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Patriot League Notebook

February 25, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments



Patriot League Notebook

by Steve Sheridan

One Weekend Left

Two games are all the eight teams of the Patriot League have left in the regular season. Three teams, Lafayette, Lehigh and Bucknell, are busy battling for the top spot in the final league standings, with the Mountain Hawks currently holding a very slim one-game lead over its two pursuers. American has the fourth seed locked up, but is still attempting to move its way upwards. Colgate, Holy Cross and Army are all mixed up in the fight for the fifth seed, while Navy sits all alone in the bottom of the standings, already knowing that it will face off with the top seed in the first round of the playoffs. With so much still at stake, the fans can only hope that next weekend rivals this weekend in excitement.

Patriot League Unveils Regular Season, Postseason Changes

Although unable to affect the playoffs this season, the league made some changes to the schedule structure starting next year. The league has decided to eliminate men’s and women’s doubleheaders, so that the men’s and women’s teams will play at opposite sites on the same day. The fans are the major winners in this decision, as they will be able to see either a men’s or women’s game every league playing date of the season beginning in 2005. The basic format for the regular season, which includes four “travel partner” weekends, will return next season, with some small modifications. For the postseason, the league has decided to return the playoffs to Patriot League campuses. A new split tournament format would divide the eight teams into two four-team “tournaments” hosted by the two top teams in the league, with the winners of each bracket advancing to the League Championship game. The championship has always been played on the home court of the higher seed. Including this season, the playoffs (excluding the title game) have been played for the last three seasons at The Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro, MD.

Home Court Advantage Huge To Some Teams

My last note then makes this paragraph even more important, although not for this season. The appeal of playing on one’s home court has been very pleasing to Lafayette, Lehigh and Bucknell this year. All three teams are undefeated on their home floors in league play this season, holding a huge advantage over their opponents. The Leopards, to top them all, are a perfect 11-0 on their home floor as this point in their schedule. The Mountain Hawks are 12-1 overall in Stabler Arena, having won all seven of their home league games as the regular season winds down. The Bison, meanwhile, lost just two non-league games on the floor of Sojka Pavilion this season. It is certainly no coincidence that these three teams are also the top three teams in the Patriot League standings.

Player of the Week

Austen Rowland, Lehigh

Rowland wins his second Patriot League Player of the Week honor this season after leading the Mountain Hawks to its first place perch in the league. The senior guard averaged 13.5 points, 8.5 assists and 4.5 boards in his two games last weekend, including his first double-double with the Mountain Hawks.

Rookie of the Week

Jason Mgebroff, Lehigh

Mgebroff helps Lehigh sweep the weekly awards with his first Rookie of the Week award. The freshman came up huge in the Mountain Hawks’ biggest weekend of the year, averaging over 18 points and seven rebounds in the team’s two games against Lafayette and Army.

Mountain Hawks Soar To The Top Spot

It took almost the entire regular season, but someone has finally dethroned Lafayette atop the Patriot League standings. After another excellent weekend, including a huge home win over Lafayette, the Lehigh Mountain Hawks (17-8 overall, 10-2 PL) overcame the Leopards in the standings and on the court.

Lehigh prepared itself for the showdown against Lafayette by beating Army in a surprisingly close 68-63 win. Jason Mgebroff led the home team with a career-high 25 points while Austen Rowland added 15 points, but the team was unable to pull away from the Black Knights. At one point, the team was down six points to the Black Knights and head coach Billy Taylor pulled all five of his starters off the court in frustration, and the reserves responded by creating a game-breaking 13-0 run with pressure-packed defense. In total, the bench contributed 22 points for the game, while the three starters other than Rowland and Mgebroff combined for only six points. Mgebroff, who came into the game with a career-best of 15 points, came close to eclipsing that in each half, scoring 12 and 13 in the two halves. Rowland had another stellar game, recording his first double-double for the Mountain Hawks by dishing out 10 assists to go along with his 15 points.

Coming off a close contest against Army, the Mountain Hawks then collided with the Leopards for the 200th time in the schools’ history, with first place in the Patriot League on the line. In a game that saw no team grab a lead of more than six points, five Mountain Hawk players scored in double figures in a game that almost topped the 111-104 thriller earlier this season. While double figures are to be expected from Rowland and Mgebroff (12 each), it was the bench that keyed the Lehigh victory. Kevin Tempest scored a team-high 13 points in a reserve role, while Ra Tiah and Kyle Neptune scored 11 and 10, respectively off the bench for Fran O’Hanlon. After 13 ties and nine lead changes, two Mgebroff free throws with 4:52 remaining gave the Mountain Hawks a lead they would not let go of. The biggest basket of the game came from Dayne Michelson, who tipped in a Rowland miss with 29 seconds left to give Lehigh a four-point edge. The win was a total team effort by the home squad, as nine players registered over 10 minutes of action in this one, with all nine scoring at least one basket.

Lehigh has but one weekend to defend its first place standing in order to head into the league tournament as the top seed. Two wins against Colgate and Holy Cross will place them at number one, while one win will guarantee them a share of the league crown. But as the new top gun, the Mountain Hawks will have to play just as they did last weekend if they want to hold off two upset-minded teams.

Bison Continue The Late-Season Stampede

The Bucknell Bison (13-12 overall, 9-3 PL) finished off the home portion of its schedule in grand style last weekend, taking down first place Lafayette and seventh place Army to make the leap to second place in the league standings headed into the final weekend of the regular season.

On Friday night, the Bison pulled to within one game of first place in front of the second-largest crowd in Sojka Pavilion history, taking down the once-mighty Leopards. The Bison did an excellent job of neutralizing the most potent offense in the Patriot League while giving the Leopards no chance of stopping them. Bucknell shot a sizzling 54 percent from floor for the game, including 57 percent in the decisive second half. That second half, in which the Bison outscored Lafayette by 15 points, was spurred in large part by freshman Chris McNaughton. The center scored 18 of his game-high 20 points in the second half, overcoming a first half in which he played just three minutes due to foul trouble. Kevin Bettencourt, currently second in the league in scoring, added 17 points, while Charles Lee and Abe Badmus chipped in 15 and 12, respectively. The Bison were victorious due to their lack of turnovers, especially in the second half, where the team turned the ball over twice in 20 minutes.

Coming off the team’s biggest win of the year, the team did not let down on Sunday afternoon against the Black Knights, holding the pathetic Army team to just 25 points in a 75-25 massacre in front of the home crowd. The largest margin of victory in school history was an appropriate gift for the Bison seniors on Senior Day, as all five seniors started the game and played significant minutes against a team that needed all the help they could get. All 15 Bison players saw action in this one, with senior Matt Quinn leading 12 Bison on the score sheet with 13 points. Stats were not important for the Bison, as no other player scored more than nine points, and yet the team still managed to shoot 60 percent from the field in its final home showing of the regular season. In the team’s two games against the Black Knights this season, Bucknell outscored Army by a ridiculous 131-48. One down note for the Bison was head coach Pat Flannery, who was taken to an area hospital in the second half due to some discomfort. The trip was precautionary, however, and hopefully Flannery will be back on the Bison sidelines as the team finishes up its regular season.

The Bison also get the Raiders and the Crusaders to finish up the regular season, looking to keep the team’s seven-game winning streak alive. Two wins will ensure the Bison of at least a share of second-place and may also set up, with a little help from the Black Knights, another game against Army. If that occurs, I advise all record-keepers to be in attendance.

A Lost Weekend For Leopards

Lafayette (18-7 overall, 9-3 PL) came into the weekend in first place by itself but left in a tie for second place after a pair of losses to Bucknell and Lehigh.

The Leopards traveled to Lewisburg to take on Bucknell on Friday night, and the team’s poor shooting led to a sloppy 79-61 loss. The Leopards temporarily dropped into a first place tie with Lehigh thanks in large part to the team’s 40 percent shooting, with only one Leopard player, Winston Davis, reaching double figures, matching a season-low total. Lafayette missed its first seven shots from the field, falling behind early before coming back, heading into the locker room down only three points. In that first half, Justin DeBerry hit his only two field goals of the game, on his way to a six-point night, 10 points below his season average, on 2-of-12 shooting. The Leopards, the highest scoring squad in the Patriot League, as a team was held 16 points below its season average on the way to its worst league performance of the year. Lafayette did themselves in in the second half, in which it shot only 37 percent and scored only 27 points, including a ten-minute span in which the team managed only one field goal.

That loss set up a first place showdown between the Leopards and Lehigh on Sunday afternoon, and Lafayette fell once again to the Mountain Hawks. Despite the loss, Lafayette still holds a commanding 132-68 lead in the all-time series, but that serves as no solace to the Leopards, who could have just about put a lock on the top seed with a win. The Leopards, coming off a poor shooting outing against Bucknell, shot the ball at a 46 percent clip, but couldn’t hit anything down the stretch. Lafayette could only hit one field goal in the final 7:27 of the game, allowing Lehigh to pull out the victory. DeBerry had a quiet 15 points for the visitors, despite taking just two shots in the final 20 minutes of the game. While the senior also dished out five assists, it was strange to see him not taking the clutch shots down the stretch for the Leopards, and that may have proven the team’s downfall. The team’s overall shooting percentage didn’t do them in, as they team actually shot better than Lehigh at 46 percent, but it was the lack of shots at the end of the game that cost the Leopards the game and first place.

Lafayette now hopes to rebound from an awful weekend with two games against winless Navy and fourth-place American. The Leopards will most likely need two wins to keep up with Bucknell and stay in a tie second place in the league, but the team will need to stop the bleeding in order to ensure itself as high a seed as it can get.

American Stays In The Hunt With Two Wins

American (14-12 overall, 8-4 PL) won its two games last weekend to stay one game back of the Leopards and the Bison, getting two critical wins to keep their chances of a three or even a two-seed still slimly alive.

The Eagles clinched at least a fourth-place finish in the Patriot League and gave coach Jeff Jones his 200th win with the team’s 65-51 win over Holy Cross on Friday night. Both teams played a very even first half, heading into the break tied at 25, but American came out firing in the second half, shooting 46 percent compared to Holy Cross’ 32 percent. Jervavis Draughn scored 10 of his 12 points in the final 20 minutes, while Jason Thomas added half of his twelve in the second half to help the team outscore the Crusaders by 14 in the second half. One area of domination for the Eagle on the evening was in the paint, where they outscored Holy Cross 36-14, thanks to Draughn and Patrick Okpawe, who scored eight points and grabbed five rebounds in just his second career start. The Eagles clinched the game at the free throw line, where American currently ranks sixth in the league, by hitting its final eight free throws in the final 1:27 of the game.

American then hung on to defeat Colgate on Sunday afternoon, 65-62, keeping up with the two teams ahead of them in the standings. The first half saw both teams trying to find a rhythm, with American gaining a small upper hand as they led by two at halftime. American turned it on in the second half, shooting 53 percent from the field and building up a 12-point lead with 9:35 to play. But the Raiders wouldn’t die and American, a team that came into the game sixth in the league shooting 65 percent from the line, won the game from the free throw line. Over the final 6:01, the Eagles hit 13-of-16 free throws, with oft-maligned Andres Rodriguez hitting nine of his 10 attempts. Over this same 6:01, the Eagles only managed to hit one field goal, and yet were able to pull out the victory after Mark Linebaugh’s last-second wide open three-pointer wouldn’t fall for Colgate. Rodriguez led his team with 17 points and seven assists on the afternoon, while Andre Ingram added 15 points and 10 rebounds to help the Eagles find a way to hold on.

American faces off with Army on Thursday night, and with a victory would set up a very important Saturday matchup with Lafayette. The winner of that game could potentially be the second seed in the tournament, while the loser will most likely fall into the fourth slot currently occupied by the Eagles. Both teams will be surely hyped up for that one.

Crusaders Split The Weekend, Stay In Fifth

With another weekend split, Holy Cross (11-14 overall, 5-7 PL) kept itself in line for a fifth place finish in the regular season – a position the Worcester faithful has not been accustomed to lately, but one that the fans will have to take.

Holy Cross was swept by American for the first time ever after the Crusaders’ 65-51 loss in a potential preview of a first-round tournament matchup. The Worcester crew shot just 32 percent on the evening, nine points below its season average, while allowing the Eagles to shoot over 46 percent over game’s last 20 minutes. Kevin Hamilton and Keith Simmons led the team with 14 and 11 points, respectively, but the team’s lack of an inside game hurt them in the second half. Nate Lufkin only scored one basket in 13 minutes thanks to foul trouble, picking up two in the first three minutes of the game and another two in a span of six seconds midway through the second half before eventually fouling out with five minutes left. John Hurley was the high-scorer for Crusader big men with seven points, but that certainly wasn’t enough to win in a game that, if won, would have given the Crusaders a chance at the fourth seed in the upcoming Patriot League tournament.

Coming off the disappointing effort against American, Holy Cross came back to hold a shot-block party on Navy’s home turf. The Crusaders blocked a season-high 11 shots in the team’s 76-47 win over the Midshipmen. The first half was total domination by the visitors, as they allowed just 11 points for the home team, although the Cross shot just 37 percent itself. With a 33-11 lead at the half, Holy Cross was able to cruise through the second half without incident, helped of course by 52 percent shooting to put away any hope of a Navy comeback. Hamilton, Simmons and Jave Meade all scored a lucky 13 points for the Crusaders, with all three hitting four field goals (2 threes apiece) and three free throws, providing a balanced attack for head coach Ralph Willard. On the defensive end, five Crusaders recorded at least one block, with Lufkin and Kevin Hyland each swatting away three Midshipman attempts. Hamilton, in addition to his 13 points, added two blocks, three assists and six steals in an excellent all-around effort.

Currently one game up on Colgate for the fifth spot in the league tournament, Holy Cross has a very tough weekend of basketball yet to play, as they welcome Bucknell and Lehigh to the Hart Center. Luckily for the Crusaders, Colgate, as Holy Cross’ “travel partner,” will face off with the same two teams. If both teams lose their remaining two games, the fifth spot will go to Holy Cross, but a win or two would give the team some much needed momentum headed into tourney time.

A Step Forward, A Step Back For Colgate

Colgate (12-13 overall, 4-8 PL) split its two road games this weekend against Navy and American – a huge accomplishment for this team – yet still finds itself one game behind Holy Cross for fifth place in the standings as the games wind down.

If you had 51 in the “Days Until Colgate Won Its First Road Game of 2004” Pool, come forth to collect your prize. It took a while, but the Raiders finally won a game away from Cotterell Court, barely holding on to take a 60-59 decision against winless Navy. The Raiders came out strong in this one, hitting six of their first seven shots in jumping out to a early 13-3 lead, while holding Navy to 29 percent shooting en route to a 31-18 halftime advantage. The lead was still in double figures with 10 minutes remaining, but the Midshipmen were able to tie the game at 47 with under five minutes left. Colgate was able to step up the defensive pressure, while hitting seven of 11 free throws in the game’s final 3:36 on the offensive end to secure the win. Mark Linebaugh (11 points) and Kendall Chones (10) reached double figures for the ninth and eighth consecutive games, respectively, in the win.

The Raiders almost pulled into fifth place by themselves on Sunday, as the team was a last-second Linebaugh three-pointer from sending their game against American into overtime. Colgate was never able to get anything going in this one, as the squad never found its shooting touch. The team shot just 34 percent from the floor, including 28 percent in the first half, in a game that could have changed on one or two more made baskets. Andrew Zidar led the Raiders with 16 points and nine boards while Linebaugh added 11 points, but the most important three of the game wouldn’t fall for the senior, who last season defeated American on a last-second half-court prayer at Cotterell Court. The Raiders actually held a 10-rebound edge on the Eagles, a rarity for Colgate this season, which accounted for the team outpacing the hosts 22-4 in second chance points. Controlling the boards, however, was not enough, as too many shots didn’t fall for Colgate on this day.

The Raiders have a very difficult final weekend ahead of them, as they host first-place Lehigh and second-place Bucknell. The only good news for Colgate is that Holy Cross, the only team Colgate is able to catch, has the same pair of teams. Colgate may have to look for an improbable sweep if it wants to lock up the fifth position for the tournament, but two losses simply would not do.

Another Near-Record Setting Performance For Army

After two losses to Lehigh and Bucknell, I am starting to wonder more and more how Army (6-18 overall, 3-9 PL) was able to sweep the season series with Colgate this year.

Coming off the team’s win against Colgate last week, the Black Knights settled into their more familiar role, falling first to Lehigh on Friday night. Army certainly made the game a lot closer than it should have been, hanging with the Mountain Hawks all evening long and holding the lead as late as the 11:46 mark of the second half. The efforts of Josh Wilson and friends, however, simply were not enough. Wilson led the team with 19 points and five rebounds, and aided by Sean O’Keefe and Marshall Jackson, the visitors were able to put a scare into the second-place Mountain Hawks. The team did manage a very respectable 45 percent from the field, eight points above its league-low average, but the defense was unable to contain the Mountain Hawks, who stood right about at their season average of 69 points per game.

If Army played an entire season of games against Bucknell, this team would go down in history as the worst team to ever step onto a basketball court. Coming off a 56-23 last meeting, Army did little better in the scoring department and a lot worse on the offensive end, losing by 50 points to the Bison, 75-25. The Black Knight statistics for this one aren’t very pretty. 18 percent shooting from the field, 10 percent shooting from three-point range and 41 percent shooting from the line adequately describe the Army futility. The team managed just three field goals in the first half, a half in which it scored NINE points. The team exploded in the second half, however, putting a whopping 14 points on the board. The lead grew to as much as 56 late in the second half, before two goal-tended three-pointers brought the final deficit down to half-a-hundred.

Army will try again to stay out of the record books again this weekend, as it wraps up its regular season against American and Navy. The team’s game against Navy, being broadcast nationally by CBS, should come with a parental advisory warning, so that kids don’t emulate what they may see in a game that is being played solely for pride.

The Losses Keep Coming for The Naval Academy

They try and they try and they try, and yet the Midshipmen (3-22 overall, 0-12 PL) still can’t find a way to win a league game. The squad came close against Colgate, not so close against Holy Cross, and thus has one more weekend to give retiring head coach Don DeVoe a nice parting gift.

Against Colgate, a terrible first half was just enough to keep the Midshipmen from making a big second half comeback. A 29 percent shooting first half put the Navy team in a huge hole from which it could never fully get out of, despite a second half in which the Middies outscored the visiting Raiders by 12 points. Carlton Baldwin was the offensive star of the game for Navy, scoring 28 of the team’s 59 points, 12 of which came from the free throw line. Center Matt Fannin and forward Leonard Green also led an impressive Navy inside game, with Fannin scoring 11 points and adding 10 points and 10 boards. The loss was the second straight for Don DeVoe’s squad by two points or less, coming off the team’s two-point loss to Bucknell last week.

Senior Day didn’t go as planned for the three seniors on the Navy squad against Holy Cross, as the trio combined for just two points in their final home game. Navy came out a little flat in the first half, scoring 11 points in the first 20 minutes. (Sidenote: earlier this season, Lafayette scored 21 points in a five-minute overtime session; on Sunday, Army and Navy combined to score 20 points in 40 minutes of first-half play) Many of the team’s 68 shots just wouldn’t fall, however, as they team managed to hit just 28 percent of its attempts. Kwame Ofori was the lone Midshipmen senior to register a point in his final home game, scoring one basket.

Navy plays out the rest of the regular season with visits to American and Army. While neither of the games means anything in terms of the standings for the Middies, pride will certainly be on the line, especially in the team’s nationally-televised game against the rival Black Knights. And it would be nice to give the departing coach DeVoe something to smile at.

     

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