Holy Cross holds Delaware to 4 second half field goals to prevail in a nail-biter.By CHRIS A. COUROGEN
PHILADELPHIA -- Winning with defense is never going to gain you many style points. That is OK with Holy Cross. After escaping with a 49-47 win over Delaware in the third game of their three-day visit to Philadelphia for the LaSalle Invitational, all that really matted was the W to make the five hour bus ride back to Worcester go a little easier.
As the Crusaders star guard, Keith Simmons said afterwards, "It wasn't pretty, but we'll take it."
Simmons had his usual big night, going 6 for 10 from the field, with three three-pointers, for 17 points, his 25th consecutive game in double figures, stretching back to the middle of last season. At times Simmons game was a thing of beauty, especially early in the second half when he made an acrobatic finish on a fast break off a lob pass from Torey Thomas.
After a quiet first half in which he scored only 3 points, Simmons go things going after the intermission, scoring 12 points in the first 10 minutes of the half, including 7 during the 11-0 Holy Cross run that put them ahead to stay. But after Simmons drained a three on a kickout by center Tim Clifford with 11:24, things got ugly in a hurry. At least to those who fail to see beauty in things like defense and free throw shooting.
Holy Cross would score just one more field goal the rest of the game, a Simmons bucket on a baseline take with 5:50 to play.
A one bucket in 11:24 cold spell usually translates into a loss, especially when such a freeze comes with the icy team holding just a 4-point (38-34) lead when it starts. It probably would have in this case, too, if not for the staunch defense the Crusaders played in the second half.
Holy Cross trailed 27-24 at the half, with Delaware hitting 11 of 23 (47.8 percent) shots in the first half. Especially troublesome was the Blue Hens' Herb Courtney, a 6-7 human pogo who was a matchup nightmare for the Crusaders. Courtney was 8 for 12 in the first half, scoring 18 points on a variety of dunks, drives and even one three-pointer.
The second half was a different story. Picking up the defensive intensity, Holy Cross limited Delaware to just four field goals on 20 tries after the intermission. After giving up four treys in the opening 20 minutes, the Crusaders allowed only one in the second half (1 of 7). Courtney, so deadly in the first half, was an afterthought in the second. Denied the ball most of the half, Courtney only got off five shots in the half, making a pair to finish with 24 points.
As icy as things got for the Crusaders, Delaware struggled even more. Courtney's last field goal, a layup that cut the HC lead to 38-36 with 9:16 to play, was Delaware's only field goal in the final 14:42 of the game.
"We don't play that defense, we lose the basketball game," Holy Cross coach Ralph Willard said following the escape.
"We kept telling ourselves, ugly as it was on offense in that stretch, we were up by six. As long as we kept getting stops, it was mathematically impossible for them to win," Simmons said.
Even with the defensive stops, the situation got dicey for the Crusaders in the final moments. After Thomas hit a pair of free throws to make it 46-40 Holy Cross with 4:43 left, Delaware seized the upper hand in the free throw shooting contest the game had become, making 5 of 6 over thenext three minutes to close to within 1 at 46-45 with 1:44 left.
Thursday's hero, junior Kyle Cruze, hit a pair for Holy Cross to push the lead back to 3, but a pair of Brian Johnson foul shots pulled Delaware back to within 1 with 56 seconds to play. But Simmons missed a pair of free throws with 35 seconds left, and after another defensive stop, Alex Vander Baan missed the first before making the second on a two-shot foul, giving Holy Cross a 48-46 lead with 9 seconds to go.
Delaware's Brian Johnson took the inbounds pass and drove the length of the floor against Thomas, but his layup try clanked off the rim and Holy Cross backup greg McCarthy gathered in the rebound to preserve the win.
McCarthy was forced into 13 minutes of action, matching his career high, when Clifford developed foul trouble. Clifford sat much of the first half after picking up two fouls in quick succession around the six minute mark and eventually fouled out with 2:50 to play. McCarthy was 2 for 3 from the field, with a block and a steal and generally played solid defense in the post, though the 6-11 sophomore had only one rebound.
"You need to get more than one rebound," said Willard. "But that was a pretty big rebound."