldogs. Wednesday night, the offense was stagnant oftentimes, which is perhaps the one thing that can stop this team. When Dominick Martin, a solid post scorer, is in the game, they can run the offense around him since it can open up the outside game. But the players on the perimeter have to move to get open looks.

Head coach James Jones started senior Justin Simon on Wednesday night and got a good effort from him, and that will be a good sign heading into conference play.

“Justin is one of our hardest workers,” Jones said after the Rhode Island game. “We want to reward guys who get out and play tough.”

The Bulldogs played a tough schedule, which means they are well-tested heading into Ivy League play. They can certainly be a factor if things come together at the offensive end and on the glass.

“As a coach, we put together a difficult schedule to prepare us for (Ivy League),” Jones said. “We’ve lost to some pretty good basketball teams, but we haven’t played as well as I think we’re capable of, and that’s something we’re going to try to take care of in the next week or so.”

The Bulldogs open up Ivy League play with their home-and-home with Brown on back-to-back Friday nights.

Brown and CCSU On Opposite Notes

For the second year in a row, Brown beat Central Connecticut State on Friday, this time cruising to a 79-58 win in a game that wasn’t even as close as the score indicated. The Bears led throughout and by as many as 34 points before the Blue Devils made the score more respectable in the final minutes.

Brown shot 56.1% from the floor and held the Blue Devils to just 38.3% shooting, as the Bears constantly moved the ball well and hit open shots. They also switched their defense from the 2-3 zone and man-to-man, although they used the zone effectively for much of the game. All five starters reached double figures for the Bears, while they held Blue Devil star Ron Robinson in check (11 points, 4 rebounds).

The Bears, who at times have looked better than expected, improved to 4-9. The win caps off a non-conference slate that has seen them struggle often after losing their all-time leading scorer (Earl Hunt) and other key veterans from last year’s team.

“We desperately needed to build some confidence, and hopefully we did that tonight,” said head coach Glen Miller. “It’s been a real struggle – our schedule has been brutal and we have a lot of young players. To put it together tonight and build off of that should be a good thing for us.”

Miller also cited the importance of senior guard Mike Martin, playing in his sixth game after two major injuries that kept him out of action for 10 months. Martin, who will play the remainder of the season with a screw in his foot, had 18 points (7-9 shooting) and 6 assists in Friday’s win, playing his best game of the season thus far.

“Mike Martin is a real big key for us,” said Miller. “He’s an intangible guy, he brings organization to our ball club, he brings discipline to our ball club, and he brings a competitive side that we’ve been missing.”

Central Connecticut State, a talented team counting largely on young players with just one senior and two juniors, enters Northeast Conference play on this low note, one that head coach Howie Dickenman said he saw coming.

“I’m not tremendously surprised about this, because our last three practices have been somewhat listless,” said Dickenman. “Ironically, I told the team yesterday… ‘if you guys play tomorrow against Brown the way we practice today, we’ll lose by 30’, and unfortunately it was a prophecy that proved to be true.”

The Blue Devils have plenty of talent, but their youth may hurt them in conference play. Robinson is a solid senior leader and might be the best player in the conference, but he needs his teammates to play the way they did at Providence when they nearly knocked off the Friars.

Other Notes From Around The Nation

• Temple took a hit for the remainder of the season when freshman guard Mario Taybron did not qualify academically for the spring semester. Thought to be a potential solution to their point guard woes, he averaged 4.6 points, 2.6 assists and 2.4 steals per game in eight games for the Owls.

• If the Pac Ten has a dark horse behind Stanford and Arizona, it’s UCLA. Ben Howland has the Bruins at 8-3, including 4-0 in Pac Ten play, and only Stanford is holding teams to a lower field goal percentage or has a better rebound margin. The conference wins are over the relatively weak northwest teams, but they’ll have confidence when for games like Arizona (Saturday) and Stanford (January 22) when they arrive.

• How bad has St. John’s been this year? They are the only Big East team with a losing non-conference record.

     

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