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Touring Around the Northeast

February 23, 2004 Columns No Comments


Touring Around the Northeast

by Phil Kasiecki

Eagles Soar Past New Jersey Teams

After being snubbed from the NCAA Tournament last season, Boston College players and coaches will all say that they don’t feel safe as far as making the NCAA Tournament goes. That’s understandable, but after winning at Seton Hall and thumping Rutgers at home to improve to 18-8 overall and 7-6 in the Big East, the Eagles look like they aren’t far from moving off the bubble and into the “lock” category for the tournament.

Monday night, Boston College came through at the free throw line in the final minutes to secure their second win over Seton Hall on the season, this one a decision in East Rutherford. Craig Smith, who was questionable for the game after being injured two days earlier, showed no ill effects as he took over in the second half and finished with 21 points and 8 rebounds.

Sunday afternoon, the Eagles blew the game open in the second half with defense. By holding Rutgers to just 21.4% shooting and making 75% of their own shots, the Eagles turned a five-point halftime lead into a 76-44 blowout. A 23-2 run starting less than five minutes into the half put the game out of reach, with Jared Dudley scoring 10 of his game-high 20 points in that stretch and taking the game over. He filled the stat sheet with 20 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists and 5 steals.

The Eagles blew out the Scarlet Knights despite foul trouble limiting Smith to 19 minutes and 11 points on 4-6 shooting. Picking up the slack was Nate Doornekamp, who set career highs with 11 points and 9 rebounds, but also added 3 steals and 3 assists for good measure.

“You don’t want to be in that situation,” head coach Al Skinner said of having to play without Smith due to foul trouble. “Obviously Jared had a huge game. I thought Nate came in and obviously gave us a big lift.”

“I just had the opportunity to put the ball in the bucket,” Doornekamp said after the game. “I think it’s something I do every day in practice, and today things were just working out and I was in the right place at the right time.”

For his part, Smith was at ease while sitting with foul trouble.

“I felt cool, I felt like I was on vacation,” he quipped. “I felt like a fan just watching the game.”

Smith said his back is still a little stiff, and the rest did him a lot of good.

Rutgers came into the game third in the Big East in three-point shooting, but the stifling Eagle defense never let them get untracked and gave them very few good looks. The Scarlet Knights made just 3 of 20 from behind the arc, missing all 11 tries in the second half.

“It’s really very simple,” Skinner said of BC’s game plan. “All we wanted to was be in a position to contest a shot. That’s all we really wanted to do. There was no special scheme, and guys just worked hard at it. They made a point of trying to recognize who the shooters were and to make sure they contest shots.”

Skinner tried to downplay the significance of this game’s NCAA Tournament implications.

“From our perspective, it was just another league game,” Skinner said. “As far as I’m concerned, it has no more ramifications for the NCAA Tournament other than a win, just like any other win we’ve had this season.”

The Eagles don’t feel safe just yet, but their play to this point suggests they’ll do enough to finish clinching an NCAA Tournament bid. Skinner says nothing has changed from how they felt last year at this time.

“The difference in this year is that, in our non-league schedule, we wanted to make sure we had the success that we were looking for,” Skinner said. “The one criticism I heard was that we had losses early in the season. The difference is that we’ve had more success in our non-league schedule.”

“If we already had 20 wins, we’re never safe,” Smith said.

“We can’t feel safe,” Uka Agbai said. “We feel we need 20-21 wins to get in, so that’s our goal.”

The Eagles host Virginia Tech Wednesday night, then have a week off.

Better Luck This Time Around For Providence

The last time Providence had a long layoff between games, they played poorly and with little energy in a home loss to Seton Hall on Super Bowl Sunday. This time around, they had a better result, scoring a 70-57 home win over struggling Miami.

The Friars didn’t play their best basketball, but led for most of the game before putting it away in the final minutes. They scored seven of their first nine points off Miami turnovers, and almost every time the Hurricanes tried to pass the ball inside, it got tipped, deflected, or stolen. In the first half, the Friars held a 20-6 edge on points in the paint.

The Hurricanes ran off nine straight points early in the second half, aided by four Friar turnovers in the first five minutes, then eventually took the lead. The Friars later took the lead for good on a 12-2 run, never being seriously challenged after that.

After the game head coach Tim Welsh began by talking about the week in between games.

“Somebody asked me, ‘Did you enjoy your days off?’ and I said, absolutely not,” Welsh said. “I hate it. I’d rather just keep in a rhythm myself.”

The Friars had great balance in the scoring column, as five players scored in double figures and no one had more than 14 points, which was the total Rob Sanders posted. It was his highest point total since he returned from breaking two fingers, and he looks to be back in the flow of things.

“Rob’s certainly getting back into the flow,” Welsh said. “People forget he’s been our second-leading scorer all season long. He missed eight games. He’s an important ingredient, so for him to get back to that level gives us another great option out there.”

Sanders feels more free now than he previously did, saying he was hesitant to use his hands to make plays on the ball.

The Friars head to South Bend to take on Notre Dame on Saturday, then head to New York for their final road game of the regular season against St. John’s.

Rams Get Back on Track

Rhode Island had a good week, winning at Massachusetts (73-66) and at home against St. Bonaventure (81-57). The wins are the first two consecutive wins in Atlantic 10 play for the Rams, and they couldn’t have come at a better time.

Against the Minutemen, the Rams dominated the paint, holding a 40-28 edge on the glass and a 44-28 edge in points in the paint. The Minutemen couldn’t get the ball inside much, as the Rams’ zone was very effective in limiting them to jump shots. Most of the time Minuteman post player Rashaun Freeman got the ball, he was at least 10-12 feet away from the basket, not letting him operate where he is best. He had just four field goal attempts in the game, scoring 10 points and grabbing 9 rebounds.

The Minutemen were able to take the lead in the second half, but Rhode Island took the lead for good when they ran off eight unanswered points as part of a 14-2 run. Scott Hazleton got hot during that stretch and scored 10 of his 14 points in the second half, adding 8 rebounds.

“We need him to step up,” head coach Jim Baron said of Hazleton. “If Scott can keep up with this kind of performance, that’s something that we’re going to really need down the stretch.”

Brian Woodward, who had 18 points and 11 rebounds, said the Rams did a better job mentally after losing to the Minutemen in the first meeting.

“When we first played them, we really underestimated them,” Woodward said.

Baron emphasized the inside game with their plan.

“I thought we made good plays from the standpoint of getting the ball inside and trying to get Freeman in foul trouble,” Baron said. “That was one of our game plans, to get the ball inside.”

Dawan Robinson struggled to score against the Minutemen with 13 points on just 4-16 shooting, but he had 6 assists and no turnovers.

“We need him to do that,” Baron said. “We need him to make other players better.”

Robinson came back with a game-high 19 points in Sunday’s win over St. Bonaventure. The Rams shot 50% from the field and held the Bonnies to 31%, putting the clamps on Marques Green. Green, the Atlantic 10’s leading scorer, had just 7 points on 2-12 shooting. The Rams also had a big edge on the glass again, 41-28 over the smaller Bonnies.

For the second game in a row, Baron mixed up the starting lineup in the frontcourt, going with Jamaal Wise and Terrence Mack and bringing Dustin Hellenga and Marcel Momplaisir off the bench. He also started Jon Clark in the middle.

The Rams finish out their home slate this week as they welcome Richmond on Wednesday night, then look to be the last land mine for St. Joseph’s before the Atlantic 10 Tournament when the Hawks visit the Ryan Center on Saturday.

Minutemen Have The Talent Base

Despite their continued struggles, Massachusetts has a good talent base that is gaining valuable experience. The growing pains are coming now, but the future is looking up if their development continues.

Maurice Maxwell continued to show a lot of promise against Rhode Island, scoring 17 points on 6-11 shooting. He’s very athletic, and if he can shoot the ball consistently, he will be a very good player. Classmate Art Bowers hit his stride a few games after returning from an injury before being shut down by Rhode Island.

Since Gabe Lee suffered a season-ending injury at St. Bonaventure last month, Stephane Lasme has played more and shown some of his potential. Lasme is now among the Atlantic 10’s top shot-blockers despite averaging under 14 minutes per game. With added strength and better fundamentals, he will play more minutes and eventually become a force inside. He has committed some bad unforced turnovers that make him a liability aside from his shot-blocking. Since Lee’s injury, he has averaged 2.8 blocks per game.

The Minutemen dropped Saturday’s game at Fordham, 75-61. They allowed the Rams to shoot nearly 54% from the floor and committed 20 turnovers.

This week, the Minutemen have their final two home games of the season, hosting undefeated St. Joseph’s on Wednesday and St. Bonaventure on Saturday.

Terriers Enter America East Driver’s Seat Entering Final Week

Boston University scored two big wins this past week to stay in first place in America East, winning at Maine (64-53) and at home against cross-town rival Northeastern (82-68). The Terriers, who have won 21 of 22 since losing their first three games, enter the final week of regular season play in the driver’s seat.

Against Maine, the Terriers looked like they had the game in the bag, leading 45-26 with under 17 minutes to play. Maine then came alive at the defensive end, holding the Terriers without a field goal and just eight free throws for nearly 14 minutes. The Terriers shot under 30% for the second half, but forced 16 Maine turnovers and held the Black Bears to 38% shooting for the game.

Against Northeastern, it was a tale of two halves as the Huskies grabbed a 38-28 halftime lead thanks to shooting over 46% and holding the Terriers to just over 33%. But the Terriers turned up the defense in the second half, holding the Huskies below 23% from the field, and 24 turnovers eventually did in Northeastern. The Terriers scored the first 13 points of the second half, then took the lead for good later when they ran off 11 unanswered points.

The wins give the Terriers 20 or more wins for the third straight year, which is the first time in the program’s history they have accomplished that. It will help make Senior Night on Thursday against Stony Brook a special one, as the Terriers then head to Binghamton next Sunday to finish the regular season.

Crimson Continue Improvement, Play Spoiler

The young Harvard Crimson have struggled to get wins this season, but the improvement is certainly noticeable. Saturday night, it took on the form of playing spoiler, as they stunned host Cornell 81-78.

The Crimson got a balanced scoring attack as five players scored in double figures, and they won despite committing 21 turnovers. Matt Stehle continues to have a nice season, leading the way with 15 points, 9 rebounds and 3 blocks. David Giovacchhini matched his career high with 14 points. The Crimson managed to hold off a terrific effort from Cornell stars Lenny Collins (31 points) and Ka’Ron Barnes (27), who combined for 42 of the Big Red’s 46 points in the second half.

Next up for the Crimson is another road trip, this time at Yale and Brown.

Other Notes From Around the Nation

• The Conference USA matchup that everyone was talking about on Saturday was the nationally-televised one with Louisville at Cincinnati, but a little further south was the game that meant more in the standings. Memphis beat UAB for their 10th straight win, putting them in sole possession of first place.

• One prediction that is turning out to be true is the impact of Oklahoma State point guard John Lucas, who transferred from Baylor after what happened there last summer. Lucas figured to start immediately and replace graduated starter Victor Williams, and he has done just that in leading the Cowboys to the top of the Big 12 and into the top ten in the poll. He is second in the conference in assists and assist/turnover ratio.

• Florida picked up a much-needed win on Saturday, but the Gators are still very much on the bubble, not helped in more ways than one by the sudden departure of Christian Drejer. Not only does his selfish move hurt them directly, as he was one of their key players, but the selection committee is supposed to be forward-looking and project how a team as presently constructed will fare. When Kenyon Martin was injured in the 2000 Conference USA Tournament and done for the season, Cincinnati went from being a sure No. 1 seed to a No. 2 seed because they did not project to go as far without the national Player of the Year. The Gators still have time to prove that they can beat good teams without Drejer.

• There continues to be conversation about who will be the next head coach at St. John’s, but there’s a more puzzling story with a coach developing in the Midwest. Reportedly, Dan Monson is on the hot seat at Minnesota – but why? Monson has done a terrific job of cleaning up the mess left behind by Clem Haskin, and has the program in shape to contend in the Big Ten before long. The Golden Gophers have gone into the tank in conference play this year despite being a senior-laden team, but unless Kris Humphries leaves to pursue NBA riches after this year, they aren’t in big trouble personnel-wise.

     

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