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Touring the Northeast

March 2, 2004 Columns No Comments


Touring Around the Northeast

by Phil Kasiecki

Eagles Come Out Slow, Finish Strong

Boston College didn’t exactly carry the momentum from last Sunday’s second half against Rutgers into the first half of Wednesday’s game against Virginia Tech. The Eagles committed 12 turnovers, which the Hokies turned into 15 points, and had their offense consistently disrupted by the stingy perimeter defenders, struggling to 20 points in the half and a five-point halftime deficit.

“Obviously, when we started the game, we didn’t give Virginia Tech the respect they really deserve,” head coach Al Skinner said after the game. “I just don’t think we came into the game with the proper attitude, and it showed in the first half – the way we handled the ball, the way we defended.”

In the second half, the Eagles showed that they can play defense as well, holding the Hokies scoreless for more than 10 minutes during a 17-0 run as they came back to earn a 56-48 victory. The Eagles also took much better care of the ball, turning it over just three times, and they shot nearly 62% from the floor in the second half.

The Eagles got a balanced attack once again. Jared Dudley led in the scoring column with 14 points on 7-11 shooting, while Louis Hinnant made all four of his three-point attempts in the second half en route to 12 points and 6 assists. It all offset a terrific game for Big East leading scorer Bryant Matthews, who had 21 points (9-12 shooting) and 8 rebounds, and almost gave them new life when a late three-pointer put the Hokies within four before missing the free throw after the foul.

The Hokies not only applied the defensive pressure, but also did a good job of slowing down the game. Eventually, that caught up to them in the second half when they had shot clock violations on consecutive possessions, which was just when the Eagles really started to turn up the defense.

After the game, Skinner talked a lot about how the team approached this game.

“We can either come out and play, or we can go out and embarrass ourselves,” Skinner said. “That’s a choice that we can make.

“No one in this league is going to walk into the building and just hand you a win. It’s just not happening that way – there’s too many good players that have too much pride and they’ve worked too hard just to accept that.”

Skinner got the players to understand what they had to do while they were in the locker room at the half.

“That’s the nice thing about halftime – you have the chance to correct some things,” Skinner said.

Craig Smith, who remains banged up all over (he had his right thumb being iced down after the game), wonders why they’re still considered to be on the bubble at 19-8 and with their RPI in the 20s. He thinks the team will do what they need to in order to secure a bid nonetheless.

“We’ll probably still be on the bubble if we beat St. John’s,” Smith said. “Why are we still on the bubble? It’s just kind of crazy.”

The Eagles next host St. John’s on Senior Night before heading to Providence for the final game of the regular season. Senior Uka Agbai will be honored before the St. John’s game, which Skinner hopes they will approach better than this one in light of the first half on Wednesday, as well as their first game against St. John’s this season.

“I’d like to think so,” Skinner said about being better-prepared. “We’ll find out next Wednesday.”

Laksa Bolts Before Friars Win Two More

The biggest news in Providence last week was the sudden departure of senior forward Maris Laksa, who left to take an offer to play professionally in Europe, but the Friars made everything on the court look like business as usual. They won two more games to set up a showdown for the top of the Big East.

Tuesday night, the Friars won at Notre Dame to all but eliminate the Fighting Irish’s chances of snagging an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Friars shut down Notre Dame’s inconsistent offense, holding them to 31.5% shooting and breaking the game open in the second half. The 2-3 zone was in full effect, and Ryan Gomes continued his campaign for Big East Player of the Year with 25 points and 12 rebounds.

On Sunday, the Friars jumped out early against the depleted St. John’s team, scoring a Big East record 62 points in the first half en route to a 103-78 blowout of the Red Storm in New York. Gomes had 19 points and 11 rebounds to lead the way, and he earned Big East Player of the Week for the fourth time this season. Rob Sanders continued to get back in the flow, scoring 15 points and handing out 6 assists.

Tuesday night’s home game against Pittsburgh will be for the Big East regular season title and the top seed in the tournament. A Friar win would clinch the title, although they would still need to win Saturday’s game against Boston College to secure the title outright. They have two tough games left, but both will be at a packed Dunkin’ Donuts Center, giving the Friars plenty of support.

Rams Almost Did It, Conference Tournament Looms

Rhode Island nearly knocked off St. Joseph’s in a terrific game on Saturday, three days after they burst the bubble of Richmond in an exciting 56-54 home win.

On Wednesday, the Rams never trailed, but needed a runner by Dawan Robinson with 1.3 seconds left to get the win. As they have done much of the year, they beat up the Spiders on the glass, this time by a 45-28 margin in a game where both teams shot around 36% from the field.

Saturday, the Rams gave it all they had before the Hawks came out on top. The Rams played great defense against a team that shoots the ball well, and dominated the glass as expected. Both gave the team a chance to win, but they came up just short.

Head coach Jim Baron was happy with the team’s effort, and wants to look ahead from what happened in the game.

“I’m looking forward to watching the film, so I can continue to teach my guys on boxing out,” Baron said. “I want to see where the physical fouls were called so that we can get better.

“We played our hearts out. Our bench had some good energy, and we did a great job of rebounding the basketball.”

The Rams close out their season at Dayton, before then going back there for the Atlantic 10 Tournament. They have picked it up at the right time, giving them a little momentum heading into the tournament. With 17 wins, they should be a lock for the NIT should they not win the Atlantic 10 Tournament.

“We have 17 wins, and we just have to continue to get better,” Baron said. “I know a lot of teams in our league would love to be where we’re at, but we’re continuing to work to get better.”

Terriers Finish Off Regular Season Title

Boston University just kept winning in the last week of the regular season, finishing an impressive 23-1 run after losing the first three games of the season. They finish the regular season with a 17-1 mark in conference play, winning the title outright.

Thursday night, sophomore Shaun Wynn came to the forefront after being an X-factor much of the season behind players like seniors Matt Turner and Ryan Butt and juniors Rashad Bell and Chaz Carr. Wynn had a career-high 22 points on 7-11 shooting, with his primary help coming from Turner, who added 15. Once again, a big second half won the game, as the Terriers shot nearly 52% from the field in the second half to pull away from visiting Stony Brook, 75-64. The Terriers also held Stony Brook star D.J. Munir to just 8 points on 4-9 shooting.

Sunday afternoon, the Terriers traveled to Binghamton and got 22 points and 10 rebounds from Bell in a 69-53 win over the Bearcats. In this game, the Terriers started to take control late in the first half, as they used a late 14-2 run to take a 37-26 halftime lead. The Terriers would then open the lead up near the latter part of the second half, leading by as many as 19 points.

The Terriers will be the top seed in next weekend’s America East Conference Tournament, and on Saturday afternoon will play the winner of the Stony Brook-UMBC matchup on Friday night in the play-in round.

Huskies Enter Conference Tournament With Momentum

Northeastern clinched third place in America East and gathered some momentum for the conference tournament with two wins last week, including a big home win over Maine on Thursday night. On Sunday, the Huskies scored an 80-62 road win at Albany.

Thursday night’s tilt with Maine was a back-and-forth game in front of a good crowd, and they got their money’s worth. The teams traded several runs throughout the game, with 10 lead changes along the way.

“Tonight, it’s a great feeling to walk in and say, ‘Man, this was a great college basketball game’,” head coach Ron Everhart said. “Both teams played their hearts out and we came out on top. I thought effort-wise, our guys were tremendous, and their guys were tremendous – it was a great game.”

Maine head coach John Giannini agreed, saying that “if I was a spectator I would have really enjoyed it.”

Maine shot 53.6% in the first half, but the Huskies scored 17 points off 10 Black Bear turnovers and the teams were tied at 50 at the break. In the second half, the Huskies made Maine work more at the offensive end, but the Black Bears came through for a 9-0 run to take a 76-72 lead with under 8 minutes to play. Shortly thereafter, the Huskies ran off nine unanswered points to take the lead for good en route to the 99-89 win. The run was the stretch that Giannini thought was the deciding factor.

“The game was lost when we were up four, Barea three, three turnovers, three layups – 9-0 run, down five, that was the stretch,” he said after the game.

With 2:42 left, Husky freshman Bennet Davis (17 points, 7 rebounds) and Black Bear junior Mark Flavin (21 points on 8-11 shooting, 8 rebounds) got into a scuffle. Flavin hit the floor, apparently from contact by Davis, and he got up looking determined. He then head-butted Davis from behind, earning him his fourth personal foul before the scuffle that ensued got him his fifth foul from a technical foul (Davis was also called for a technical).

Jose Juan Barea led the Huskies with 32 points and 5 assists, but the story of the night might have been one of the seniors honored that evening, Sylbrin Robinson. Robinson had been sick with an ulcer near his colon and an intestinal infection, and was dehydrated for days leading up to the game. He spent three days in the hospital, checked out the night before the game, but came out to score 17 points and grab 9 rebounds. Not a bad night at the office for a guy who was tested for almost everything under the sun and was unable to practice all week.

“He was phenomenal,” Everhart said of his senior. “But he’s a senior and a warrior, and he really came to play.”

Robinson, whom Everhart visited at the hospital every day, knew he had to be there, and wasn’t going to be denied. He was still sick after the game, saying he might have been about 60-65% for the game.

“Should I have played, probably not,” he said after the game. “But the thing was that I knew they needed me in some type of form.”

On Sunday, Barea scored 25 points to reach 1,000 career points faster than all but two Huskies. He did it in his 53rd game, while Reggie Lewis needed 51 and Pete Harris needed 52.

The Huskies will take on Hartford on Saturday in the quarterfinals of the America East Tournament.

Holy Cross Enters Patriot League Tournament Ready to Win

Holy Cross struggled for a lot of the season, having to make up for the loss of three key seniors and playing with just one senior. But that one senior is closing a special career, and Jave Meade and the Crusaders won both games this weekend against the Patriot League’s top two teams to carry some good momentum into the Patriot League Tournament.

Friday night, the Crusaders knocked off Bucknell 72-61, taking control after the Bison got off to a quick start. The Bison started off with a 12-4 lead, but the Crusaders took the lead for good with 15 unanswered points, getting a big boost off the bench from freshmen guards Keith Simmons and Torey Thomas (12 points apiece). Simmons scored eight of his points in that decisive run. The Crusaders also got a good effort from Nate Lufkin, who led with 14 points, and Meade scored 13 points and handed out 5 assists, becoming the first Patriot League player to score 1,000 points and hand out more than 500 assists.

Head coach Ralph Willard was pleased with the effort of the freshmen, as well as pulling away after Bucknell got within five points late.

“I thought the other guys, especially the freshmen, all stepped up tonight,” he said after the game. “It was an important way for us to win this game. We have to win some close games – we’ve lost 10 games by 6 points or less.”

Sunday, Meade was honored as the team’s lone senior, and got a little emotional during the ceremony. After that, he went out and did what he’s done for four years – play solid basketball at both ends of the floor to lead the Crusaders to a 72-57 win over regular season co-champion Lehigh. As they did Friday night, the Crusaders took control early, taking the lead for good with 9 unanswered points for a 22-13 lead, and leading by as many as 24 on three separate occasions.

Lufkin played another solid game with 15 points, while the guards again led the way. Kevin Hamilton had 17 points and 6 assists to lead the way, Simmons had 13, and Meade closed out his career at the Hart Center with 13 points and 7 assists.

The Crusaders are peaking at the right time, gathering good momentum from beating two teams at the top of the Patriot League to close out the regular season.

“We’re the champs, the trophy comes through us,” Meade said. “Until they knock off the kings for three years, it’s ours. We’re starting to grow now, and it’s happening at the right time.”

Meade, like Willard, feels like not just winning the last two games, but doing so against the top two teams.

“It almost feels like it’s last year’s team, with the confidence we’re walking around with now,” Meade said. “Last year, we went into games knowing that we were going to win.”

“We’re playing our best basketball right now; we’re 5-2 the second time through, and that’s what we set out to do as we approached the second half of the season,” Willard said. “I think we’re starting to gain our confidence.”

The Crusaders open up against Bucknell in the first round, as the Bison fell to fourth place. Willard feels his team will be up to the challenge they face.

“It’s going to be a challenge for us,” he said. “We’re probably the least physical team in the Patriot League, so we’ll have to be ready for the physicality of the game.”

Brown Keeps Pace In Ivy, Harvard Keeps Growing

With two more wins to close out the home slate, Brown stayed close to Princeton in atop the Ivy League. The Bears easily blew past Dartmouth on Friday night, 77-54, then blew out Harvard on Senior Night, 100-83.

Against Dartmouth, Patrick Powers (25 points) and Jason Forte led the way. Forte posted the first triple-double at Brown in 16 years, scoring 11 points, hauling down 12 rebounds and handing out 10 assists.

Saturday night, the Bears wasted no time putting points on the board, scoring 35 points in the first 8:31 and making 15 of their first 17 shots in the blowout of Harvard. They scored 23 fast break points, and shot just under 70% in the first half. Harvard shot 50% in the half, but 11 turnovers that turned into 18 Brown points made the difference as the Bears led 57-37 at the half.

The Bears remain in contention in the Ivy League at 9-3 (13-12 overall), but they are a game and a half behind with two left to play. Nonetheless, the Bears have done well considering the personnel losses from last season, and it’s been a good growing year for head coach Glen Miller. Miller should be the Ivy League Coach of the Year for his efforts with this team, but he’s quick to credit his seniors for what they’ve done on a night that they were honored for their efforts.

“We had good players coming back – I don’t think people realized that – so what they’ve done hasn’t surprised me,” Miller said of this team’s season. “While Earl Hunt was scoring his points, Pat Powers, Mike Martin and Jamie Kilburn had confidence in themselves and knew that as seniors they would get more shots to come through and produce, and they’ve certainly done that.

“The three seniors have meant so much to our program and this is a big night for them. They put in 4 years of very hard work and commitment and dedication to our program.”

Harvard, meanwhile, continued to grow, even as the wins haven’t been coming frequently. Head coach Frank Sullivan feels that players are finding their identities for next season, and they can finish this season and head into next year knowing that players like Kevin Rogus (28 points Saturday) and Matt Stehle (22 points on 9-11 shooting, 9 rebounds and 4 blocks) will spearhead the offense, while Stehle will continue to grow into a presence at the defensive end.

Another player who showed more promise as the season went along is freshman guard Jim Goffredo, who scored 15 points on Saturday. He has had a rough go of it this year, but Sullivan feels that he is making progress.

“He’s had a real rough season,” Sullivan said, noting also that he was coming off of knee surgery. “His initiation into college basketball has been rougher than we expected.”

The Bears finish their season with a road trip to Columbia and Cornell, while Harvard hosts league-leading Princeton and Pennsylvania to close out their slate.

Other Notes From Around the Nation

• Don’t be surprised if Robert Whaley, who left Cincinnati last week, declares for the NBA Draft. He considered doing so last year before opting to play at Cincinnati.

• For all the parity in college basketball, we’ve seen a few conferences have their champions finish undefeated in conference play. Austin Peay recorded the first 16-0 season in the history of the Ohio Valley Conference, including a sweep of 25-5 Murray State; and Gonzaga went undefeated in the West Coast Conference for the first time. Of course, Stanford and St. Joseph’s have not lost at all this season.

• Best wishes go out to two coaches: Marquette assistant Trey Schwab, whose battle wages on after he recently suffered a massive blood clot to the lungs on Monday; and Bucknell head coach Pat Flannery, who should be back with the team for the Patriot League Tournament this weekend after having a procedure done last Thursday and staying home while the Bison traveled to Holy Cross and Colgate. Get well soon, Trey and Pat.

     

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