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Touring the Northeast

January 28, 2004 Columns No Comments

Touring Around the Northeast

by Phil Kasiecki

Eagles Get Big Win, Then Bad Loss

Boston College started the week with a big 66-65 overtime win over North Carolina State at home, then dropped a 65-62 decision at West Virginia on Saturday.

With the win over North Carolina State, the Eagles moved to 3-0 in overtime games, and after this week’s games the young Eagles are 5-2 in games decided by less than five points. Asked about the surprising start, head coach Al Skinner said he’s not surprised, but also realizes that they don’t have much room for error.

“The record is what it is, and obviously we did enough good things to be here, but we got to get better,” Skinner said after the win over the Wolfpack, which moved the Eagles to 13-4. “As you well know, this is the quality of opponent we’re going to be seeing for the rest of the year, and we got to be prepared to play against this if we’re going to be successful in our league.”

Freshman Sean Marshall, who struggled shooting the ball last week (6-27 from the field in the two games), knows the Eagles can’t stop working with their start.

“We got to keep it going,” Marshall said. “We’re feeling pretty good about ourselves, but we can’t let that get to us. We got to come out and practice and work hard to get ready for our next opponent. It’s going to get tougher for us in the Big East Conference.”

The Eagles almost gave the game away on several occasions, first with a 9-19 showing at the foul line, then with missed shots in overtime that could have put the game away before Marshall hit a late free throw to make it a two-possession game. Marshall and Craig Smith (20 points, 10 rebounds) each missed layups in the final minutes, and a costly turnover gave the Wolfpack another chance.

Against West Virginia, the Eagles had a big 41-28 edge on the glass, but 17 turnovers and shooting below 41% from the field hurt their cause, as well as missed opportunities. The loss was a tough one in what could be their last game played in Morgantown. Two bright spots were another double-double by Smith (15 points, 11 rebounds) and the return of point guard Louis Hinnant, who scored 8 points on 3-4 shooting and had 3 assists.

The Eagles enter this week with 21st in the RPI, putting them in a good spot thus far as they are focused on making the NCAA Tournament. This week will test their ranking, as they play at Pittsburgh on Wednesday and return home to face the loaded Connecticut Huskies on Saturday. Those games, just like the West Virginia game, are games where missed opportunities like layups and free throws could come back to haunt them.

Friars Get Hot During Busy Stretch

Providence just finished an incredible stretch, playing five games in ten days. They didn’t looked fazed by it at all, as Saturday’s big win at Connecticut and Monday’s over Georgetown extended their winning streak to six games. The win at Connecticut was their third straight win over the Huskies and a big upset win over one of the nation’s top teams.

Making it through this stretch puts the Friars in great shape. They won every game and are now tied with Pittsburgh atop the Big East, and they won without second-leading scorer Rob Sanders, who may return Sunday against Seton Hall.

“We’re starting to feel very confident about ourselves,” said head coach Tim Welsh after Monday’s 65-50 win over Georgetown. “The zone is really starting to be more active and more together.”

Ryan Gomes certainly earned his Big East Player of the Week honors, as there may not be a player in college basketball who has played as well as he has in the last two weeks. Gomes had just 6 points and 12 rebounds to start the week against Loyola-Chicago, but turned it up against Villanova (27 points on 10-14 shooting, including 5-6 on three-pointers, and 8 rebounds) and Connecticut (26 points, 12 rebounds). Although he only scored 8 against Georgetown on Monday night, he did it on 4-5 shooting and grabbed 10 rebounds.

The Villanova game was unexpected in that both teams came into the game shooting the ball well, but instead was a grind-it-out affair that the Friars won, 62-56. After shooting the lights out the previous two games, the Friars shot just 39% from the field and were 7-28 from behind the arc. Aside from Gomes, they made just 2 of 22 three-pointers in the game. The Friars won the game with defense, holding the Wildcats to 33% shooting with their zone, and shutting down hot freshman Mike Nardi. The Big East Freshman of the Week the previous week, with 47 points in two games, Nardi didn’t have a field goal and had just six points.

“To our kids’ credit, we gritted it out, and we kept hanging in there with our defense,” said head coach Tim Welsh after the game. “I told them our defense has got to win the game for us because our shots aren’t falling tonight.”

Against Connecticut, the Friars’ defense came through again, holding the Huskies below 41% from the field and limiting Ben Gordon to just nine points, though he was hampered by a broken nose suffered earlier in the week.

The Friars finished their busy stretch with the win over Georgetown on Monday night, again shooting the ball well and playing solid defense against a Georgetown team that continues to be exposed in Big East play. They limited the Hoyas to 34% shooting to win despite committing 21 turnovers, and Donnie McGrath continued his stellar play of late with a team-high 18 points and 5 assists.

Also picking up his play of late is freshman Dwight Brewington, who started every game during the big stretch. He scored 12 points in Monday’s win to cap off the stretch, and his play will help the Friars when Rob Sanders comes back.

Huskies, Terriers Renew Rivalry And Keep Directions

Northeastern and Boston University met at Matthews Arena on Saturday in a game that was like the good old days of the rivalry. The setting, the large crowd, and the atmosphere was like many great games between the two teams in the past. In keeping with the present, both teams did what they had done in their previous game, with the Terriers pulling out a big 76-74 victory to keep pace with Vermont atop America East.

The game was close throughout, with the largest lead being 8 points by the Terriers, but they had the edge for most of the game. The Terriers had answers for just about every charge Northeastern had in the first half, and for most of the game the Huskies could never get the big defensive stops they needed, as the Terriers shot over 47% from the field.

Each team had a player with a big game, as Jose Juan Barea led Northeastern with a game-high 29 points and consistently scored on drives, and Jason Grochowalski led Boston University with 20 points and 11 rebounds, both season highs. But Grocowalski had three more players in double figures, led by Chaz Carr’s 16 points and 5 assists before fouling out. Grochowalski made a lot of big shots and continued to play well against Northeastern.

“He was a guy that we knew could hurt us, he’s hurt us every time we’ve played them,” said Northeastern head coach Ron Everhart. “We affectionately call him the ‘Husky Killer’ around here – every time we play them, it seems like he has big games.”

The game finished a bad week for Northeastern, which lost 80-62 at home on Wednesday night against Binghamton. The Huskies allowed the Bearcats to shoot 60% in a game that was never in doubt, and Nick Billings dominated with 25 points, 10 rebounds and 7 blocks. The Huskies had a bad week defensively, and need to change that soon with a trip to Maine looming on Wednesday.

One bright spot for the Huskies has been the continuing development of their freshmen, notably Bennet Davis and Bobby Kelly, each of whom has started recently. Davis continues to show great potential, though he was quiet in the second half against BU after a good first half.

Boston University, meanwhile, beat Maine on Wednesday thanks to a good defensive effort and the continuing development of their depth. The Terrier bench outscored Maine by 26 points in a 71-65 win, and with Saturday’s win, the Terriers are 7-1 in America East play and just a half game behind undefeated Vermont.

Holy Cross Comes So Close

The young Holy Cross Crusaders have had some close calls early in Patriot League play, and a couple have been a little too close. Missed free throws hurt them in two losses, and after making all eight free throws in the first half on Sunday against American, free throws came back to haunt them again in a tough 62-59 home loss to the Eagles.

The Crusaders, who came into the game shooting just under 62% from the foul line, made just 6 of 13 free throws in the second half, including missing three front ends of a 1-and-1 and then missing two straight free throws later. Adding that to their struggles against American’s zone defense in the second half spelled trouble, as the Crusaders blew a 10-point lead.

“Free throws, obviously, are an important part of the game,” said Holy Cross head coach Ralph Willard. “You have a lead, and instead of keeping it there or extending it, you go to the free throw line, miss free throws, and the lead starts to evaporate. There’s no question that free throws have been one of the main things that have really stopped us from being a good basketball team.”

Jave Meade played well in the defeat, scoring 14 points and handing out 7 assists, breaking the Patriot League’s all-time assist record with his first of the day, while Greg Kinsey also had 14 points. Kinsey, shooting just over 20% on three-pointers entering the game, went 4-9 from behind the arc and took a late three-pointer that could have sent the game to overtime.

The Crusaders did very well at the defensive end against American freshman Andre Ingram, holding the league’s fifth-leading scorer to just 5 points on 2-10 shooting. It was inside where the Eagles did a lot of damage with 28 points in the paint to just 12 for the Crusaders, and Nate Lufkin (4 points, 0-3 from the field) and John Hurley (2 points) weren’t able to get anything going inside, the latter in part due to foul trouble.

The game demonstrated why the Crusaders need to get going on offense. With the loss, they are now 1-5 in games decided by five points or less, and are now 1-7 in games where they score less than 60 points. The Crusaders are sixth in the Patriot League in scoring, ahead of only Navy and Army. Willard already knows how important defense is, but he knows that it’s not the big concern with this team, which leads the league in scoring defense and is second in field goal percentage defense.

“No matter how hard you work on the defensive end, you have to work just as hard on the offensive end,” Willard said.

While the game was another tough loss for the Crusaders, it was a big win for the Eagles. They keep pace with league-leading Lafayette and Lehigh, and beat a team that has won the last two Patriot League championship games against them.

“I just told the guys that we haven’t had at American many wins like this in our two-plus years in the Patriot League, where we weren’t playing particularly well but had to gut it out on an opponent’s home court,” said American head coach Jeff Jones. “This is the kind of win that Holy Cross has gotten so often because they’re tough. Even if they aren’t shooting that well, Holy Cross has been a great champion because their player play so hard and they find a way to win. In that regard, it was a particularly good win for us.”

Holy Cross now hits the road next weekend, heading to Lehigh and Bucknell.

Brown And Yale Continue In Opposite Directions

For the second Friday in a row, Brown and Yale met up, this time at the Pizzitola Center in Providence. The venue may have changed, but the result and direction of the two teams didn’t, as the Bears were the clearly better team in a 77-65 win. Both teams welcome Ivy League powers Pennsylvania and Princeton next weekend.

Brown has now won three straight games and stands atop the Ivy League with a 2-0 early mark. The Bears are clicking at just the right time, with Jason Forte (22 points, 8 assists Friday) and Mike Martin (19 points, 5-8 on three-pointers) providing the spark on the perimeter and Jamie Kilburn (14 points on 7-8 shooting) playing well inside. They shot 54.2% from the field, and head coach Glen Miller sees the increased confidence the team has that started with their big win over Central Connecticut State in their last non-conference game.

“Guys are confident that we can will ballgames in conference,” Miller said after the game.

A layup by Forte with just under seven minutes to go in the first half gave the Bears the lead for good, as they would lead by 21 at one point in the second half. But the final minute of the game was very sloppy, and Miller wasn’t a happy camper on the bench.

“I was very disappointed with the way we finished the game, with careless turnovers,” Miller said. “23 turnovers is way too many for us.”

On the other side, Yale head coach James Jones didn’t mince about his team’s play after the game.

“We played awful,” said Jones. “I don’t think we came out ready to play today. We turned the ball over 14 times in the first half – that, to me, is not being ready to play. It’s heart-breaking to watch, knowing that we’re better than what we look like on the court right now.”

The Bulldogs couldn’t get much going inside, as Dominick Martin had just two field goal attempts amidst the Bear defense, and the perimeter players aside from Edwin Draughan (17 points on 6-13 shooting) were not very productive. Draughan, who has averaged over 34 minutes the last five games, looked spent during the second half of this game and came up short on several jumpers. Freshman Casey Hughes continued to show signs that he will one day be a very good player as well, but the time is now for this team with nine juniors and seniors.

The Bulldogs’ problems seem to stem from two sources: the lack of a true point guard, which contributes to them having the worst turnover margin in the Ivy League (and only Harvard and Columbia turn it over more), and practices reportedly have not been very good by and large. The Bulldogs have to come alive quickly with the strong teams coming to town this weekend.

Other Notes From Around the Nation

• Looking for a study in great execution? Air Force just picked up its most notable win on Saturday in beating Brigham Young, but the young Falcons have been shutting down teams all season, not just during their 11-game winning streak, a school record. The Falcons lead the nation in scoring defense, allowing 46.6 points per game – more than seven points less than Utah, which is second. They’re also tops in the nation in field goal percentage, shooting an amazing 61.8% from the field on the season.

• There has been plenty of talk about the Big Ten being down this year, but how about the Pac Ten? Entering this week, the Pac Ten is eighth in the conference RPI ratings, below the Mountain West. After Arizona and Stanford, the conference is in trouble. UCLA is winning on the strength of Ben Howland’s coaching, Oregon is rebuilding, California is at least a year away with its good young talent, and the others range from disappointing (Arizona State) to slowly rising from being at the bottom (Washington State).

• Birmingham Southern is wasting no time in the Big South. In their first season eligible for the conference tournament and the automatic NCAA Tournament bid, the Panthers are right in the thick of things at the top. With Saturday’s win over Winthrop, which gave them a sweep of the season series, they are now 12-5 overall to go with their 6-2 conference showing. They’re also 6-4 on the road overall, including 3-1 in Big South games.

• On a final note, best wishes for a full recovery go to Louisville head coach Rick Pitino, who is taking an indefinite medical leave of absence. He reported Monday that he has been in intense pain the last few days, and fortunately, doctors have been able to rule out prostate cancer. Get well soon, Rick.


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