ACC Notebook

by - Published March 3, 2005 in Conference Notes



Atlantic Coast Conference Notebook

by Michael Protos

Dissecting Yellow Jackets

After a run to the Final Four in last season’s NCAA Tournament, Georgia Tech entered this season with hopes of winning a national championship.

But at 16-9 and 7-7 in the ACC, the team’s critics would have fans believe that the Yellow Jackets are one of this season’s biggest busts. Georgia Tech may be in danger of playing its way out of the NCAA Tournament, likely needing at least a split in the last two regular season games against Wake Forest and Clemson to feel more secure about a bid.

Despite the much-discussed struggles, partially attributable to an injury to senior marksman B.J. Elder, Georgia Tech is not in unfamiliar territory. Turn back the calendar exactly one year. Entering March 1, 2004, Georgia Tech was 20-8 and 7-7 in conference play. That’s one less loss than this season. Those four extra victories came in the Preseason NIT, in which the Yellow Jackets upset Connecticut and picked up another good win against Texas Tech. But besides those wins, the rest of the non-conference schedule was unimpressive, including a bad loss at Georgia.

This season, coach Paul Hewitt scheduled a decent but not difficult schedule. The best wins are against Michigan and Air Force. The Wolverines don’t appear frightening today, but in the beginning of the season, Michigan appeared ready to contend for a tournament bid. If not for a spate of injuries and off-court problems, the Wolverines could have been a contender. Georgia Tech’s two non-conference losses are at Kansas and against Gonzaga in Las Vegas – much more understandable than against SEC powderpuff Georgia.

A year ago, Georgia Tech ended a stretch of three losses in four games with a blowout against Clemson. Right now, Georgia Tech is 5-4 in the team’s past nine conference games. Just like last year, the Yellow Jackets are looking to end the season with some semblance of consistency to build momentum for the post-season.

In terms of players, the loss of graduating seniors Marvin Lewis and Clarence Moore may have been more detrimental than anyone could have foreseen. Lewis and Moore gave Hewitt senior leadership and were consistent three-point threats. This year’s Yellow Jackets are unreliable from long range, shooting less than 33 percent from three-point territory. With several freshmen playing significant minutes, Hewitt has a far less experienced squad that commits more than 15 turnovers per game.

One of the most significant factors to watch at the end of the season and in the conference tournament is who steps up as the team’s go-to player in crunch time. The Yellow Jackets have lost four games by four points or less. Georgia Tech’s guards, Elder, Jarrett Jack and Will Bynum will dictate how far this team advances in the post-season. Only Jack has been consistent from three-point range, and Georgia Tech needs Elder or Bynum to play better or else this team will not meet expectations.

But because this team has big-game experience and plays sound defense, Georgia Tech has an opportunity to become one of the most dangerous lower seeds in the tournament. No. 1 and 2 seeds beware.

Quick Hits

  • Duke’s already thin lineup trims down by a guard while junior Sean Dockery recovers from a partially torn MCL. Dockery only averaged 6.5 points per game, but he is a defensive whiz and one of the players coach Mike Krzyzewski uses for significant minutes. Freshman guard DeMarcus Nelson must grow up fast as he plays more minutes during Dockery’s absence. If Duke were to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament with such a shallow lineup, coach K would deserve serious consideration for ACC coach of the year.
  • Meanwhile in Maryland, coach Gary Williams will be posting a job opening for assistant coach soon. Current Terrapin assistant Mike Lonergan will move on to his first Division I head coaching position after this season when he leaves for Vermont. Lonergan succeeds the Catamounts’ beloved Tom Brennan, as the local legend is retiring after 19 seasons at Vermont. Lonergan coached Division III Catholic University to a national championship.
  • North Carolina junior swingman Rashad McCants missed a few games recently with an intestinal disorder. While McCants stocks up on Pepto Bismol, the Tar Heels rack up the wins. North Carolina is on top of the ACC thanks to a five-game winning streak. My money is on McCants returning this weekend when North Carolina hosts Duke.
  • Fans of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge will be pleased to know the conferences and ESPN agreed to continue the early-season match ups though 2010. The only change will be the addition of two games to accommodate all 11 Big Ten teams. One ACC team will sit out the challenge each year after Boston College becomes ACC team No. 12 next season.

Player of the Week

Sharrod Ford, Clemson
Ford had two huge games last week against Maryland and Florida State, averaging 22.5 points and 12 rebounds in the two Tiger victories. He also swatted 11 shots in the two games.

Rookie of the Week

Marvin Williams, North Carolina
Williams contributed 9.5 points and 3.5 rebounds per game in North Carolina’s two wins against North Carolina State and Maryland last week.

ACC Coach Watch

Pete Gillen, Virginia
The Cavaliers are not heading to the NCAA Tournament, which means Gillen is heading out the door. The final games will be interesting because the Cavaliers could easily give up on their coach. But Virginia still could reach the NIT if the team wins at least one of the final two games.

Team Reports

North Carolina Tar Heels (24-3, 12-2)

After two more wins last week against North Carolina State and Maryland, the Tar Heels sit alone atop the ACC standings and can win the regular season title if North Carolina beats Florida State and Duke in the Dean Dome this week. As long as the Tar Heels avoid ugly losses, North Carolina will almost certainly be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The wins last week came without junior guard Rashad McCants, who missed the games with an intestinal disorder.

In McCants’ absence, junior guard Raymond Felton had a sensational game against North Carolina State in the 81-71 win, leading the team with 21 points. Junior forward Sean May had another double-double with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Against Maryland, Felton had another great game with 10 points and 10 assists. He helped push the Tar Heels’ offense up and down the court, often leading to easy baskets against Maryland’s porous defense. May had yet another great game with 22 points and 11 rebounds, and senior forward Jawad Williams added 21 points, including a late three pointer that helped North Carolina survive 85-83.

The Tar Heels host Florida State Thursday as an appetizer for this weekend’s main course, the season-finale against Duke Sunday.

Wake Forest Demon Deacons (24-4, 11-3)

Wake Forest continues to look up at North Carolina in the ACC standings, but the Demon Deacons could easily steal the ACC title if North Carolina falters. Because the Demon Deacons beat North Carolina in the teams’ only meeting, Wake Forest would win the regular season title if the two teams finish tied atop the standings. The best opportunity for a Tar Heel loss is Sunday against arch-nemesis Duke. Wake Forest finishes the season with Georgia Tech and North Carolina State, two teams that desperately need wins to feel comfortable about the NCAA Tournament. The Demon Deacons will need to bring their A game or risk slipping out of the contest for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Last week, Wake Forest took care of business against Longwood and Virginia. The Demon Deacons stomped the overmatched Lancers, a Division I newcomer, 88-47 as four of five starters reached double figures, led by senior guard Taron Downey with 13 points. Four bench players logged at least 16 minutes, led by junior guard Justin Gray, who came off the bench to score eight points in 21 minutes. Against Virginia, Wake Forest blew the game open in the second half en route to a 90-68 win. Gray again came off the bench and led the team with 20 points. Wake Forest shot better than 61 percent from the field against a Virginia team struggling to play defense. The Demon Deacons also wiped up the glass with a 37-20 rebounding advantage, including 13 offensive rebounds.

Wake Forest will finish the regular season with games against Georgia Tech Wednesday and at North Carolina State Sunday.

Duke Blue Devils (21-4, 10-4)

With the absence of junior guard Sean Dockery, Duke cannot afford to get in foul trouble or play a lightning-quick game. The Blue Devils’ two wins last week reflect Duke’s adjustment to life without Dockery. Duke won at Georgia Tech 60-56, the game in which Dockery hurt his MCL. Lee Melchionni and DeMarcus Nelson are the two players who must play big in Dockery’s absence. They stepped up for a combined 12 points and seven rebounds against the Yellow Jackets. Junior guard J.J. Redick continued to torch the nets with 21 points. Against St. John’s, Redick failed to reach 20 points for only the third time in the past 13 games. He scored 13 points, one of only two Blue Devils in double figures in an ugly 58-47 win. Melchionni led all scores with 16 points. Duke’s defense held the Red Storm to 33 percent shooting from the field, and the Blue Devils collected most of those rebounds, winning the battle on the boards 37-26.

Duke faces the tough task of playing Miami on Thursday in Durham, then turning around to visit North Carolina in the regular season finale Sunday. The rematch with the Tar Heels will be a major test for the extra-shallow Duke bench against the 10-man rotation used by North Carolina. If Duke sweeps the Tar Heels, the Blue Devils will re-enter the discussion for teams that could earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Virginia Tech Hokies (14-11, 7-7)

Entering the Hokies’ first trip through the ACC, no one could have expected Virginia Tech would be competing for fourth place at the end of the season. But the Hokies can claim that spot with wins at Clemson and versus Maryland. Virginia Tech lost an opportunity to grab a stranglehold on the position when the Hokies lost at North Carolina State. The Hokies should be worried about their NCAA chances following a 74-54 shellacking in Raleigh. Only sophomore guard Zabian Dowdell reached double figures with a paltry 12 points. As a team, Virginia Tech shot only 38 percent from the field. Turnovers killed the Hokies as they committed 18 mistakes while only forcing nine Wolfpack turnovers.

The Hokies need a better performance Tuesday at Clemson, which is playing its best basketball of the season at the end. A Saturday showdown in Blacksburg against Maryland could be the difference between finishing in fourth or seventh.

Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets (16-9, 7-7)

No one expected the Yellow Jackets to be in the bubble discussion, but Georgia Tech has struggled to win consistently. Georgia Tech has flip-flopped wins and losses for the past nine games. For Georgia Tech to make a deep run, the Yellow Jackets need to achieve consistency. Wins against Wake Forest and Clemson to end the regular season would do wonders for the team’s confidence, not to mention the team’s seeding in the tournament.

Last week, Georgia Tech split games against Duke and Miami, losing to Duke 60-56 in Atlanta but beating the Hurricanes 76-72 in Miami. Offense continues to be a struggle for the Yellow Jackets as only two players reached double figures against the Blue Devils. Junior guard Jarrett Jack led the team in both games, scoring 20 points against Duke and 21 against Miami. But for Georgia Tech to advance far in tournament play, the Yellow Jackets need alternative scorers. Luckily, the team’s defense keeps Georgia Tech in most games. Duke shot less than 34 percent from the floor, and the Hurricanes shot less than 44 percent.

The regular season ends with Wake Forest Wednesday and Clemson Saturday.

Miami Hurricanes (16-10, 7-8)

Throughout Miami’s surprising run this season, the guard tandem of Guillermo Diaz and Robert Hite has been the Hurricanes’ key to success. The two continued to lead Miami last week as the Hurricanes beat Florida State 65-49 and a loss against Georgia Tech 76-72. The loss to the Yellow Jackets hurts Miami’s hopes of earning an at-large bid as the Hurricanes fell below Georgia Tech in ACC standings. The Hurricanes’ best conference win is at home against Maryland. For Miami to seriously contend for an at-large bid, the Hurricanes need to upset Duke at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

In the win at Florida State, Diaz led the Hurricanes with 19 points and Hite added 17. But Miami’s defense was the difference, holding the Seminoles to 28 percent from the field. The defense held up for most of the game against Georgia Tech, but the Yellow Jackets rallied late in the second half to steal a 76-72 win. Diaz scored 24 points and Hite had 20, but they were the only Hurricanes to reach double figures. With more offensive balance, Miami will be able to steal more wins and become more difficult to defend. But at this point in the season, the Hurricanes would be well-advised to stick with what works.

The Hurricanes end the regular season at Duke Thursday. Miami could move up to fourth place depending on the results of other games.

Maryland Terrapins (16-10, 7-8)

The enigma that is Maryland basketball became no clearer last week as the Terrapins dropped games to Clemson and North Carolina, both in College Park, Md. The name of the game for Maryland is sweeps. Of the five teams Maryland has played twice (Duke, North Carolina, Virginia, Clemson and North Carolina State), the Terrapins have either lost or won both games. No splits here. Therefore, based on the trend, Maryland will beat Virginia Tech Saturday to sweep the Hokies and move to 8-8 in conference play. And that could be the magic record for Maryland to make the NCAA Tournament without worrying about ACC tournament performance.

Maryland lost against Clemson and North Carolina because the Terps’ defense allowed both squads to shoot at least 50 percent from the field. It’s hard to win, even at home, when your offense has such a narrow margin of error. Juniors Nik Caner-Medley and Chris McCray have been exceptional in the losses. Caner-Medley scored 23 points against Clemson and 16 against North Carolina, while McCray scored 21 and 25 in the two games, respectively. Maryland grabbed 23 offensive rebounds, but all of the offensive second chances couldn’t help the Terrapins avoid a 97-93 upset. Meanwhile, North Carolina’s Jawad Williams saved the Tar Heels with a three pointer, and Raymond Felton provided the winning deuce on a layup around a great screen by Sean May.

At 7-8, Maryland can ill afford another loss Saturday at Virginia Tech. If the Terrapins do lose, they likely need to win two games in the conference tournament.

North Carolina State Wolfpack (16-11, 6-8)

The Wolfpack are back on the bubble after splitting games at North Carolina and versus Virginia Tech last week. If not for a disastrous four-game losing streak to end non-conference play and start the ACC schedule, the Wolfpack would be on the positive side of the NCAA Tournament bubble, rather on the outside looking in. But the Wolfpack have the slight excuse to hold onto that losses to St. John’s, West Virginia and Miami occurred while North Carolina State was balancing illnesses and injuries to major contributors like junior forward Cameron Bennerman and junior point guard Tony Bethel. If the Wolfpack can sweep through Virginia and Wake Forest and win a game or two in the ACC tournament, North Carolina State could easily sneak into the NCAA Tournament as one of the last bubble teams.

Despite playing the Tar Heels without one of their stars, Rashad McCants, North Carolina State could not muster an upset. Senior guard Julius Hodge had another good performance in a losing effort, scoring 20 points. The Wolfpack’s perimeter-oriented offense produced 12 three pointers, including four from Hodge, but failed to produce second-chance points. North Carolina won the rebounding battle 31-21. The Wolfpack don’t usually win that statistical match up, but it didn’t matter in the team’s 74-54 win against Virginia Tech. Against the surging Hokies, the Wolfpack played suffocating defense, holding Virginia Tech to less than 38 percent shooting from the field. Sophomore guard Engin Atsur led the Pack with 18 points. North Carolina State allowed only one Hokie to reach double figures.

As previously mentioned, North Carolina State closes out the regular season with games at Virginia Wednesday and at home against Wake Forest Sunday.

Virginia Cavaliers (13-12, 4-10)

Nobody except diehard Cavalier fans seriously believed Virginia would win at Wake Forest last week. But coach Pete Gillen needed a better performance than a 90-68 blowout. Gillen’s team has failed to play good defense for most of the year, and the beatdown in Winston-Salem was no different. The Cavaliers allowed Wake Forest to shoot 61 percent from the floor. The lack of defense spoiled a 22-point performance for senior forward Devin Smith, who is ending his career at Virginia with another losing season. Barring a miraculous run through the ACC and NCAA tournaments, Gillen will be joining Smith and the other seniors out the door after the season.

If Virginia wants to remain eligible for NIT consideration, the Cavaliers must finish with an overall record of at least .500. That means Virginia needs to split its final two games against North Carolina State Wednesday and at Florida State Sunday.

Clemson Tigers (14-13, 4-10)

Clemson has resurrected its season with back-to-back wins against Maryland and Florida State. The Tigers swept the season series against both squads, which accounts for all four of Clemson’s conference wins. Senior forward Sharrod Ford has been on a tear with 24 points and 10 rebounds in the 97-93 win at Maryland and 21 points and 14 rebounds in the 83-74 win against Florida State. Clemson has had one of the ACC’s least productive offenses all season, but the Tigers managed to shoot better than 58 percent from the field against the Terrapins and better than 47 percent against the Seminoles.

Young guards Cliff Hammonds and Vernon Hamilton played well in the wins, which bodes well for the future of the Tigers’ program. Ford has been Clemson’s best player this season, and few other Tigers have been consistent until now. If Hammonds and Hamilton can regularly post double figures in scoring, Clemson will have a solid foundation to build upon for next season, despite the graduation of Ford.

The Tigers wrap up the regular season with an opportunity to pass Virginia for ninth place in the ACC. But Clemson likely needs to beat Virginia Tech Tuesday and Georgia Tech Saturday.

Florida State Seminoles (11-17, 3-11)

The Seminoles are in the midst of an eight-game losing streak and earned their position at the bottom of the ACC standings. Last week’s struggles produced losses against Miami and Clemson. Only two Seminoles reached double figures in a 65-49 loss to the Hurricanes. Florida State shot an abysmal 28 percent from the floor. One of the team’s problems was shot selection as the Seminoles hit only 5-of-30 three point attempts. That’s far too many missed shots. Coach Leonard Hamilton needs to find somebody to handle the ball and run the offense as no Seminole had more than two assists.

Offensive inconsistency was less detrimental than rebounding futility against Clemson as the Tigers won the battle on the boards 38-22. Sophomore forward Al Thornton led Florida State with 17 points and four rebounds. But few other Seminoles managed to find the basket consistently. Yet again, assists were few and far between. Freshman guard Isaiah Swann led the team with three assists. The Seminoles are a young bunch and need to end the season with a win to build some confidence for next season.

The Seminoles end the regular season with games at North Carolina Thursday and versus Virginia Sunday. Florida State will definitely play in one of the opening round games in the ACC tournament, likely against the No. 5 team, whomever that may be.

     

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America East Notebook

by - Published March 3, 2005 in Conference Notes



America East Notebook

by Phil Kasiecki

It’s finally settled, and in quite a fashion

Although Vermont clinched the top seed last Monday and the regular season title outright on Thursday, there was plenty of drama on the last day as several seeding battles came right down to the wire.

Northeastern locked up second place with a 70-63 home win over Albany. Later, it was learned that they took second outright as Binghamton picked up a 65-48 home win over Boston University. Binghamton will be fifth seed with the win, as Maine beat Vermont but loses the tiebreaker.

The only things left to be decided were the final three seeds, and two games on the final day decided that. With New Hampshire beating Stony Brook and UMBC beating Hartford, New Hampshire is the eighth seed, UMBC is ninth and Hartford is the tenth seed.

A complete list of the matchups will come with a look ahead to the tournament later this week.

Challenging Season Can Still End Positively for Maine

The first season at the helm has not been an easy one for new Maine head coach Ted Woodward. A team that returned most of the key players from last season, the Black Bears figured to be one of the top challengers to two-time defending champion Vermont. But injuries and other player departures have taken their toll on the team, making it difficult to get into a team rhythm, and hence the Black Bears enter the conference tournament as the fifth seed.

Despite the struggles, the Black Bears remain a dangerous team, especially if guards Chris Markwood and Ernest Turner are more healthy come this weekend. That would give them their floor leader and top scorer, and along with veterans like Kevin Reed, Joe Campbell, Mark Flavin and David Dubois, the Black Bears have a good core capable of making a run in the tournament like they did three years ago.

“We’ve had situations this year where we haven’t had our full roster for quite a while,” said Woodward. “We’re actually starting to get guys back, bit-by-bit.”

Turner, who missed four games with a separated shoulder, looked a little tentative in his first game back on Thursday against Boston University. He didn’t drive as much as he has in other games and played limited minutes. Campbell, who is valuable to the team in so many ways because of his basketball acumen, is the only Black Bear to start every game this season.

Markwood figured to be the incumbent at the point guard position entering the season. He wasn’t known for his ability to play the point, but was certainly capable, and for a while was doing well with it. In early January, he broke his hand, which kept him out for three weeks. He’s still not 100 percent now, but is playing through it.

“I give the kid a ton of credit. The kid has worked so hard to make this a great senior year for himself,” said Woodward. “He wants to make his senior year a great one, and he’s just had some unfortunate circumstances happen to him, but he’s played through it every step of the way.”

Player of the Week

Taylor Coppenrath, Vermont, and Jose Juan Barea, Northeastern
Coppenrath scored 69 points in two games, including 39 points against New Hampshire on Monday and the Catamounts won both games he played in. Barea led the Huskies to two more wins this past week, scoring 50 points and dishing out 17 assists in the two games.

Rookie of the Week

Shawn James, Northeastern, and Brian Hodges, UMBC
Northeastern partially sweeps the awards this week, as James racks up his sixth honor of the season. He had his and the school’s second triple-double ever on Sunday against Albany, scoring 15 points, grabbing 17 rebounds and blocking 11 shots. Hodges led UMBC in scoring in both of their games last week, including 14 points in Sunday’s win over Hartford.

Albany (13-14, 9-9 America East)

The Great Danes finished the season with plenty of splits – splitting games for the final week, as they have the past few weeks, and splitting their conference slate as they take fourth place with a 9-9 mark.

On Wednesday, they shot 51 percent from the field, but it wasn’t enough as host Stony Brook pulled out a 68-63 win. They trailed by as many as 13 points and faced an uphill battle most of the night, getting 21 points from Jamar Wilson.

In Sunday’s 70-63 loss to Northeastern, they never gave up despite falling behind on more than one occasion. After falling behind 12-2 early, they rallied to eventually take the lead late in the half. Then early in the second half, 14 consecutive Northeastern points put the Great Danes behind by 18, but they would steadily cut into the lead and get it into single digits for most of the final three minutes, but they got no closer than five. Lucious Jordan had 13 points to lead Albany.

Binghamton (11-16, 8-10)

The Bearcats came on strong in the final month, going 6-2 and being sparked by a five-game winning streak to start, to finish in fifth place. Last week, they bounced back from a 58-54 loss at Hartford with a strong 65-48 home win over Boston University on Sunday to close out the regular season.

Wednesday’s loss at Hartford involved a seemingly magic formula for the Bearcats to lose – they shot just over 30 percent from the field, marking the 13th time this season they shot below 40 percent, and they fell to 1-12 in those games. They were also outrebounded 41-33. Alex Adediran led the Bearcats with 16 points and Troy Hailey added 15 as he continues to shoot the ball well.

On Sunday, the Bearcats were never seriously challenged after making eight of their first 11 shots and opening up a 30-11 lead in the first half. They withstood a run of 11 unanswered by the Terriers, with Hailey hitting two clutch three-pointers to push the lead back into double figures for the rest of the game. Andre Heard led the way with 16 points, while Nick Billings had a solid game in his final home game with 13 points and three blocked shots and Billy Williams had 12 points. Williams had missed a significant amount of time in recent weeks, and his return will help the Bearcats as they attempt to make a run in the conference tournament.

Boston University (20-7, 14-4)

The Terriers still had a chance to get second place with a little help entering last week, but wound up in third place after splitting their games, a home win over Maine and a 65-48 loss at Binghamton. With the one win, they have won 20 games for the fourth straight year, the first time that has happened at the school.

“Obviously, I’m very proud of the fact that these guys were able to win 20 games for four consecutive years,” head coach Dennis Wolff said of his seniors. “It’s a terrific accomplishment.”

Thursday night, the Terriers pulled out all the stops against Maine after the Black Bears took a 17-16 lead. They went on a 13-1 run to take the lead for good, consistently holding off mini-runs that the Black Bears made in the second half. Chaz Carr (21 points) and Rashad Bell (17) led the way in their final regular season home game, while freshman Tony Gaffney was the key reserve with 12 points.

“I think Gaffney played the best game he’s played since he’s been here,” said Wolff.

At Binghamton, a fast start by the Bearcats did the Terriers in. The Terriers ran off 11 unanswered points to get back in the game, but never got within single digits after that as they shot under 35 percent from the field. Bell was the only player to score in double figures, making all nine of his free throws en route to 13 points.

Hartford (8-19, 4-14)

The Hawks wind up in last place despite splitting their games last week. They snapped an eight-game losing streak with a 58-54 home win over Binghamton, then headed south and lost 68-58 at UMBC.

The Hawks shut down Binghamton early, as they allowed the Bearcats to make just one of their first 12 shots from the field and ran off 10 unanswered points for an early double-digit lead. That would be as high as their lead got, as they held off several charges from the Bearcats in the second half before holding on for the win. Aaron Cook had his first career double-double with 19 points and a career-high 11 rebounds.

Against UMBC, it was the Hawks who went south on the offensive end at a key stretch, as they made just one of their first 14 shots in the second half to lose a halftime lead. UMBC went on a 23-5 run, and Hartford never got within eight points in the final five minutes. Charles Ford and freshman Brian Glowiak each had 12 points to lead the way for the Hawks.

Maine (13-14, 8-10)

A tough regular season for the Black Bears ended with a mixed week, from the low of losing 66-50 at Boston University on Thursday night to the high of knocking off regular season champion Vermont at home on Sunday by an 87-66 margin.

The Black Bears got back Ernest Turner on Thursday after he had missed over two weeks with a shoulder injury, but he looked tentative at times. He played better against Vermont, which gives hope that he will be in good shape come this weekend at the conference tournament.

At Boston University, Kevin Reed (team-high 13 points, 7 rebounds) kept them in the game in the first half as they managed to grab a 17-16 lead before the Terriers took the lead for good. They made a couple of second-half runs, but the Terriers consistently had answers and that was not lost on head coach Ted Woodward.

“They always make you pay for the smallest mistakes,” Woodward said. “I think that’s the biggest thing about their seniors – you make a couple of mistakes, they capitalize immediately.”

On Sunday, the Black Bears played like the team they were expected to be prior to the season, coming out like gangbusters in knocking off Vermont. They shot 52 percent from the field and made 11-of-22 three-pointers, and forced 16 Vermont turnovers. Mark Flavin led the way with 21 points and 11 rebounds, while Kevin Reed added 17 points and Joe Campbell had 16.

New Hampshire (9-18, 5-13)

The Wildcats closed out the regular season by going 1-2, losing on the road at Vermont (81-67) and Northeastern (88-65), then returning home for a 76-66 win over Stony Brook.

The Wildcats didn’t go quietly at Vermont, as they stayed right with the Catamounts early in what was a game of runs. They led on a couple of occasions in the first half, but once the Catamounts broke a 15-15 tie with 10 unanswered points, it was an uphill climb from there for the Wildcats and they could never rally all the way despite shooting 52 percent from the field on the night. Ben Sturgill led the way with 21 points and Mike Christensen, who has played well in the final weeks, had 14.

The Wildcats were never really in the game at Northeastern, as they fell behind early and were blown out. They committed 19 turnovers, most of which proved costly as Northeastern scored 26 points off them. Sturgill had 14 points and Blagoj Janev added 13 to lead the way.

In Sunday’s finale, the Wildcats shot over 54 percent from the floor, but didn’t have it easy against Stony Brook. The game wasn’t sealed up until they made six free throws near the end. Christensen had another solid game with 18 points and Sturgill added 15 and nine rebounds.

Head coach Phil Rowe is pretty happy with the progress Christensen has made this season, particularly at the end of the season as he looks to be acquiring some consistency.

“He’s going to be a terrific player in this league after he gets some strength and some fitness,” Rowe said. “He’s just a young guy trying to find his way and he is getting a bit better.”

Northeastern (19-8, 15-3)

The Huskies ran their winning streak to six games this week with home victories over New Hampshire (88-65) and Albany (70-63).

Thursday’s win was an old-fashioned blowout, as the Huskies dominated the Wildcats in most statistical categories and were never seriously challenged after they broke a 6-6 tie with 12 straight points. Barea led the way with 26 points, while Marcus Barnes added 21 and the Huskies were 14-30 on three-pointers.

On Sunday, the Huskies had to withstand two surges by Albany for the win. In the first half, they jumped out to a lead, but the Great Danes rallied to take the lead late in the first half. The Huskies started the second half by scoring 19 of the first 21 points, but Albany steadily brought the lead back down into single digits. Each time, however, the Huskies had enough to answer and hang on to the lead.

“They made a hard run at us in the second half, but we came up with some execution plays that we work on in practice all the time that I was excited to see because those are the types of things that have gotten us over the hump this year,” said head coach Ron Everhart.

Shawn James anchored the effort with the second triple-double in school history – both by him. He scored 15 points, grabbed 17 rebounds and blocked 11 shots. The 11 blocks tied his own school record, and he is well on his way to smashing the school’s all-time career record in that category.

“I feel real good. I knew we needed this game, so I came out to play,” James said after the game.

Stony Brook (11-16, 6-12)

The Retrievers split a pair of games this past week, as they knocked off Albany on senior night by a 68-63 score before going on the road and losing at New Hampshire on Sunday by a score of 76-66.

On Thursday, the Seawolves pulled it out late, as the score was tied at 61 in the final two minutes before Cori Spencer (11 points) took over by scoring consecutive baskets to put them ahead for good. Bobby Santiago led the way with 17 points and five assists.

Sunday’s loss at New Hampshire was a tight game throughout, and the Seawolves certainly had their chances. But they shot below 40 percent from the field, thus not capitalizing on many of them, and they weren’t able to make the plays down the stretch. Mike Popoko scored a career-high 22 points and seven rebounds to lead the way, and Santiago (11 points) was the only other player in double figures.

UMBC (10-17, 5-13)

The Retrievers closed out with a split of games, taking Vermont down to the wire before losing 66-61 on Thursday, then coming home and picking up a 68-58 win over Hartford.

On Thursday, they led for most of the first half and still had a 54-44 lead near the halfway point of the second half. Then the Catamounts came roaring back with an 11-0 run, then they took the lead for good when they scored five straight to break a 57-57 tie. Brian Hodges had 13 points to lead the way.

In Sunday’s win, a 23-5 second half run changed the game as the Retrievers trailed by three at the half. The Retrievers led comfortably for most of the second half, holding a double digit lead in the final minutes. Hodges again led the way with 14 points and Rob Gogerty had 13 points and six assists in his final home game.

Vermont (21-6, 16-2)

Vermont did what they had to do to lock up the regular season championship, getting home wins over New Hampshire (81-67) on Monday and UMBC (66-61) on Thursday before heading up to Maine and losing 87-66 without stars Taylor Coppenrath (sickness) and T.J. Sorrentine (leg). Both are expected to play in the tournament without a hitch.

Against New Hampshire, Coppenrath tied his season high with 39 points and Sorrentine had 21 as they held off the Wildcats. The Wildcats didn’t go quietly, but the Catamounts were never seriously threatened in the final minutes of the game.

Thursday’s game, the much-anticipated senior night, was a struggle against UMBC. The Catamounts trailed by eight at halftime and by double digits for a good portion of the second half. They took the lead by one after a run of 11 unanswered points, then took the lead for good when they broke a 57-57 tie with five straight points. Their second half defense made all the difference, as they won despite shooting just 33 percent for the game. Coppenrath had 30 points, while classmate Germain Mopa Njila had nine points and 14 rebounds.

Sunday’s game was never in doubt, as Maine jumped out early en route to its blowout win. Freshman Kyle Cieplicki, making his first career start, had 14 points to lead the way and classmate Ryan Schneider was the only other player in double figures with 10.

     

SoCon Tournament Preview

by - Published March 2, 2005 in Conference Notes




Southern Conference Tournament Preview

by Jonathan Gonzalez

The first stop to March Mania. That is the tagline for the 84th edition of the Kyocera Southern Conference Basketball Championship, which kicks off today at noon in Chattanooga, Tenn. For Davidson, it is a stop that the Wildcats hope is indeed the first for them, and the last for each of their 11 SoCon adversaries as the NCAA Tournament approaches.

Although seven teams have a legitimate shot at winning the SoCon tourney, a Davidson loss would be a major disappointment for a team that finished unbeaten in league play. To put Davidson’s league dominance into perspective, think about this: the Wildcats finished with a six-game lead – that’s right, six – over SoCon South second-place finishers College of Charleston and Georgia Southern.

Some of you may be thinking that Davidson has won 15 in a row and 20 for the season, so even if they should falter, a bid should be waiting for them. Sure, a bid to the NIT, not the NCAA. The cold, hard truth is that this is the Southern Conference, a one-bid league.

Without a doubt, this is Davidson’s tourney to lose. The Wildcats’ journey starts at noon. The home court may be Chattanooga’s, but in all honesty, that should not make that much of a difference to a Wildcat team that has not tasted defeat in conference play. Anything less than Davidson cutting down the nets on Saturday would spell disaster in Wildcat country.

First Round, March 2

(Game 1) No. 4 North Elon (7-22, 5-11) vs. No. 5 South Wofford (14-13, 7-9) at 12 p.m.
(Game 2) No. 3 South Georgia Southern (17-12, 10-6) vs. No. 6 North Western Carolina (8-21, 3-13) (30 min after Game 1).
(Game 3) No. 4 South Furman (16-12, 9-7) vs. No. 5 North East Tennessee State 9-18, 4-12) at 6 p.m.
(Game 4) No. 3 North Appalachian State (16-11, 9-7) vs. No. 6 South The Citadel (12-15, 4-12) (30 min after Game 3).

Quarterfinals, March 3

(Game 5) No. 1 South Davidson (20-7, 16-0) vs. Winner of Game 1 at 12 p.m.
(Game 6) No. 2 North UNC Greensboro (16-11, 9-7) vs. Winner of Game 2 (30 min after Game 5).
(Game 7) No. 1 North Chattanooga (17-10, 10-6) vs. Winner of Game 3 @ 6 p.m.
(Game 8) No. 2 South College of Charleston (18-9, 10-6) vs. Winner of Game 4 (30 min after Game 7).

Semifinals, March 4

(Game 9) Game 5 winner vs. Game 6 winner at 6 p.m.
(Game 10) Game 7 winner vs. Game 8 winner at 8:30 p.m.

SoCon Championship, March 5

Game 9 winner vs. Game 10 winner at 8 p.m.

Inside the First Round

Elon vs. Wofford

Season Series: Wofford won the lone match up 75-63.

Analysis: The Terriers beat Elon with hot-shooting back Feb. 14. Wofford shot a blistering 54 percent from the field en route to a 75-63 win. Both teams are evenly matched, so the win will probably go to the team that can make its shots. Stopping Wofford guard Adrien Borders will be key for Elon.

Prediction: Wofford 68 Elon 59

Georgia Southern vs. Western Carolina

Season Series: GSU won the lone match up 85-76.

Analysis: Way back on Jan. 3, Western Carolina beat up Georgia Southern on the boards, had four starters in double figures and hit 10 three pointers. About the only thing the Catamounts did not lead GSU in was the score, as the Eagles capitalized on 28 WCU turnovers en route to an 85-76 win. Obviously, Western Carolina needs to take care of the ball to win. For Georgia Southern, a solid shooting day plus more aggressiveness on the boards should equal a win.

Prediction: GSU 73 WCU 70.

Furman vs. East Tennessee State

Season Series: Furman won the lone match up 76-68.

Analysis: The Jan. 8 match up between Furman and ETSU featured 16 lead changes and was decided only when Furman’s Ben Earle hit two late three-pointers. Aside from Earle’s late flurry, the only difference between the two teams was Furman’s advantage in free-throw percentage. In a game with two teams so evenly matched, look for the difference to be a great individual performance. The suspects are ETSU’s Tim Smith and Furman’s Moussa Diagne.

Prediction: ETSU 83 Furman 73

Appalachian State vs. The Citadel

Season Series: ASU won the lone match up 84-66.

Analysis: Appalachian State routed the Citadel Feb. 3, thanks in large part to sharp three-point shooting. What ASU did not do well was rebound. The Mountaineers were out-rebounded by the Citadel 69-41. That kind of pounding on the boards usually warrants a loss, so don’t expect ASU to be so lucky again if they can’t have better success on the boards. If the Mountaineers can control the boards and get scoring from their bench, they win. If the Citadel can win on the boards, take care of the ball and limit ASU’s offensive opportunities, they have a good chance to get a victory.

Prediction: ASU 90 The Citadel 75

     

Big South Quarterfinals Recap

by - Published March 2, 2005 in Conference Notes





Big South Quarterfinal Recaps

by Jeremy Dunlap

(Note: All tournament games are played at the home court of the higher seeded team.)

(1) Winthrop 74, (8) Coastal Carolina 62

It took a while, but Winthrop eventually took control of their match-up against Coastal Carolina, and will advance to the conference semifinals after knocking off the Chanticleers, 74-62. The Eagles, who now have a sixteen-game winning streak (currently the third longest in the nation), had a tough time stopping Coastal’s Jack Leasure, but found a way to pull out the win with a 22-13 run in the final ten minutes of the game. Leasure, the Big South’s Freshman of the Year, scored a career-high 25 points and scored the Chanticleers’ first sixteen points of the second half, keeping his team in the game.

Winthrop was led by James Shuler’s nineteen points and eight assists. Freshman point guard Chris Gaynor also had a strong game as he scored twelve points to go along with five rebounds, five assists, and three steals. Otis Daniels (eleven points) and Torrell Martin (ten points) were the other Eagles who reached double-figures in the game.

The Eagles will now host Birmingham-Southern in the second round, a team they beat twice during the regular season.

(4) Birmingham-Southern 69, (5) Radford 40

Birmingham-Southern’s defense held Radford scoreless for more than eight minutes to start the game and the Panthers were never challenged as they cruised to a 69-40 victory over the Highlanders at the Bill Battle Coliseum. The Panthers stifled Radford the entire game, holding the Highlanders to 21.2 percent shooting from the field. Offensively, Birmingham-Southern had a balanced attack, led by Arnold Gore’s twelve points. Jimmy Amerson and Jakob Sigurdarson scored ten points apiece for the Panthers.

The Highlanders never found their shot during the game, with Andre Bynum being the only Radford player that was able to consistently find the basket. Bynum led Radford with fifteen points and also led the team in rebounding with six boards.

This was Birmingham-Southern’s first appearance in the Big South Tournament, as they have just recently finished their probationary period after moving up from the NAIA ranks. They will look to keep their season going as they head to top-seeded Winthrop to play the Eagles in the semifinals on Thursday.

(7) Charleston Southern 66, (2) Liberty 60

Liberty’s attempt to win back-to-back Big South championships came to an unexpected early end as they lost a rare game at home, falling to the upstart Charleston Southern Buccaneers, 66-60, in the first round of the Big South tournament. The defending champions led for most of the second half and by as many as ten points, but were unable to stop the Buccaneer comeback, which was capped by a three-pointer from Terrell Brown with a little more than three minutes remaining, which gave Charleston Southern a lead that they would never lose the rest of the way. Ironically, that three-pointer was the only field goal made by Brown for the entire game.

Charleston Southern got strong production from its frontcourt, as forward Kurtis Rice led the team with 24 points and center Nathan Ball came through for fourteen points. Larry Blair was Liberty’s biggest weapon, as he scored 21 points, but the Flames were unable to get much offensive production elsewhere.

The Buccaneers will look to add another road upset to their record as they will now have to head to High Point to face the Panthers in the semifinals. During the regular season, the two teams split their meetings, with both squads winning on their home courts.

(6) High Point 98, (3) UNC Asheville 93 (OT)

It looked as if it was happening again. Throughout the regular season, High Point found ways to blow big second half leads on the road, and in the quarterfinals of the Big South Tournament, the Panthers saw a late lead fade again. However this time, they were able to withstand the comeback and beat UNC Asheville in overtime, 98-93.

High Point came out on fire and led by as many as twenty points in the first half, going into halftime with a 50-36 lead. The lead got back to as many as nineteen points and was at thirteen points with six minutes remaining before UNC Asheville mounted a furious comeback and even took the lead with forty-five seconds remaining in regulation. High Point’s Jerry Echenique, who led the Panthers with 22 points, was able to put-back a blocked lay-up with seven second left, though, and send the game to an extra period. In overtime, High Point took control early and put the Bulldogs away.

Danny Gathings and Mark Wilson had very strong games for the Panthers, with Gathings scoring nineteen points and grabbing eight rebounds while Wilson scored fifteen points and grabbed nine boards. Steven Rush was the leading scorer for Asheville with 23 points.

High Point will now get an unexpected home game as Charleston Southern, the tournament’s seventh seed, upset Liberty and will come visit the Millis Center on Thursday night.

     

Morning Dish

by - Published March 2, 2005 in Conference Notes




The Morning Dish – Wednesday, March 2nd

St. Joe’s President Speaks Out: St. Joseph’s president Timothy Lannon commended Temple coach John Chaney for suspending himself for the Atlantic 10 tournament but expressed disapproval about the lack of action by Temple and A-10 officials. Chaney extended a regular-season ending three-game suspension yesterday after he met with senior forward John Bryant and his family on the campus of St. Joe’s. Bryant broke his arm when Temple forward Nehemiah Ingram slammed him to the court under orders from Chaney to rough up the Hawks. Chaney had expressed disapproval about what he perceived to be illegal screens set by the Hawks and responded when he felt like officials ignored some calls during the game. He inserted Ingram, who fouled out in four minutes after generally bullying through every player he could find. Chaney apologized publicly in the days after the event, and Temple officials extended a self-imposed one-game suspension to three games. But Lannon feels the school and conference did not act quickly or thoroughly to discipline Chaney.

Hawks Win Without Bryant: Although John Bryant could only watch from the bench, St. Joseph’s played well at George Washington, winning 71-56 as the Hawks shot better than 54 percent from the field. The defense of St. Joe’s held the high-octane George Washington offense to 38 percent shooting and allowed only two Colonials to reach double figures. Senior sharpshooter Pat Carroll led four Hawks in double figures with 21 points, including five three pointers. The Hawks clinched the Atlantic 10 regular-season title with the win and will be the conference’s top seed in the Atlantic 10 tournament.

Bubble Talk: By virtue of the loss to St. Joseph’s, George Washington’s status on the bubble becomes more tenuous. The Colonials weren’t alone, however, among teams that managed to hurt their Tournament chances last night. Virginia Tech dropped a must-win game at Clemson as the Tigers won 66-64 on a last-second dunk by senior forward Sharrod Ford. After Clemson hit a three pointer to tie the game in the final 10 seconds, Shawan Robinson stole the ball and hit Ford sprinting to the basket to beat the buzzer. Indiana also failed to make a move forward toward an NCAA Tournament bid thanks to a last-second tip-in by Alando Tucker to give Wisconsin a 62-60 win. The Hoosiers overcame a 10-point deficit in the final 10 minutes, capped by Roderick Wilmont’s game-tying putback with less than 30 seconds remaining. Meanwhile, Mississippi State avoided slipping onto the bubble by sliding past Arkansas 57-55. Senior forward Lawrence Roberts led the Bulldogs with 13 points and nine rebounds.

Conference Tournament Redux: March Madness is officially under way as the Big South, Horizon and Ohio Valley started their conference tournaments last night. In the Big South, No. 7 Charleston Southern upset No. 2 Liberty, the conference’s defending champ, 66-60. Charleston Southern will play No. 6 High Point, which upset No. 3 UNC-Asheville in a 99-93 thriller. No. 4 Birmingham Southern beat No. 5 Radford 69-40 and will play No. 1 Winthrop, which took care of No. 8 Coastal Carolina 74-62.

In the Horizon conference tournament, the higher seeds took care of business. No. 4 Loyola-Chicago beat No. 9 Youngstown State 78-75, No. 5 Illinois-Chicago beat No. 8 Cleveland State 84-65, and No. 6 Wright State beat No. 7 Butler 61-57. And in the Ohio Valley conference tournament, the top two seeds survived while No. 3 Murray State and No. 4 Samford fell to No. 6 Southeast Missouri and No. 5 Austin Peay, respectively. No. 1 Tennessee Tech slipped by No. 8 Eastern Illinois 72-68, and No. 2 Eastern Kentucky beat No. 7 Tennessee State 74-68. Click on our our Thirteen Days: Championship Week 2005 feature for complete conference tournament coverage.

Cardinal Grounded: Ball State senior guard Dennis Trammell will miss the remainder of his final season as a Cardinal because of severe tendinitis in his left Achilles. Trammell was the team’s leading scorer, averaging 15.9 points per game. He dumped an amazing 38 points on Marshall Feb. 6. Ball State is seemingly one of the only MAC teams not at 10-6 in conference play, and without Trammell, the Cardinals will struggle to make a run in the post-season.

Centenary Must Look for New Extraordinary Gentleman: Coach Kevin Johnson of the Centenary Gents resigned as head coach yesterday after Centenary’s season ends at a disappointing 3-24 and 1-15 in conference play. Johnson had been the Gents’ coach for the past six years and helped guide the Gents out of the Division I purgatory known as an independent and into the Mid-Continent conference. Johnson finished with a 65-100 record at Centenary.

Aggie Out: Utah State coach Stew Morrill dismissed junior reserve Marques Crane for violating team rules and academic reasons. Crane has played in only 12 games this season, averaging four points and 1.5 rebounds per game. The Aggies look to make a run in the Big West tournament to earn a bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Morning Dish

by - Published March 1, 2005 in Conference Notes




The Morning Dish – Tuesday, March 1st

Pitt Rocks BC: Pittsburgh snapped a three-game losing streak with a 72-50 win at

Boston College last night. Antonio Graves led five Panthers in double figures with 13 points

and five rebounds. The Eagles failed to clinch a share of the Big East title but can still

claim the conference crown outright with a win in their regular season finale coupled with a

Connecticut loss to Georgetown or Syracuse.

Salukis Sneak By Sycamores: Southern Illinois got 22 points from Darren Brooks on

8-of-10 shooting en route to a 60-52 win at Indiana State. It was the Salukis’ 25th win of

the season.

Sooners Handle Texas: Oklahoma had little trouble taking care of Texas in Austin last

night, leaving town with a 74-58 win. David Godbold scored 14 points and grabbed nine

rebounds, and Lawrence McKenzie scored a game-high 16 points off the bench for the Sooners,

who out-rebounded the Longhorns 38-29 and clinched a bye in the first round of the Big 12

tournament.

Zags Cruise Past Bears: Ronny Turiaf delivered a 22-point, eight-rebound performance

on senior night at the Kennel to lead Gonzaga to an 87-60 win against Northern Colorado. The

Zags jumped out to a 50-19 halftime lead in a late-season non-conference tuneup. Gonzaga,

which won the West Coast Conference regular season title, has a bye into the semifinals of

the WCC tournament.

Landry Done: Purdue’s Carl Landry, the Big Ten’s second-leading scorer averaging 18.2

points per game, will miss the rest of the season after tearing the anterior cruciate

ligament in his right knee during Saturday’s home loss to Minnesota. Landry was also

averaging 7.1 rebounds per game.

VMI’s Bellairs Dismissed: Virginia Military Institute head coach Bart Bellairs was

reassigned by athletic director Donny White Monday, two days after the Keydets beat High

Point 69-61 to finish the season 9-18 overall and 3-13 in the Big South. Bellairs was

116-191 at VMI, which was the only team in the conference not to qualify for the postseason

tournament. He had five years remaining on his contract and will coordinate marketing

contracts for VMI among other duties in his new position.

Pierce Pleads Not Guilty: Former Iowa basketball guard Pierre Pierce, who was

dismissed from the team Feb. 2, pleaded not guilty to charges that he assaulted his

ex-girlfriend. Pierce was charged in February with two counts of burglary, assault with

intent to commit sexual assault, which are felonies, in addition to one charge of criminal mischief. If convicted of

all charges, he could be sentenced to up to 56 years in prison and fined $9,000. His trial

will begin by mid-May.

Hobbs Gets Three-Year Extension: George Washington head coach Karl Hobbs signed a

three-year contract extension that will keep him in D.C. through the 2010-11 season. The

Colonials are 18-6 this season and can clinch a share of the West Division title with a win

against last year’s champ Saint Joseph’s Tuesday. Hobbs is 60-51 in three-plus season at

George Washington after spending eight seasons as an assistant at Connecticut.

Moore’s Career Ends: Cincinnati junior guard Chadd Moore, who has been sidelined for

most of the last four games by the flu and a sore back, has opted to leave the team because of

back problems that have bothered him throughout his three seasons. Moore, who was averaging

3.3 points and 2.5 assists in 24 games this season, will keep his basketball scholarship.

His departure leaves Jihad Muhammad as the Bearcats’ only point guard.

Leibovitz Fills In for Chaney: Temple assistant coach Dan Leibovitz will take over

the helm of the Owls for the final three games of the regular season while head coach John

Chaney serves his suspension. Leibovitz will also lead the Owls in the Atlantic 10

tournament. As part of a self-imposed penalty, Chaney will not coach at the event because Saint Joseph’s John Bryant,

who broke his arm as a result of a hard foul Chaney instructed a Temple player to commit against the Hawks, will not

be able to play.

NCAA Releases APR Numbers: Slightly more than 50 percent of Division I schools could

lose scholarships in at least one sport next year because of poor academic performance. The

NCAA will penalize teams that score below its new Academic Progress Rate (APR) cutoff of

925. The APR awards scholarship athletes one point for staying eligible and another point

each semester for staying school. A team’s APR is calculated by dividing the sum of its

members’ point totals by the total number of possible points. Forty-seven percent of

Division I basketball programs fell below the 925 cutoff based on 2003-04 data. The report

was sent to every Division I school for review and as a precautionary warning to schools

with poor academic performance.

Tonight’s Menu:

• Michigan State travels to Northwestern.

• Indiana visits Wisconsin.

Jermaine Watson

by - Published March 1, 2005 in Columns



The end of a long journey for local product

by Phil Kasiecki

CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. – Jermaine Watson has come a long way in four years. He’s certainly not the same player he was when he first came to The Heights. But his transformation as a player pales in comparison to what he’s gone through over the course of his life.

The story is an all-too common one. He grew up in the inner city near Boston, an economically depressed area where opportunities aren’t exactly waiting around every corner. It’s an area where all too many people fall through the cracks, where it’s all too easy to become another statistic. It’s not all gloom and doom – while he says that “there’s a lot of people doing a lot of nothing,” he acknowledges that there are plenty of people doing positive things, which typically go unnoticed like so many such efforts – but the obstacles are plenty nonetheless.

“Where I’m from in Roxbury, there are a lot of people who don’t have the same opportunities as just a regular student at Boston College has,” Watson reflects. “I’ve been blessed with the gift to play basketball, with a sound mind, that’s helped me get to be able to be here. The average person from where I’m from doesn’t come to Boston College. I’ve been blessed with the skill, and my mom staying on me, making sure I was always hitting the books in high school, has allowed me to be here.”

Not a straight line from Point A to Point B

The path to get there wasn’t easy. The first obstacle came at home, as Darrel Watson, Jermaine’s father, died of cancer at the age of 34 and when Jermaine was just eight years old. Watson would be reminded many times later on, like when he would see fathers of other players at tournaments cheering on their sons, and says that to this day he still plays back snapshots of his dad when he plays the game.

“It was definitely very hard for me, because even to this day, I still have memories of hanging out with him,” Watson said. “My first memories of actually playing basketball were with my father out on the court, on outside courts teaching me how to shoot.”

At that point, Watson’s story starts to sound like those of many others who grew up in areas like his. It’s one that brings to mind the old proverb, “It takes a village to raise a child.” He had several men who took him under their wing, in addition to important people in his family who cared deeply about him. There is his mother, of course, whom he credits right away, as well as his older brother Tyrone and his uncle Lenny Durant, a constant presence at Boston College home games. He says his mother really kept on him in high school to make sure he took care of academics, and Lenny did much the same. They all knew that basketball would take care of itself; it was other things that mattered.

“He’s always supported me, and made sure that academically I was doing well for myself,” Watson says of his uncle. “He would always be like, ‘you’ve got to get your grades right, there’s no guarantee you’re going to be playing major Division I basketball’. It used to get me upset, but he was just telling me that because he wanted to make sure that if I didn’t, I was going to be able to go to college.”

He remembers his first basketball coach at the Roxbury Boys & Girls Club, the late Manny Wilson. A police officer, Wilson died while pursuing someone, and at a bad time for Jermaine because it was not long after his father died, and Manny had taken him under his wing like a father figure.

But as happened before, there would be more caring people that would come into his life. There were people at places in Roxbury like the Shelburne Center and Roxbury YMCA as well that helped keep him going. The people who helped him are among the many unsung heroes in everyday life in America; they don’t make the eleven o’clock news, they aren’t winning awards that we all hear about, but one has to constantly wonder how different things would be without them. Watson is one who was heavily impacted by their work.

“They don’t get paid well or anything like that, but if you’re hungry and you’re willing to put in the work, they’ll dedicate some of their time to you, and they definitely helped me work on my game,” he said.

“A lot of them demanded that they would talk to my mom to make sure that I was doing well in school and not acting up at home. A lot of the men at the community centers took an interest in me, and made sure that things were going good for me. When I was at the Shelburne Center, they wouldn’t let me walk home by myself at night – they would give me a ride home on many a night.”

When he got to high school, Watson became the star on the hardwood. By that time, he had long decided that basketball was the sport to focus on, despite some success in baseball as a pitcher and catcher (he was his team’s MVP in his last year in Little League) and some other sports. He could score with the best of them, with his quickness and ability to get to the basket making him almost unstoppable. His jump shot wasn’t as good, but he was so good at getting to the basket that he didn’t need to shoot it much. He played on the Boston Amateur Basketball Club AAU team with players like fellow Eagle Steve Hailey and current Notre Dame junior Torin Francis, who was also a teammate of his at Tabor Academy. At Tabor, he led the team to a New England Class B championship as a junior and averaged 28.5 points per game as a senior. He later played in two prestigious postseason all-star games, the Capital Classic and the Pittsburgh Hoops Classic.

Watson was courted by Miami and Georgia Tech in addition to Boston College, but the Eagles were the team to beat for him. He was interested in them when he was much younger and remembers being wide-eyed at the school wanting him to come to a game. Ultimately, he signed to play at The Heights, and feels this was unquestionably the right decision.

The transformation of a player

As a freshman, Watson didn’t light up the Big East and become a freshman sensation. Part of that was playing time; he was playing behind an All-American in Troy Bell and a player fresh off a big freshman season in Ryan Sidney. Playing time was at a premium, and when he got in the game, he often tried to do too much. He said he would be “in a panic”, thinking he had to score, and as a result, he struggled at times. With the talent he had around him – as good as even the powerful BABC teams were, he never had this much talent around him – he had to learn to let the game come to him, after all those years of forcing the action. He had a tough go of it, but realized the adjustments that had to be made.

“It’s a point of knowing what you want to do and how you see yourself contributing when you’re out on the court,” he reflects. “I wasn’t going to outscore Troy, and I wasn’t going to outscore Ryan, either. It was just the small things that Coach Skinner has the respect for.”

The transformation is now complete, though it involved a little more. After starting his whole life and playing almost every minute except in blowouts, Watson has never started a game at Boston College. He embraced the role of the reserve who comes in and brings energy at both ends of the floor, some instant offense and defense. This season, while Sean Marshall has started at shooting guard, Watson has often finished games at that position, in part because he has become an ace free throw shooter – another area of his game that took some work from his first days on campus.

His free throw shooting is perhaps the best case study of how far he has come in four years. As a freshman, he struggled mightily at the foul line, shooting just 52.5%. He topped 60% as a sophomore and made nearly 73% as a junior, and will enter his final regular season game this season shooting over 82% from the line this season, which places him among the leaders in the Big East in that category. He credits the team psychologist, George Mumford, with some of that, as well as learning what’s important in shooting free throws.

“It’s shooting a lot of free throws, getting what I call a standard operating procedure when I get to the line, doing the same thing every single time,” he said.

The night has come

Monday night was Senior Night, the last home game for Watson and center Nate Doornekamp. It was also the team’s last home game as a member of the Big East Conference. While there is still more basketball ahead for the Eagles, Watson has been reflective about this day.

“This year it’s just flown by, I can’t believe senior night is here already,” Watson said after Saturday’s 70-58 win over Seton Hall. “I guess I’d rather have it go by quickly, and get here quickly, because we’re winning almost every night we’re on the court.”

The winning is what Watson remembers the best and will probably be remembered for the most. While he hasn’t lit up the scoreboard like he did in high school, his value to this team cannot be debated, and the team has gone 86-28 in that time. He realized his destiny was not to be the scorer he was in high school, but he’ll take the winning.

“There’s nothing like winning,” Watson said. “If you drop 20 and lose, no one really remembers that, but if you’re winning and breaking records, and helping to bring Boston College basketball to a level that it hasn’t been, it’s a great feeling to be part of that. People will remember this season, people will remember the last year BC was in the Big East.”

Watson is also grateful for the position he is in. He hasn’t thought much about what he really wants to do when his basketball playing days are over, but he can probably put that decision off for a little while even though the NBA almost certainly doesn’t beckon. He thought about this when Uka Agbai had to miss most of the 2002-03 season and was nearly paralyzed, but it just reinforced what previous events in his life had already taught him about life and opportunities. In keeping with the theme of reflection, he thinks back about his father and how he still motivates him as he goes forward.

“I just hope, a lot of times, that I’ve grown into a young man that he would be proud of. When I have children, I want to be the type of father that he was to me. He had me with him all the time.”

His father is probably looking down on him from above, looking at how his son has turned out. The village has raised the child, and the result is the senior guard who walked across the Conte Forum floor smiling alongside his mother, uncle and younger sister on Monday night. The cheers from the crowd as he was introduced were resounding, just as resounding as the cheers of all the people who took an interest in the young man over the years – all cheering because their work has been rewarded.

     

Patriot Notebook

by - Published March 1, 2005 in Conference Notes



Patriot League Notebook

by Steve Sheridan

It was an exciting and interesting final weekend for the eight teams of the Patriot League. Very appropriately, the final game of the Patriot League season came down to a buzzer-beating three-pointer by Bucknell’s Chris Niesz – the lone Bison senior on Senior Night – to beat Colgate. The game was the end of yet another wild regular season, one that surely portends a very exciting and unpredictable Patriot League Tournament. The conference tournament begins on Friday at Holy Cross and Bucknell.

This season didn’t see any major surprises or disappointments that have dotted the Patriot League landscape in past years, but things never seem to go exactly to plan. See how my preseason predictions match up with the year-end standings:

Preseason Predictions:                    Year-End Results:
1. Bucknell                               1. Holy Cross
2. Lehigh                                 2. Bucknell
3. Holy Cross                             3. American
4. American                               4. Lehigh
5. Lafayette                              5. Colgate
6. Navy                                   6. Navy
7. Colgate                                7. Lafayette
8. Army                                   8. Army

Sure enough, I got the service academies right on, and the rest of the teams fell closely in place to what I envisioned at the beginning of the season. Of course, there are still some things that people (myself included) didn’t see coming:

Biggest Surprise I: Holy Cross
I don’t think anyone foresaw the incredible season that the Holy Cross Crusaders would have, although I picked them one spot higher than the official league preseason poll. The team simply played amazingly throughout the regular season, losing its season opener before cruising the rest of the league schedule. Ralph Willard and his Crusaders are looking very poised for a fourth league title in five seasons.

Biggest Surprise II: Colgate
The team that exceeded expectations the most (besides the Crusaders), in my opinion, is Colgate. The Raiders fielded a very young team that was missing two of its potential sophomore starters (Kendall and Kyle Chones) and yet finished in a tie for fourth place in the league. Emmett Davis did very well to keep his job secure with a very solid season, which gives much hope for the future of Raider basketball.

Biggest Disappointment: Bucknell
Okay, so this is a minor stretch, but since the Bison were the consensus top pick for the league this season, anything less than first place would seem a disappointment. Still, Bucknell managed to finish in second place in the league and took the only league game this season from Holy Cross, and so I think Pat Flannery and his team aren’t too disappointed with their season.

Easiest Call: Army
The Black Knights are simply not a good basketball team. With the fourth-lowest RPI in Division I, the Knights won only one D-I basketball game all season (over Navy, on their home floor), along with two D-III wins. Granted, the team only had two upperclassmen on the team this season, but that’s still not a good enough excuse for the wretched season put together at West Point.

Regular Season Awards

Player of the Year: Kevin Hamilton, Holy Cross
The junior from Queens Village, N.Y., ranked second in the Patriot League in scoring (15.2 points per game) and upped that averaged to an even 16 ppg once league play began, as he led Holy Cross in scoring in 17 of 27 games. Hamilton also ranked first in the league in steals (3.0 steals per game), sixth in assists (3.0 assists per game) and seventh in rebounding (5.9 rebounds per game). Overall, the guard provided a steady and dominating presence in the Crusader backcourt, leading the team in minutes played and taking over games whenever needed. Without Hamilton, the Crusaders simply would not be sitting atop the Patriot League standings right now.

Co-Rookies of the Year: Corey Johnson, Navy; Kyle Roemer, Colgate
As hard as I tried, I couldn’t come to a clear decision between Johnson and Roemer, symbolized in the fact that the two players tied for 18th in the league in scoring (9.7 ppg). Roemer was the better shooter, shooting 44 percent from the floor (12th in the league) and 45 percent from three-point range (first overall); Johnson, meanwhile, might have been the better overall player, ranking third in steals (2.0 spg), sixth in assists (3.0 apg) and seventh in assist-to-turnover ratio. Both players stepped in as rookies to make significant contributions to their starting fives, something that is not easy when adapting to collegiate play.

Newcomer of the Year: Joe Knight, Lehigh
The junior transfer from Columbia, Tenn., made an immediate impact in his first season in Bethlehem, ranking second on the team (and tied for ninth in the league) in scoring at 12.5 ppg. Also on the offensive end, Knight led the Patriot League in assists, dishing out 4.4 helpers per contest.

Coach of the Year: Ralph Willard, Holy Cross
For the first time in three seasons, this award does not go to Lehigh’s Billy Taylor; instead, Willard earns it for the superb job he has done in leading the Crusaders to yet another Patriot League regular season title. In his sixth season behind the Holy Cross bench, Willard continues to work his magic in Worcester, keeping his squad a perennial contender for the league crown, upping his record at The HC to 111-66 in six seasons.

Looking To The Postseason
But now that the regular season has concluded, the records go out the window and it suddenly becomes anyone’s game once again. Here is how each team looks headed into the Patriot League Tournament, listed by seeding.

Holy Cross Crusaders (13-1 Patriot League, 22-5 overall)

The Crusaders finish the regular season first in the following statistical categories: scoring defense, scoring margin, blocked shots, assists, steals, turnover margin and assist-to-turnover ratio. This team is good. Behind the stellar guard play of Kevin Hamilton, Keith Simmons and Torey Thomas, the Crusaders have by far the largest scoring margin in the league and hold so many weapons on the offensive end that can frustrate the opposition.

The best thing about the Crusaders is that they get it done on both ends of the court. On the defensive end, Holy Cross led the league by giving up only 56 points per game and allowing its opponents to shoot under 39 percent all season long. The team also averaged almost two blocks and 1.5 steals more per game than the second ranked team in the Patriot League. Whether it’s by scoring lights out or by absolutely shutting down the opposition’s offense, Holy Cross always finds a way to win.

Holy Cross is looking as good as it has in a few years, and the team doesn’t seem to be slowing down any in the near future. The Crusaders have won 14 consecutive games, the longest streak in Worcester since 1950 and the fourth longest in school history, heading into the tournament. With the HC on a tremendous roll, it will take a huge effort for any Patriot League team to take down the top dogs. Frankly, I don’t see that happening.

Bucknell Bison (10-4 PL, 19-9 overall)

The Bison carry some momentum into the postseason, thanks to the team’s lone senior, Chris Niesz, who hit a buzzer-beating three-pointer to propel Bucknell to a storybook 60-59 win over Colgate on Senior Night. Niesz, of course, is not a big piece of the offensive puzzle for Bucknell: that job is in the hands of Kevin Bettencourt, Charles Lee and Chris McNaughton, who combine to average over 38 points per game. Like Holy Cross, Bucknell is another team that relies on its defense, as the Bison rank second in the league in defense behind the Crusaders.

The Bison head into the Patriot League Tournament in pretty good shape, as the team will host the first two rounds of the tournament. The Bison have not lost a home league game in over two years, which does not bode well for Lafayette, American or Navy, who will have to ender Sojka Pavilion this weekend. The team, however, will likely have to go on the road for the championship game, so we will have to see if Bucknell can get it done on the road.

American Eagles (8-6 PL, 15-11 overall)

The Eagles have relied very heavily on the efforts of Andre Ingram and Jason Thomas, the league’s top-ranked and seventh-ranked scorers, respectively. The duo provide almost 29 combined points per contest, giving the Eagles one of the most potent guard combinations in the league. For the most part, American uses a six-man rotation that doesn’t leave head coach Jeff Jones too many options off the bench. Come tournament time, however, the benches tend to get shorter, and so the lack of true depth may not hurt American very much late in the season.

After losing four consecutive games, the Eagles rebounded to win their last two and take over third place in the league. With third place, American has a much better chance of making it to the league championship game for the fourth time in its four years in the Patriot League; of course, the team has yet to get over that final hump and actually win the league title. After settling down at the end of the season, the team will likely have to go through Bucknell on the Bison’s home court – the Eagles lost by 13 at Sojka Pavilion in early February.

Lehigh Mountain Hawks (7-7 PL, 13-14 overall)

Much like the Eagles, Lehigh relies almost exclusively on its starting five – no bench player averages more than 13 minutes per game. Jose Olivero and Joe Knight, who rebounded from a midseason slump to finish strongly, provide much of the Lehigh offense and need to step up their play come tourney time. The Hawks rank near the bottom in most offensive categories, including last in field goal percentage, and so will have to rely on their defense, which ranked third in the Patriot League (60.7 ppg). Without a solid defensive effort, the Hawks may have trouble keeping up with some of the league’s high-scoring teams.

The Mountain Hawks head into the Patriot League tournament on a four-game losing skid. The squad had a chance to clinch the third position with three games left, but lost to Navy and then to American and Lafayette to barely hold onto fourth place. Right now, I think Lehigh may be too inconsistent to win even one game in the postseason, never mind repeat last season’s Patriot League Tournament championship. I see them falling in the opening round.

Colgate Raiders (7-7 PL, 12-15 overall)

This Raider team could have just as easily been 10-4 in the Patriot League with a little more consistency, but alas that has not happened. The Raiders are very average, ranking near the middle of the pack in most categories, although they are the only team to place three scorers in the top 12 of the league (Alvin Reed, Andrew Zidar and Jon Simon). If Reed or first-year player Kyle Roemer can get hot, the team could beat anybody, but there is also a lot of inexperience on the bench that may hurt the team in the short term.

Colgate has done very well to even get itself to this point in the season, and for the team to succeed it must not simply be happy for where it has gotten so far. The team played Bucknell very well in two games this season and should have given Holy Cross a better game last weekend, and so have proven that Colgate can play well against the top teams. But the postseason – on the road – is an entirely different matter, and the Raiders have yet to show they can perform well under pressure circumstances.

Navy Midshipmen (5-9 PL, 9-18 overall)

The Middies come at you without flair, but with steadiness and determination. The squad places no players in the top 14 in the league in scoring, but then holds four of the next six spots – it is a team that lacks a true superstar, with all the advantages and disadvantages that come with that. The team has the highest scoring offense in the league (69.2 ppg), but counters that with the second worst defense in the league (74.0 ppg). The team is going to need to shoot the ball better and stop the opponents from doing likewise if they are going to upset anyone this season.

Last season, the team was seeded eighth and almost knocked off top seeded Lehigh in the opening round, so this team has no confidence problems. After a very slow start to the year, the Middies have played well at times down the stretch and badly at times, and so it is a matter of which Navy team will show up in Lewisburg this weekend. Do not be shocked to see Navy take down American, if the Middies can only play some defense and shoot relatively well on offense.

Lafayette Leopards (5-9 PL, 9-18 overall)

The Leopards didn’t set their expectations too highly coming into the season, and they proved those expectations to be correct. Much like Navy, Lafayette scores a lot of points (68. 3 ppg, second in the league) but gives up even more (75.1 ppg, last in the league), giving the team little opportunity to win consistently. Sean Knitter is the team’s only double-digit scorer – coming off the bench – which shows that no one Lafayette player is able to take over a game when needed. Some players – Knitter, Bilal Abdullah, Jamaal Douglas – have shown flashes of brilliance, but nobody has been able to contribute on a dependable basis.

The Leopards enter the tournament after a big win against archrival Lehigh on Saturday afternoon, which should give them some sort of energy boost. The team simply does not have enough experience this season to do much in the tournament. Until one Leopard player decides to carry the team on his back, the Leopards will not win a game in the league tournament, especially playing on Bucknell’s home court.

Army Black Knights (1-13 PL, 3-23 overall)

It’s getting to the point where you begin to feel bad for the Black Knights. Army has lost nine in a row and 19 of its last 20 against Division I opponents. Matt Bell has been the lone bright spot for the Knights this season, ranking third in the league in scoring (14.3 ppg) and fourth in free throw percentage (82 percent). Army has by far the worst offense in the league (56.5 ppg) for the second consecutive season, and therefore has been outscored by an average of 11.1 points this season – ranking near or at the bottom in most offensive categories.

Until the Black Knights can learn to put the ball in the basket with any sort of consistency, there is no chance of them winning a tournament game this season – especially when up against Holy Cross, which held the Knights to 29 points earlier in the season. At this point, the team can only hope to leave a good impression on the Crusaders and begin looking towards next year, when the team will finally have a solid group of juniors.

     

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