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Holy Cross may be turning a corner after pulling out a close one

December 4, 2011 Columns, Your Phil of Hoops No Comments

WORCESTER, Mass. – Holy Cross may have conquered a demon in Saturday night’s 62-57 win over New Hampshire. The Crusaders appeared to have the game locked up in the final minute, leading by ten, but they allowed the Wildcats a couple of extra chances that suddenly made it a ballgame. A year ago, they might have ultimately blown this game, but the Crusaders pulled it out by doing just enough late.


The Crusaders led 60-50 with 38 seconds left after two free throws by Justin Burrell. The game was all but in hand at that point, especially since the Crusaders fought back rallies all night long. Then two missed free throws and two missed turnovers, one in their own end, helped New Hampshire suddenly get within 60-57. Burrell then sank two more free throws to finally seal the game and get the Crusaders over the hump.


“Coach said that we’re a lot different from last year,” said senior guard Devin Brown. “Today, we didn’t win the way people would want us to win, but at the end of the day, we won. That’s something that maybe we wouldn’t have done last year.”


The past couple of seasons have seen the Crusaders drop several heart-breakers as part of disappointing seasons. Last year, they lost three in non-league play where they had a lead in the final minute, including an overtime loss to Yale where they led by four with 26 seconds left. Nothing will top a loss to Loyola (Ill.) two seasons ago, where they led by eight with a minute to play and lost at the buzzer.


So the Crusaders haven’t exactly been experts at finishing close games the last couple of years. Perhaps Saturday night’s win is a sign that the veterans and this team as a whole are turning a corner.


“If teams are going to beat us, they have to beat us with us throwing them our best stuff,” said head coach Milan Brown.


The last minute wasn’t the only missed opportunity for the Crusaders. They played better defense early in the second half, but never broke the game open. At one point in the opening minutes, New Hampshire turned the ball over twice on consecutive possessions in their own end, but the Crusaders didn’t score following either one. They also shot 33.3 percent from the field in the second half, so it’s not as though they caught fire offensively. Missing those chances to break the game open could have come back to haunt them later.


That was another piece of adversity the Crusaders had to overcome on the night. Doing so seems to be a theme of late, as the Crusaders suffered a tough loss a few nights earlier at Providence where they were able to hang around and take the lead late in the game, but couldn’t hang on. Milan Brown said he thought the team got better from the loss and responded positively in practice after that. It showed in the second half when they made mistakes, even late in the game.


“We didn’t look like deer in the headlights when we made those mistakes,” said the second-year Holy Cross mentor. “We just made mistakes trying to make a play. It wasn’t like we weren’t confident trying to make a play.”


Holy Cross fell behind by one about eight minutes into the second half, but over a minute later they regained the lead for good despite a number of challenges to it by the Wildcats. In the last 2:33, they turned a one-point lead into the final margin thanks to eight free throws, including a 6-6 showing from Burrell, who finished with 13 points.


Milan Brown said the players are all on the same page and have bought in to what the staff is trying to do. Add in that they won a game they might have lost a year earlier, and Holy Cross looks like they may be headed in the right direction.


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