Crusaders Undefeated at Halfway Point
WORCESTER, Mass. – The best place to be for a sports fan in Massachusetts on Friday night was about 50 miles west of Boston. It wasn’t for a Celtics or Bruins game, the Patriots are done for the season, and the Red Sox don’t report to training camp for a few more weeks. That probably didn’t stop the majority of fans who called sports talk shows from talking about the Red Sox or Patriots, but that also doesn’t change the scene on a big hill in Worcester.
Friday night during the college basketball season is the time for smaller schools to shine. There were just seven Division I games across the country on this night, with two coming in the Ivy League, which plays on that night. The Metro Atlantic also has games that night, and the Patriot League often has a game or two as well. The only Patriot League game on this night involved league leader Holy Cross, which remained undefeated with a 64-53 win over Lehigh.
The atmosphere was live even 30 minutes before tip-off. The crowd was already quite full and could be heard almost as soon as you walked into the arena. The Hart Center was packed, with plenty of people standing to watch the game unfold, and there were plenty of times where it was hard to hear even the person next to you. In other words, the atmosphere was one that sums up what a great college basketball game is all about.
The nearly 3,500 people who gathered (the Hart Center seats 3,600) got to see a desirable result not only in the victory, but a big night for senior guard Torey Thomas. In the first half, Thomas surpassed 1,000 career points, and the crowd went wild with the announcement. But he wasn’t finished by a long shot.
Thomas went on to lead the Crusaders with 18 points, but he added eight assists, six rebounds and a school record-tying seven steals. He also helped shut down Lehigh’s talented guard duo of Jose Olivero (18 points on 5-14 shooting) and Marquis Hall (4-14), the latter the clear top freshman in the league. The Crusaders held the Mountain Hawks to 35.4 percent shooting on the night.
Thomas and classmate Keith Simmons (16 points, six rebounds) once again made many key plays for the Crusaders, but the inside play held its own as well. The Crusaders had 16 second chance points and a 28-18 edge in points in the paint. Tim Clifford still has moments that can make one shake their head, but he had nine rebounds in the game and several were at key junctures in the final minutes, when the Crusaders made enough plays to pull this game out.
“Our team all year has shown the ability to make plays at crucial times,” said head coach Ralph Willard.
Holy Cross forced 15 turnovers in the first half, but had their struggles at the offensive end and was up by just six at the half. It was similar in the second half (the Crusaders shot just under 37 percent from the field on the night), when the Mountain Hawks made several mini-runs to come back but never tied or led in the latter frame.
Not only did Simmons make key plays, he did something else that the box score won’t show easily. With 18:43 left, he picked up his third foul, something that might normally land a player on the bench for a few minutes. Simmons stayed out there and never picked up his fourth foul until over 12 minutes later.
With the win, Holy Cross is now 16-6 and 7-0 in the Patriot League, maintaining their lead over Bucknell, which hosts Army on Saturday. Being undefeated right now is better than it might sound considering there isn’t much distance in talent and experience between many teams in the league, something Willard has stressed. Indeed, the Crusaders have simply won games.
“To get through the first half of the league undefeated is great,” said Willard. “You can’t do any better than the start we had, so I’m pleased with it.”
Before their next game, which is against American on Wednesday, the Crusaders will learn their opponent in the Bracketbusters event. They will be playing on the road, and thus far have made a good case to potentially get a televised game.