Early in Patriot League play, it looked like Holy Cross was turning a corner. That was bound to happen considering the talent on the team and the familiarity they have with the league. They started off 2-0, then were 3-1 with the only loss coming at Bucknell, which is not a bad loss by any stretch. But now the Crusaders will go into February with a three-game losing streak after a bad loss to Colgate at home and a tough overtime loss at defending champion Lehigh on Saturday.
Thursday night’s 79-72 loss is a stinger. Colgate had shot better than 45 percent from the field just once all season prior to Thursday night’s game. So a look at the final box score showing that the Red Raiders shot 55.4 percent from the field would be the first sign that this wasn’t a good night.
“It was definitely disappointing to see us not defend the way we’re capable of defending,” head coach Milan Brown said.
But that was only the beginning of the problems, in more ways than one. In a chronological sense, once the Crusaders’ defensive struggles materialized out of the gates, Colgate just gained more confidence as they shot over 57 percent in the first half. Brown wasn’t surprised by that, because a struggling offensive team can do that if they get confidence early on. Considering Colgate won both meetings a year ago, they probably came in with some confidence in the first place despite their 1-4 Patriot League record coming in.
“They made a couple of tough shots early, we had a couple of opportunities to score that we messed up on, and I don’t think we came out with the desire and passion we needed to start the game with,” said junior guard Devin Brown.
To make things worse, the Crusaders were out-rebounded 34-23, surrendering 11 offensive rebounds. Holy Cross entered the game with a +3 rebound margin on the season, while the Red Raiders were getting out-rebounded by a small margin. In Patriot League play, the Crusaders’ margin is nearly +7. Andrew Keister led the charge with six rebounds, but aside from Mike Cavataio’s five, he didn’t have much help.
“If nothing else proves we were out of character tonight, we had 23 rebounds,” said Brown. “We average 36 or 37, so when you do that, we’re not ready to go. If anything, we rebound the basketball. We had 23 rebounds.”
While the Crusaders don’t have great size with Phil Beans out and Keister continuing to battle gamely with an Achilles issue that has greatly limited his practice time, size alone wasn’t the issue. Brown didn’t chalk the lack of rebounding or defense up to just effort, though. There seemed to be more to it than just that, especially since he wasn’t sure a lack of effort was the biggest problem.
“Some of the stuff is that we didn’t play smart,” said Brown. “Guys that are drivers, we played more like shooters, and the shooters, we played like drivers. We let the post guys post us up anywhere they wanted.”
The unfortunate thing is that the Crusaders came into the night with a chance to get back into a tie for second place in the Patriot League. In addition, they seemed to be coming alive with league play having begun, but they have now hit a three-game losing streak with two of the losses coming at home.
What is also a problem is that Thursday night wasn’t the first time they didn’t seem to have the passion or effort, as that was the feeling after the loss to Saint Joseph’s about a month ago. It happened again on Saturday, with Lehigh making eight of their first 10 shots to jump out to a 16-8 lead. Early in the second half, Lehigh pushed the lead to a dozen, similar to Colgate at one point leading 72-54.
The sense of urgency wasn’t there early, but it came late in both games. On Thursday, it was too deep a hole to dig out of, even though pride kicked in at one point.
“You look at the scoreboard and you’re down 18, you don’t want to be embarrassed at home, so you’ve got to come back and do whatever you can to get back into the ballgame,” said Cavataio.
Holy Cross now finds itself in a pack of five teams tied at 3-4 in third place in the Patriot League at the halfway point. They are three games behind Bucknell and two behind American, who looked like the class of the league in non-league play and have done little to dispel that in the last few weeks. But the Crusaders aren’t far away; three of the four losses have been by four points or less, and the other one was by seven points. Turning those into wins will prove difficult if the reasons behind a number of the losses, both in and out of league, aren’t rectified soon.