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Patriot League Notebook

March 2, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments



Patriot League Notebook

by Steve Sheridan

Pre-March Madness In The Patriot League

It is fitting that the last weekend of the regular season was the craziest one of them all in the Patriot League. Four teams won both of their games this weekend, yet three of those teams are in the bottom half of the Patriot League standings. The top three teams headed into the weekend, Lehigh, Bucknell and Lafayette, combined to win zero games as the have-nots showed to everyone that the Patriot League tournament is certainly anyone’s game.

Flannery Not Traveling With Bison

Bucknell head coach Pat Flannery, who left the team’s game with Navy two weekends ago at halftime after feeling under the weather, did not travel with his team this past weekend to Holy Cross and Colgate. Flannery underwent cardiac testing on Thursday and after consulting with doctors, a return date for the coach will be determined. Assistant coach Nathan Davis, in his first year of coaching for the Bison, took over the head coaching reigns this weekend for the Bison. Hopefully Coach Flannery will be able to recover quickly and return to the bench for the team’s first-round tournament game on Saturday.

Player of the Week

Laramie Mergerson, Navy; The junior forward becomes the first Midshipman to win the award since 2002 after leading the team to its first two Patriot League wins of the season. Mergerson was huge against Lafayette, scoring a career-high 19 points, and followed that up with a 10-point, 11-rebound effort against arch-rival Army.

Rookie of the Week

Keith Simmons, Holy Cross; Simmons finally earns his first Rookie of the Week award after averaging 12.5 points and 5.5 rebounds coming off the bench in two huge Crusader victories over Bucknell and Lehigh over the weekend.

Lehigh Clinches First Place Despite Two Losses

In the team’s first game as the newly crowned top team in the Patriot League, the Mountain Hawks (17-10 overall, 10-4 PL) traveled to Hamilton and put together their worst shooting game of the year in a 54-48 loss. Austen Rowland and Jason Mgebroff attempted to carry the team on their shoulders, scoring 21 of the team’s 28 first-half points. Facing an eight-point deficit at halftime, the visitors started the second half on an 11-0 run in the first 5:23 to take a three-point lead. Unfortunately for the Mountain Hawks, the team then went dead cold from the field, hitting only one field goal in the final 14:37 of the game and settling for seven free throws. Despite the good opening 20 minutes, Rowland was held in check by the Raiders, as the league’s leading scorer scored 19 points, with just six coming in the second half as Lehigh attempted its comeback. Lehigh shot only 32 percent from the field for the game, including just 23 percent in the decisive second half, as it continued its streak of futility at Cotterell Court that now stretches back 13 years to the Mountain Hawks’ last win in Hamilton.

Coming off that bad outing, Lehigh moved on to Worcester and once again killed itself with poor shooting. The Mountain Hawks again came out slow in the first half, hitting only eight field goals in the first 20 minutes of the game while turning the ball over nine times in that time frame. Four Mountain Hawks scored in double figures for Lehigh, but the remainder of the team scored only six points as the team was unable to get any offensive rhythm against the stifling Holy Cross defense. The visitors went into the half down eight points after a bad first half and had the deficit rise to as much as 20 points on a few occasions, with 11 points being the closest the Mountain Hawks got in the second half. Lehigh shot only 37 percent for the game, including 29 percent from beyond the arc, in yet another poor shooting performance that must have coach Billy Taylor worried heading into tourney time.

Despite the two losses, the Mountain Hawks amazingly were still able to share the regular season championship and clinch the top seed in the Patriot League tournament thanks to losses by its nearest opponents. Lehigh gets Navy in the first round of the tournament, having swept the Midshipmen in their two meetings this season. But if the team is not able to fix its wayward shooting, Lehigh might be heading home much sooner than they and their fans want.

Eagles Move Up In Standings On Final Weekend

The American Eagles (16-12 overall, 10-4 PL) began their final weekend of regular season action with a narrow 54-48 win over Army. The Eagles started out poorly, hitting one field goal in the game’s first seven minutes and five in the first 20 minutes, including an 0-for-10 effort from three-point range. The team went into the half down only six, however, and came out strong in the second half. An early 9-2 run put the Eagles in front for good and 9-of-10 free throws in the final 56 seconds of the game sealed the victory for American. The squad was led by Andre Ingram, who had 17 points and seven boards, and Matej Cresnik, with 15 points and five rebounds, while Andres Rodriguez added six points, six boards and seven assists.

The Eagles then gathered some more momentum as they head into the playoffs by taking down reeling Lafayette, 90-82 at the Kirby Sports Center. Ingram personally took control of this game for the Eagles, scoring 30 points on 11-of-19 shooting, including 5-of-11 from three-point range. The freshman had help, however, as Raimondas Petrauskas added 16 points, Rodriguez contributed 15 points and 13 assists, and Jernavis Draughn dropped in 11 points, with all three also taking down six boards each. The Eagles reeled off a 14-0 run midway through the first half to take a 12-point advantage and didn’t let the home team get within four points the rest of the way. American shot 53 percent from the floor to aid its cause, but more important, once again, was the team’s excellent free throw shooting down the stretch. The Eagles hit 16-of-18 free throws in the final 1:51 of the game to shut down any hopes of a Leopard comeback.

Thanks to the team’s two big wins, American vaulted all the way into a first-place tie in the league standings with Lehigh, taking the second seed after losing the tiebreaker with Lehigh. Instead of a presumed matchup with Holy Cross and Colgate, the Eagles now have a first round game with hapless Army. The Eagles have now won four in a row heading into the playoffs, and may be finally are hitting their stride at the exact right time.

Lafayette Stumbling Into The Playoffs

After being the front-runner for a large part of the season, the Lafayette Leopards (18-9 overall, 9-5 PL) have hit a major skid of late, having now lost four in a row and five of its last seven to end the regular season. That skid began against the most unlikely of teams, previously winless Navy. The Leopards, as occurred in the two teams’ first meeting of the season, scored only 22 points in the first half, but in this game Navy never relinquished its halftime lead. Lafayette got the lead down to one on two occasions in the second half, but missed opportunities prevented the team from overtaking the pesky Midshipmen. Winston Davis led the Leopard charge with 20 points, but it was the terrible night of Justin DeBerry that was the most obvious statistic. The league’s third-leading scorer hit only 1-of-13 shots for just two points, the star guard’s worst output of the season.

Lafayette then sent the home crowd home unhappy on Senior Day in Easton, falling to American in what was a battle for third place. Four senior starters scored in double figures for the home team on the afternoon, but the team was unable to overcome a seven-minute drought in the first half in which the team didn’t register a point, allowing American to build up a 12-point halftime edge. The Leopards shot a respectable 48 percent from the field, but was unable to stop the Eagles from shooting at an even higher clip. DeBerry bounced back from his bad outing with 17 points and seven assists, while Davis also added 17 to lead five Leopards in double figures, but the team was unable to outscore its high-flying opponents.

Despite its two losses, the Leopards managed to stay in third place in the league’s final standings, thanks to two losses by Bucknell. In the first round, Lafayette draws Colgate, a team that defeated the Leopards just a few weeks ago for the team’s first league loss of the year. Once again, however, the team is going to have to play much better to avoid a first round upset.

Bison Suddenly Struggling, Too

Bucknell (13-14 overall, 9-5 PL) had its seven-game winning streak snapped in Worcester on Friday night, falling 72-61 to the Crusaders. The Bison were behind for the majority of the game, as the team shot only 39 percent in the first 20 minutes of play. The visitors battled back from a 17-point halftime deficit to get the lead down to just three with four minutes remaining, but the Bison were only able to hit one field goal the rest of the way, allowing the Crusaders to walk away with the win. Kevin Bettencourt led the Bison with 21 points, but the team was done in by its poor three-point shooting. The team hit only three of 22 three-pointers in the game, showing why the team ranks last in the league in that category. Another area of concern for the Bison is opponents’ free throw shooting, as they allowed Holy Cross to get to the line 40 times, scoring 24 of the team’s 72 points from the charity stripe. If the Crusaders had shot better than 60 percent, the game would have been much worse for Bucknell.

Against Colgate on Sunday afternoon, the Bison started out well but faltered down the stretch in a 60-57 defeat. Bucknell sprinted out to a 27-18 halftime lead thanks to 50 percent shooting and keeping the Raiders to under 30 percent from the field. The Bison continued the pace for the first 10 minutes of the second half, holding a 10-point lead at the midway point of the final stanza. But upon taking that lead, Bucknell hit only two field goals the rest of the way, with one coming on Chris McNaughton’s lay-up as time expired. Seven free throws in the final 8:58 were certainly not enough to keep down the Colgate team, as Bucknell’s defense wilted in the second half. For a second straight game, the Bison shot terribly from beyond the arc, this time not hitting even one of its 14 three-point attempts. McNaughton led the visitors with 19 points on 9-of-13 shooting, but no other Bison player was able to reach double figures as Bucknell dropped its second straight game.

Bucknell was the one team that lost the most this weekend, as its two losses dropped the team from second place down to fourth place, as it lost the tiebreaker with Lafayette for the third spot. The Bison will now get Holy Cross, the team they just lost to on Friday, in the first round of the Patriot League tournament. And with Coach Pat Flannery’s condition still unknown, it will be interesting to see if Bucknell can rally around its coach and get back into the win column at the right time.

Crusaders Win Twice To Seal Up Fifth Position

Holy Cross (13-14 overall, 7-7 PL) was able to defeat that Bucknell team on Friday afternoon in an affair where the home team built up a huge lead early and never looked back. After Bucknell jumped out to a 12-4 lead, Holy Cross responded with a 15-0 run, led by Keith Simmons’ eight points, to take back the lead for good. After Bucknell was able to get the lead back down to one point, the Crusaders went on another run, this one a killer 17-3 sprint that gave the team a 15-point halftime edge. The second half was more of the same, as Bucknell again chipped away at the lead but was unable to get past the Cross, thanks in large part to the 33-18 point edge held by the home team’s reserves over their Bison counterparts. The starting five were led by senior point guard Jave Meade, who became the 40th player in Holy Cross history to score 1,000 points with 13 points on the evening. Meade also became the first player in Patriot League history to record 1,000 points and 500 assists over a career.

Then on Sunday afternoon, knowing that the team would need a win against Lehigh to keep control of the fifth seed, the Crusaders impressed the home fans with a 72-57 win against the Mountain Hawks. Holy Cross built up a nine-point halftime led thanks to some tough defense that kept the potent Lehigh offense in check while the team struggled itself from the field, but the Crusaders caught fire in the second half to put away the Mountain Hawks. The home team shot 57 percent from the field and 60 percent from beyond the arc in the final 20 minutes, not allowing the Lehigh squad to get back into the game. Kevin Hamilton had a big game for the Crusaders, scoring 17 points while adding six assists and five boards. Meade and Simmons both added 13 points for Ralph Willard’s club, which seems to be heating up just in time for the league tournament.

As mentioned above, Holy Cross kept its fifth position secure and will have a first round date with the Bucknell Bison, a team that split with the Crusaders this season. Despite going on the road to Lewisburg, Holy Cross seems to have all the momentum and will give Bucknell all they can handle. And just remember: they’ve won this thing three years in a row, so they can never be discounted.

Colgate Finally Rights The Ship In Time For Postseason

It took most of the regular season, but the Colgate Raiders (14-13 overall, 6-8 PL) finally look like the team picked third in the Patriot League pre-season poll after two weekend wins, starting Friday night against Lehigh. For the second time this season, the top team in the league came to Cotterell Court and left with a loss, with forward Andrew Zidar leading the way with 13 points and 10 boards. The Raiders were able to contain the high-powered tandem of Austen Rowland and Jason Mgebroff in the second half after the duo single-handedly kept their team in the game for the first 20 minutes, allowing Lehigh only six field goals in the second half. Even more amazing for Colgate, however, was that it shot a mere 17 percent (4-for-23) in the second half , including no field goals for the first 9:23 of the half, yet still came away with a win. In another very good sign for Colgate, Howard Blue scored 11 points and grabbed eight rebounds in by far his best game since coming back from a knee injury.

Colgate came back on Sunday, however, and executed a big second half comeback to take down the Bison. For only the fourth time in 15 chances this season, Colgate was able to overcome a halftime deficit by using its favorite weapon, the three-ball. The home team overcame a nine-point halftime deficit thanks to five different Raiders hitting three-pointers in the second half, including three in a huge 20-2 run that turned a 10-point Bucknell lead into a eight-point lead with 2:37 left. The Raiders hit just one field goal after than point, but the team had built up enough of a lead to overcome a last-minute Bison comeback. Mark Linebaugh led Colgate with 15 points while Blue had another solid game for the Raiders, scoring 10 points and taking down five boards in his first start since coming back from injury.

After playing its two best games of the season in its last two games of the regular season, Colgate drew Lafayette in its first round contest. The two teams each defended its home floor during the regular season and Colgate hasn’t fared well on the road this season, but with Blue back to form and the Raiders finally starting to play well as a team, this game is certainly up for grabs.

Army Continues Their Losing Ways

On Thursday evening, the Black Knights (6-20 overall, 3-11 PL) had their chances but in the end fell to the American Eagles, 54-48. Sean O’Keefe and Josh Wilson combined for 29 points for the home team, but the rest of the Army squad contributed only 19 points as the Black Knights continued their poor shooting. The team shot only 31 percent for the game, yet held a six-point halftime lead after holding American to just 16 points. The second half was a different story, however, as American caught fire and held off the Black Knights. O’Keefe scored Army’s last nine points on three-pointers, but American hit too many free throws down the stretch to keep the home team from grinding out a win.

In the annual “Star Game,” Army led for much of the game’s first 36 minutes, but was unable to hold the lead when the game was on the line, allowing Navy to slip away with a 43-37 victory. Wilson led the team with 15 points, but no other Black Knight scored more than five points as the team hit just four field goals in the second half on the way to 17 percent second half shooting. The Black Knights did a good job of keeping the Midshipmen in check in the first half and much of the second half, but the home team hit only one field goal in the final 4:23 while repeatedly sending the visitors to the free throw line, where it won the game. The Christl Arena record 5,125 spectators, along with the national TV audience on CBS, saw the two teams combine to shoot 27 percent for the game.

The losers of four straight games, Army will face off with second-seeded American in the first round of the tournament, who has won four straight games of their own. The Black Knights, as usual, will have to up their shooting performance if they are to get out of the first round with what would be considered a huge upset.

Navy Wins…Twice!!!

The Midshipmen (5-22 overall, 2-12 PL) won not once but twice in the final weekend of the regular season, giving Don DeVoe some happiness headed into the final games of his coaching career, starting off with a shocking first win of the league season against Lafayette. Navy used a similar strategy in the first half as they used in the team’s last meeting, slowing down the tempo and allowing the Middies to escape the first half with a six-point lead. In becoming the first team to defeat the Leopards at home this season, Navy used a different approach in the second half, keeping up with the high-powered Leopard offense enough to hold onto its lead. The Middies did so by hitting 10-of-12 free throws in the game’s final 49 seconds, seven of those coming from Mike Higgins, who scored 15 points and grabbed eight rebounds. Laramie Mergerson scored a career-high 19 points and took in a career-best six boards for the Middies, whose win was even more surprising because the team was without leading scorer and rebounder Carlton Baldwin and Leonard Green.

The team then went on national television and found a way to comeback and defeat Army on Sunday afternoon, giving the team some momentum headed into the league tournament. Mergerson played well once again for the Middies, notching 10 points and 11 rebounds, while David Hooper came up big with 11 points for the visitors, who came back in the second half to claim the N-Star for the second straight year and the eleventh time in the last 12 years. In the first half, Navy hit one field goal over the final 14 minutes, but managed to head into the half down just five points, allowing the team to hit nine free throws down the stretch to steal away a victory. With the win, DeVoe finishes his career against Army with a record of 26-3.

As they have known for quite a while, Navy will face off with the top seed in the Patriot League tournament, Lehigh. In the team’s two games this season, the Mountain Hawks outscored the Midshipmen by an average of 23 points, but don’t underestimate the passion of playing to keep a coach’s career going.

     

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