Here's what has been happening while we have been fighting off the flu bug this week:
Utica does Hamilton -- Seems like once or twice each season the Utica paper bothers to cover Colgate. One of those times is this preview of the Red Raiders season.
Bracketeering -- ESPN is offering up Joe Lunardi's preseason look at the 65 teams to make the NCAA Tournament as a free preview of its "insider coverage." Lunardi picks Holy Cross to win the league, saying:
57. HOLY CROSS. The Crusaders were 13-1 in Patriot League play last season. This season's race figures to be tighter, but Holy Cross has enough to repeat.
The league's Dangerfield -- Ed Laubach, the former sporst editor at the Express-Times, comes out of retirement for a column previewing Lafayette's Leopards, a team Laubach says is drawing motivation from its lack of respect.
25. The return of 6-11 center Tim Clifford is a prime reason Holy Cross is expected to defend its Patriot League crown. Bucknell, which will look to senior John Griffin (St. Joseph's Prep) after losing three starters, and Colgate should be the top challengers to Holy Cross.
More on Griffin -- The AP preview of the Bucknell season says in the absence of Chris McNaughton, Donald Brown and Abe Badmus, it is Griffin's turn to lead the Bison.
Dadging the 'Saders -- How bad did UConn want to avoid playing Holy Cross in the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament? Bad enough to agree to shuffle off to Buffalo next season.
Speaking of Holy Cross -- In case you missed it, the Crusaders bounced back from that exhibition loss to Rhode Island College by bouncing UMass-Lowell Tuesday night. Tim Clifford led the way with 16 points, 5 boards and 6 blocks. (Box score)
Another recruit for AU -- The Boca Raton News reports Mike Technow of Boca Raton H.S. will commit to play for American. BRHS is expected to send three players to DI schools this season. Technow is a 6-9 center. You can find more on him on his prep team's home page (if you have the patience for it to load). He played AAU hoops for the Barton Ballas.
Long look at Army -- Anticipating Saturday's Minnesota home opener against the Black Knights. Scout.com takes a very detailed look at this year's Army squad.
Holy Cross dropped a 61-60 decision to Division 3 Rhode Island College Thursday night.
The visiting Anchormen, who went 27-4 and reached the D-3 elite eight last year, pulled off the upset with a winning layup with 7 seconds to go.
It was the second season in a row RIC beat a D-I team in an exhibion. Last season the Anchormen knocked off Iona.
Alex Vander Baan's 15 points led the Crusaders, who played 11 guys, 10 of them for more than 10 minutes. Adam May added 14.
With Ralph Willard looking for scoring from the wings, it's worth noting the starting guards -- Pat Doherty, Kyle Cruze and Colin Cunningham -- went a combined 3 for 13 from the field. Take away May's 5 for 7 showing and the rest of HC's backcourt guys were 5 for 17 from the field, 3 for 10 from three-point range.
Pre-season Patriot League player of the year, 6-10 center Tim Clifford, finished with 9 points on 3 for 10 shooting, and 3 rebounds.
It is a little tough to take seriously a Patriot League preview story that talks about Bucknell's Darren Mastropaolo playing a prominent role without mentioning that his season is in jeopardy after tearing up a knee during the summer.
Sure, there was no mention of Mastropaolo's injury in most of the preview magazines on the newsstands (Blue Ribbon being the prominent exception), but those pubs have early summer deadlines. The Sports Network, on the other hand, is a Web based service and its league preview comes after Mastropaolo's situation was discussed at the league's media day.
This thing is, simply put, a sorry excuse for a preview. The Holy Cross capsule makes no mention of the questions on the wings. The American portion does not even include the phrase "junior college." There is talk of Lafayette's futility without talk of their scholarship situation and the Navy preview says nothing about how the Mids lost three key would-be returning players, including two starters.
The worst part is that this mediocrity will show up as gospel on other sites because several mainstream media players buy syndicated content from TSN.
Mike Howlett has committed to play his college ball at the University of Pennsylvania. Why should Patriot League fans care?
Howlett was supposed to be a freshman at Lehigh this fall, But after Billy Taylor left for Ball State, Howlette decided to return to New Hampshire's New Hampton School for a second year of post-graduate prep school instead of enrolling at Lehigh.http://www.blogger.com/img/gl.link.gif
According to his father, quoted in , Howlett is between 6-9 and 6-10, though recruiting sites list him at 6-8. Howlett supposedly narrowed his second-time-around list to Bucknell, Holy Cross, Davidson and Penn after eliminating several other Patriot and Ivy schools, as well as Vanderbilt, Stanford and Northwestern from consideration. His final two reportedly were HC and Penn.
Worth keeping in mond, apparently the kid's dad was the source of this story. Hard to tell if Howlett actually had offers from all those places.
It appears the Bison may have completed their recruiting class for next fall, with a third commit, AU gets more size and Ralph has landed a much-needed winger.
The Nassau Guardian reports 6-9 Probese Leo has chosen Bucknell over Rice, Furman and San Diego State. Leo is a Bahamas native who attends St. Pius X H.S. in Houston through the Frank Rutherford Foundation Elite Athlete Development (FREAD) Program, which brings athletes from the Bahamas to the U.S. to help prepare them to earn scholarships to U.S. universities.
Leo, who played AAU ball with the Houston Hoop Stars, would appear to be a bit of a project. He has only played serious basketball for about a year.
It would seem Leo completes Bucknell's scholarship recruiting class, unless he, or one of the two previous commits, is actually a need-based kid. The Bison also have commits from 6-5 swingman Bryan Cohen, out of the Philly area Abington Friends School and 6-8 Enoch Andoh from Archbishop Mitty in San Jose, Cal.
In other recruiting news, while we were busy with the aftermath of media day, we missed American's landing of 6-8 Stephen Lumpkins, a lefthanded big man from Serra H.S. in the San Francisco bay area. Lumpkins chose teh Eagles over UC Santa Barbara, Montana State and Lafayette.
Also announced Friday, R.J. Evans, a 6-3 wing out of Norwich Free Academy in Conn., will take his game to Holy Cross, where he says his legs will get stronger from walking up and down all those hills. Evans, who averaged 24 points per game last season, chose H.C. over William and Mary and Harvard.
Evans made his announcement flanked by classmates in purple t-shirts that said "Patriot or Ivy?" on the front. They turned around to reveal a back saying "Evans chooses (HC logo)" as he verbalized his decision.
(Updated with additional links at 7:51 a.m.) Here's what others are saying about Thursday's Patriot League basketball media day:
In Stephen Miller's overview of the league, which appears in the Morning Call. there is a Fran O'Hanlon quote that pretty much sums up why people are still picking Holy Cross and Bucknell at the top of the league despite their heavy graduation losses. Says O'Hanlon" "I thought last year maybe the league would come back a little bit and be more competitive. To a certain extent [it was]. American was right there at times. Colgate and Army and Navy obviously took major steps last year, but it didn't translate into competing with Bucknell and Holy Cross. So I'm reluctant to say it's going to change."
The Examiner looks at Navy and concludes the Mids "will go as far as Greg Sprink carries" them.
Alexander Pyles did some blogging on CSTV's Hang Time blog from the ESPN Zone in Baltimore. Pyles, who must have sat close to the door, where the wireless actually worked, compiled a handful of posts from the event.
David Ginsburg of the AP threw together a story based on the preseason poll and the very generic comments the coaches made before the individual interview sessions.
More news, notes and quotes from Thursday's Patriot League basketball media day:
M*A*S*H -- Not a lot of talk about injuries from most of the coaches, but Bucknell's Pat Flannery and Holy Cross coach Ralph Willard did have some medical woes to talk about.
Flannery confirmed senior post man Darren Mastropaolo will not be ready any time soon. Flannery said Mastropaolo is working hard to rehab the knee he injured this summer, but has not begun to run on it yet. Flannery said there is no timetable for Mastropaolo's possible return. Bucknell guard John Griffin, in a separate interview, said the Bison are hopeful Mastropaolo might be able to get back for the second half of the Patriot League season. Griffin said he doesn't think Mastropaolo wants to take a medical redshirt, saying he thinks Mastropaolo wants to graduate with his classmates.
Holy Cross has two guys currently out of practice for medical reasons. Sophomore Andrew Keister has suffered another stress fracture in his leg and it appears his future is in question. Willard said there are concerns Keister, who survived childhood leukemia, may have some fragility in his bones due to the radiation treatments he underwent when he was ill. For now, the 6-9 forward is out at least six weeks.
Lawrence Dixon also has yet to practice for HC. Dixon's surgically repaired knee is structurally fine, Willard said, but he is having back and hamstring problems. Willard said it is possible Dixon's troubles could be related to favoring the injured knee.
"Lawrence could really help our basketball team if he can get healthy," Willard said.
QUOTABLE -- From the coaches opening comments:
"We have a lot of fresh faces coming in hoping to compete for some playing time." -- American coach Jeff Jones, whose roster includes six new players, including four junior college transfers
"We have a lot of young players. Nine of our 13 are in either the freshman or sophomore class." -- Lehigh coach Brett Reed, who is new to the head coach job himself
"We certainly hope to be an improved basketball team this year . . . we have lots of room for improvement." -- Colgate coach Emmett Davis
"What we found out in Europe is we graduated two really special leaders . . . we have a lot of work to do." -- HC's Ralph Willard
"We have more guys coming back this year than we have ever had." -- Army coach Jim Crews
"We don't know a lot right now. But we do have one kid -- Jarrell Brown -- who puts the ball in the bucket." -- Crews
"you can't even land in Mississippi. You have to land in Memphis." == Lafayette coach Fran O'Hanlon on the leopards trip to Mississippi State, part of nine straight road games after playing five of their first six at home
"Nobody's divulging names." -- Bucknell coach Pat Flannery, commenting on the generic remarks of the other coaches
"We are who we are, and you know who we are. We're not hard to figure out." -- Flannery on his Bison
"I don't feel like our program is young anymore." -- Navy coach Billy Lange on his experienced underclassmen
Those were the best offered. Told you they were pretty generic.
MAKING POINTS -- Expect Griffin to start the season at the point for Bucknell, but the pre-season all-league pick could end up sliding to the two if freshman Daryl Shazier develops quickly. Shazier played for the highly competitive Boo Williams AAU program in Virginia and is accustomed to high level competition, something that should speed his adjustment to the college game.
"We didn't bring him in to sit," said Flannery.
At Holy Cross, freshman Andrew Beinert was expected to back up Pat Doherty at the point this season, but difficulties finding adequate scoring from the wings could force Willard to move him to the two. Willard said that is not his preference, but he may be forced to do it.
Scoring from the wings, said Willard, "Is still (HC's) biggest question mark. That was our big bugaboo in Europe. We didn't score from the wing at all."
In August, before heading on the overseas trip, Willard spoke of the possibility of playing Alex Vander Baan at the three some. Those plans appear to be scrapped. Willard said Vander Baan is just not comfortable enough putting teh ball on the floor against smaller defenders.
STEPPING OUT -- Thus far in practice, Holy Cross' best perimeter shooter has been 6-10 senior center Tim Clifford.
"Tim may be the best three-point shooter we have on the team," said Willard.
Expect Clifford to look to spot up on the arc when trailing the break. He will also step out to shoot the three in half-court sets, Willard said.
"Tim has made the three an important part of who he is as a basketball player," Willard said.
We will have more from today's Media Day festivities later. In the meantime, here is a look at how the voting went for the major preseason honors.
The league's coaches and sports information directors voted in the preseason all-league balloting and the preseason poll. Just for fun, we also will list how we saw things back in August when we put together our previews for Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook.
2007 PreSeason All-League Selections G- John Griffin, Sr. Bucknell C- Tim Clifford, Sr., Holy Cross G- Jarrell Brown, Sr., Army G- Marquis Hall, So., Lehigh G- Greg Sprink, Sr., Navy
Preseason Player of the Year Tim Clifford, Sr., Holy Cross
Preseason Poll 1. Holy Cross (10 first place votes) 91 points 2. Bucknell (5) 85 3. Colgate (1) 62 4. Lehigh 56 5. American 49 6. Army 42 7. Navy 34 8. Lafayette 29
For comparison purposes, here is how I saw the league and the preseason honors in Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook:
BLUE RIBBON FORECAST
1. Holy Cross 2. Bucknell 3. Lehigh 4. Army 5. American 6. Colgate 7. Navy 8. Lafayette ALL-CONFERENCE TEAM G-Jarell Brown, SR, Army C-Tim Clifford, SR, Holy Cross G-Greg Sprink, SR, Navy G-Marquis Hall, SO, Lehigh G-John Griffin, SR, Bucknell PLAYER OF THE YEAR Jarell Brown, SR, Army NEWCOMERS OF THE YEAR Andrew Beinert, FR, Holy Cross Todd O'Brien, FR, Bucknell
I will tell you the standings prediction is a roll of the dice. Matter of fact, I can't remember ever having less faith in my preseason prognostications. As several coaches pointed out today, nobody knows what American has this season. Colgate has as much talent as anyone, but I have a hard time picking them higher based on the simple fact they had a lot of talent the last two seasons and failed to live up to expectations. Army might be a stretch at fourth, but they have as good a shot at being in the upper division as any of the teams I ranked 3 through 6.
You don't have to buy the book to see the Patriot League previews we wrote for Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook.
Blue Ribbon has a deal with ESPN.com that makes all eight team previews, plus the rest of Blue Ribbon's content (previews of all 328 Division I teams) available to folks who subscribe to the WWLIS' insider services.
Looking for a quick fix for your basketball jones before the afternoon's NFL action kicks off. We have it here, with a quick preview of the league and a little catching up with old friends.
Gone but not forgotten (Part I): Down in the Lehigh Valley, former Express-Times sports editor Ed Laubach is supposed to be retired. But that doesn't stop him from popping out the occasional column, like one this morning bemoaning the lack of hoops excitement on six out of eight Patriot League campuses. In the process, Ed takes a quick look around the league and sizes up each team's prospects for the coming season.
Gone but not forgotten (Part II): Last time we checked in with Adonal Foyle, the Colgate grad, and only Patriot League to ever make it in the NBA, was looking for work after being left go by the Golden State Warriors. Foyle's new employer is the Orlando Magic, which is preparing to head to China for some exhibition action. Writers on the Magic beat knew who to turn to when looking to file a story about the trip; as one writer put it, Foyle is "the kind of deep thinker who usually sticks out in an NBA locker room the way Bill O'Reilly would at a rap concert." The Lakeland Ledger also checked in with Foyle for some socio-economic perspective on the trip.
Gone but not forgotten (Part III): Would any post catching up on the whereabouts of folks affiliated with Patriot League hoops be complete without an update on the whereabouts of Hoop Time icon Neil Fingleton? (Hint: The guy is 7-7, maybe you should throw another couple of shrimp on the barbie).
After delays brought on by the UConn/Coaches vs. Cancer fiasco, Holy Cross has released its schedule for the fast-approaching season.
Losing the potential UConn matchup takes a little luster off the Crusaders' non-league slate, but even without that big name, it is a challenging gauntlet. The only BCS type on the schedule is Maryland, but perennially tough mid-majors abound with the likes of Hofstra, Dayton, Ohio U. and St. Joseph's, as well as an appearance in the ESPN BracketBusters.
The Crusaders still have an open date that might be filled by adding another non-conference road game.
For the full release and schedule, click on the full post link below. HOLY CROSS ANNOUNCES 2007-08 MEN’S BASKETBALL SCHEDULE
For Immediate Release October 4, 2007
WORCESTER, Mass. – Holy Cross athletic director Richard M. Regan, Jr., and head men’s basketball coach Ralph Willard have announced the Crusaders’ schedule for the 2007-2008 season, which is slated to begin on November 10. The Crusaders will play a number of tough non-conference games, including a home contest in the O’Reilly ESPNU BracketBusters. The home schedule will include a total of 13 games at the Hart Center this year, plus a contest at the DCU Center against Dayton.
“Our non-conference schedule is extremely challenging, with numerous games against quality opponents,” said Willard. “The Patriot League is going to be very competitive from top to bottom this year. Our non-conference schedule should help prepare us for the challenges we will face in league play.”
The Crusaders begin the season with their home opener against Hofstra (Nov. 10), followed by a contest at Fairfield (Nov. 13). Holy Cross will then travel to Hampton (Nov. 17), after which it will play three straight games at the Hart Center against Harvard (Nov. 20), Ohio University (Nov. 26) and Yale (Nov. 28) The Crusaders stay in Worcester to face Dayton at the DCU Center (Dec. 1), before hitting the road for contests against St. Joseph’s (Dec. 4), Siena (Dec. 22) and Sacred Heart (Dec. 30).
Holy Cross begins the new calendar year at home against Boston University (Jan. 2), before heading to San Francisco (Jan. 5), Maryland (Jan. 8) and Lafayette (Jan. 12 for the Patriot League opener). The Crusaders then play three straight conference games at home, taking on Army (Jan. 16), Bucknell (Jan. 18) and Navy (Jan. 23) at the Hart Center. Following trips to American (Jan. 26) and Colgate (Jan. 30), Holy Cross once again plays three in a row at home, against Lehigh (Feb. 2), American (Feb. 6) and Lafayette (Feb. 9).
The Crusaders will next play three straight conference road games at Army (Feb. 13), Bucknell (Feb. 16) and Navy (Feb. 20), before returning home for the ESPNU BracketBusters (Feb. 23). Holy Cross will then play its final home game of the regular season against Colgate (Feb. 27) before closing out the year at Lehigh (Feb. 29). All games in the 2008 Patriot League Tournament will take place on the campus of the higher seeded team, with quarterfinal games on March 5, the semifinal round on March 9, and the championship game on March 14.
There is still a possibility the Crusaders could add one more non-conference road game to their schedule.
Holy Cross is coming off a 2006-2007 season in which it posted an overall record of 25-9, won the Patriot League regular season and tournament titles, and advanced to the NCAA Tournament for the fourth time in the last seven years.
Thurs. Nov. 1 RHODE ISLAND COLLEGE (exhibition) 7:00 p.m. Sat. Nov. 3 MASSACHUSETTS-LOWELL (exhibition) 7:00 p.m. Sat. Nov. 10 HOFSTRA. 7:00 p.m. Tues. Nov. 13 at Fairfield 7:00 p.m. Sat. Nov. 17 at Hampton 8:00 p.m. Tues. Nov. 20 HARVARD 8:00 p.m. Mon. Nov. 26 OHIO 7:00 p.m. Wed. Nov. 28 YALE 7:00 p.m. Sat. Dec. 1 DAYTON # 7:00 p.m. Tues. Dec. 4 at St. Joseph’s 7:00 p.m. Sat. Dec. 22 at Siena 1:00 p.m. Sun. Dec. 30 at Sacred Heart 4:00 p.m. Wed. Jan. 2 BOSTON UNIVERSITY 7:00 p.m. Sat. Jan. 5 at San Francisco 5:00 p.m. Tues. Jan. 8 at Maryland 8:00 p.m. Sat. Jan. 12 at Lafayette * 1:00 p.m. Wed. Jan. 16 ARMY * 7:00 p.m. Fri. Jan. 18 BUCKNELL * (ESPNU) 9:00 p.m. Wed. Jan. 23 NAVY * 7:00 p.m. Sat. Jan. 26 at American * 2:00 p.m. Wed. Jan. 30 at Colgate * 7:00 p.m. Sat. Feb. 2 LEHIGH * (ESPNU) 12:00 p.m. Wed. Feb. 6 AMERICAN * 7:00 p.m. Sat. Feb. 9 LAFAYETTE * 3:30 p.m. Wed. Feb. 13 at Army * 7:00 p.m. Sat. Feb. 16 at Bucknell * (ESPN2) 6:00 p.m. Wed. Feb. 20 at Navy * 7:00 p.m. Sat. Feb. 23 O’REILLY ESPNU BRACTETBUSTERS TBA Wed. Feb. 27 COLGATE * 7:00 p.m. Fri. Feb. 29 at Lehigh * (ESPNU) 9:00 p.m. Wed. Mar. 5 Patriot League Quarterfinals TBA Sun. Mar. 9 Patriot League Semifinals TBA Fri. Mar. 14 Patriot League Championship Game (ESPN2) 4:30 p.m.
Home games, listed in ALL CAPS, played at the Hart Center unless otherwise noted All dates and times are tentative and subject to change * Patriot League games # DCU Center, Worcester, Mass.
The league and the WWLIS have announced a 13-game television package for the upcoming season. Included is the conference tournament final, which will assume its customary Friday happy hour slot on ESPN2.
The Feb. 16 Holy Cross at Bucknell men's game will also be shown on the deuce.
The rest of the package, which includes a trio of women's games, will be on ESPNU.
Click the full post link to read the official press release.he 2007-08 Patriot League men's basketball schedule will feature eight regular-season men's games on ESPNU and one on ESPN2, as well as the Championship game on March 14 at 4:30 p.m. on ESPN2, it was announced Tuesday by Patriot League Executive Director Carolyn Schlie Femovich.
"We are pleased to once again feature Patriot League basketball games, including our Championship for men's and women's basketball, on the ESPN networks," said Femovich. "It is exciting that a regular-season matchup between Holy Cross and Bucknell, our past two champions, will be showcased on ESPN2 this year."
The ESPNU schedule also includes two Patriot League women's basketball regular-season games and the Championship contest on March 12.
The men's basketball season opens up on ESPNU, with Navy traveling to Bucknell for a7 p.m. tip-off on Jan. 11. Bucknell and Holy Cross will face off on the ESPN networks for both of their regular-season matchups, with a Jan. 18 game in Worcester at 9 p.m. on ESPNU and a Feb. 16 contest in Lewisburg at 6 p.m on ESPN2.
The ESPNU schedule features three Friday night games, four Sunday tip-offs at Noon and one Saturday contest. Two weekends will include a pair of Patriot League matchups. Lehigh visits Holy Cross on Feb. 2 at Noon and Army travels to Bucknell on Feb. 3 at Noon, while American is at Colgate at Noon on Feb. 17, one day after the Holy Cross/Bucknell tilt on ESPN2.
On the women's side, Holy Cross visits Bucknell for a Noon tip-off on Jan. 20 and Army is at Navy on Jan. 27. The Army-Navy game will be shown live on ESPN360.com and on a taped-delayed basis at 6:30 p.m.
2008 Patriot League Men's Basketball Schedule on ESPN2/ESPNU Fri., Jan. 11: Navy at Bucknell, 7 p.m. Fri., Jan. 18: Bucknell at Holy Cross, 9 p.m. Sun., Jan. 27: Army at Navy, Noon Sat., Feb. 2: Lehigh at Holy Cross, Noon Sun., Feb. 3: Army at Bucknell, Noon Sun., Feb. 10: Lehigh at American, Noon Sat., Feb. 16: Holy Cross at Bucknell (ESPN2), 6 p.m. Sun., Feb. 17: American at Colgate, Noon Fri., Feb. 29: Holy Cross at Lehigh, 9 p.m. Fri., Mar. 14: Championship Game (ESPN2), 4:30 p.m. 2008 Patriot League Women's Basketball Schedule on ESPNU Sun., Jan. 20: Holy Cross at Bucknell, Noon Sun., Jan. 27: Army at Navy, 2:30 p.m. Wed., Mar. 12: Championship Game, TBA
We were having trouble getting Holy Cross' schedule for the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook, so I called Ralph Willard Friday to see if one posted on the CrossSports message board was accurate.
For the most part it was, Ralph told me, but there was still one problem to be ironed out. Because of some sensitivities involved, he asked me to hold off on posting anything about the problem. Yesterday he went public about it.
In a nutshell, UConn was afraid to play the Crusaders in the Coaches Vs. Cancer tournament. The two were set to meet -- assuming both won first round games -- in a second round matchup in Storrs.
The short version is this: UConn asked HC be sent to a different region. Ralph said no, since it falls in the middle of midterms for Holy Cross. He was not keen on playing anywhere then, but nearby Storrs was one thing, shuffling off to Oklahoma, which would have added a couple days travel to the itinerary, was another.
Willard, himself a cancer survivor, agreed to the tournament because HC forward Andrew Keister, himself a survivor of childhood cancer, and Keister's father had contacted the promoters about getting HC an invite. Despite the inconvenient timing, Ralph thought Andrew Keister playing in the tournament would be inspirational to kids with the disease.
Apparently UConn relented this week, but not until after Willard had committed to a game at San Francisco. The Crusaders are still looking for one other game. For more on the story, see Jen Toland's article in this morning's Telegram and Gazette
It has been a hectic time lately here at Hoop Time's world headquarters. Between chasing down coaches for Blue Ribbon Collage Basketball Yearbook preview stories, covering the ongoing saga of the biggest mass arrest in Harrisburg history for the day job, and trapping the squirrels that are eating the tomatoes in our garden, we've barely had time to check our e-mail, let alone to keep up with the news from around the league. Here's what we missed:
San Diego Jose power forward picks Bucknell: The Bison will beef up their front line next year with the addition of Enoch Andoh, a 6-8, 245-pounder out of San Diego Jose's Archbishop Mitty H.S. Andoh is one of three Mitty players who have committed to D-I schools.
Here is a look at what has been going on while we have been busy preparing our preseason stories for the upcoming issue of the Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook:
Holy Cross has Patriot League reunion on European trip There was a familiar face in the opposing lineup when Holy Cross met C.B. L'Hospitalet in the final game of its summer trip abroad.
Recent Bucknell grad Chris McNaughton, a three-time first team All-Patriot pick, started at center for L'Hospitalet, a second division Spanish professional club from near Barcelona.
McNaughton scored 10 points in L'Hospitalet's 92-61 win. Eric Meister led the Crusaders with 12 points, 8 rebounds.
HC finished its trip with a 2-3 record, with wins over Spanish Division 3 side Sabadell (69-66) and the Netherlands national team (65-58), and losses to the Norwegian national team (81-75) and the Swiss national team (53-51).
The best news for HC on the trip may have been that Lawrence Dixon was able to play significant minutes on the tour. Prior to departing for Europe, Dixon, who underwent a second knee surgery in the offseason, had been unable to make it through a complete practice.
The bad news, Pat Doherty, who Ralph Willard sorely needs at the point, sat out several games on the trip due to back problems. Doherty did play in the final game. No word on whether the problem is chronic. The health of the oft-injured Doherty is a key concern for HC heading into the season.
Simmons follows Taylor to Ball State As expected, Lehigh assistant Bob Simmons has joined Billy Taylor's staff at Ball State.A former D-3 head coach at Delaware Valley, Simmons was a member of Lehigh's staff since 2002. His departure left new Lehigh coach Brett Reed, Taylor's former top assistant, with just one holdover on his staff, former Quinsigamond Community College head coach Jon Weiner, who joined the Lehigh staff in the spring.
Reed has finalized his staff, but names will not be released until all the signed contracts are returned. Expect at least one Lehigh alum to be on the list when it is made public.
Butch van Breda Kolff dead at 84 Butch van Breda Kolff, who did two stints as head coach at Lafayette, died last week in a Spokane, Wash. nursing home. He was 84.
Van Breda Kolff spent 28 seasons as a college coach, compiling a 482-272 record, with six trips to the NCAA Tournament (as the Sports Illustrated story linked above points out, in those days, there were far fewer bids handed out.) He also coached professionally, going 287-316 in 10 seasons in the old ABA and the NBA.
Head coach at Lafayette 1951-55, and again from 1984-88, van Breda Kolff also coached at Hofstra, Princeton and the University of New Orleans. His pro jobs included stints with the Lakers, the Detroit Pistons, the Phoenix Suns, the Memphis Tams of the ABA, the New Orleans Jazz and the New Orleans Pride of Women's Basketball League.
ESPN.com has begun its summer ShootAround look at the nation's Division I hoops conferences. Yesterday they featured the Patriot League.
The headline on the piece reads "Who can catch Bucknell and Holy Cross?"
Andy Glockner points out that over the past three seasons, BU and HC are a combined 80-4 against the rest of the conference, including league tournament games.
Glockner speculates it could be a two-horse race again this season, with Colgate as the darkhorse. His WWLIS colleague, bracketologist Joe Lunardi, had Holy Cross penciled in on his preseason dance card, projecting the Crusaders as a 14 seed.
Former Holy Cross player Neil Fingleton's Guinness Book of World Records tour has moved to Canada.
Fingleton, now listed at 7-7, is listed as the tallest man in Britain. He is touring North America on behalf of the Guinness book folks, seaking the tallest persons in the U.S. and Canada. The tour, which had Fingleton in New York City last week, moved to Toronto yesterday, where Fingleton cleared up some of the mystery about his acting career in an interview with the Toronto Sun.
Apparently Fingleton has made a few commercial in England and plans to move to L.A. in hopes of landing roles in sci-fi flicks.
Is it time for a new installment of the longest running saga in Hoop Time history? You betcha!
First a quick refresher for those with short memories, or who might be new to the world of Patriot League hoops and not quite up on all of its legends.
Neil Fingleton is a 7-7 Brit who once was on the roster of the Holy Cross Crusaders. Better known for his ability to fill a doorway than his ability to fill the post, Fingleton never lived up to his McDonalds All-American/North Carolina transfer hype. Back problems plagued him at HC and he left school early, reportedly due to a parent's health problems back home in the U.K.
Since then, Fingleton has bounced around basketball's underworld, with stints with two teams in the semi-pro ABA, a look-see with an NBDL team that didn't work out and an undistinguished stint with a British third-division team.
So where is Neil now? Apparently he is in New York and calling himself an actor. The New York Daily News reports Fingleton spent the day Monday posing for pictures with tourists in Times Square while on a mission for the Guinness Book of World Records folks to find the tallest man in the U.S.
Fingleton is currently listed as the tallest man in England, but apparently could soon lose that title to a 19-year-old by the name of Paul Sturgess.
Don't believe the claims about sturgess being offered a million dollar deal to play hoops in the states. He spent last season as a redshirt at Division II Florida Tech. Ask yourself: Could any D-II team in the country afford to sit a 7-7 guy if he could walk and chew gum at the same time? Or for that matter, what pro team would throw a million at a kid who has not played a lick of college ball based on a 10 points, 12 rebounds and 5 blocks per game average playing for a British community college.
Nah, the Terps aren't bolting the ACC for the Patriot League, but it might seem that way from Maryland's 2007-2008 schedule. Although it has not been officially released, sources close to the Terps program say they will host at least three Patriot League teams in non-conference action this season.
Holy Cross, American and Lehigh are all set to visit College Park this season, which must mean one of two things -- either Gary Williams thinks his team needs a soft early schedule, or, the theory we'd subscribe to, the Patriot League -- especially the top four or five teams -- has gained in stature enough to make scheduling three teams from the league respectable.
One thing is for certain, it would not have happened in the pre-scholarship era.
With three starters back from last season's Patriot League championship team, Holy Cross once again will face a challenging schedule.
The Crusaders summer prospectus only lists tentative opponents, breaking them down by home and road games. Enterprising folks on the Cross Sports message board have mined the school's online calendar to come up with a list that includes dates.
Although a trip to Maryland is the only major conference foe that is set in stone, the Crusaders also could face UConn -- in Storrs -- if they get past UC-Davis in the first round of the 2K Sports College Hoops Classic. If somehow the Saders win two in Storrs, they would be off to Madison Square Garden for two more games, with Kentucky, Memphis and Oklahoma as possible opponents in that final four.
Also of note, home dates with always tough Dayton (at the DCU Center) and a BracketBusters return game against Hofstra in the Hart Center, and a trip to Philly for a game with Saint Joe's in a delayed rematch of their 2005 second round NIT matchup. The Crusaders will also play in this year's BracketBusters.
Other non-conference games include home dates with Boston U., Harvard, Ohio and Yale, and road dates at Fairfield, Hampton, Sacred Heart and Siena.
Bucknell grad Charles Lee, the 2006 Patriot League Player of the Year, is getting another look from the San Antonio Spurs of the NBA.
Lee, who was one of the Spurs last cuts last preseason, is the only Patriot League player listed on any NBA summer league rosters thus far. Lee will play in the Las Vegas summer league with the Spurs and will also be with the team in the Rocky Mountain Revue in Salt Lake City.
Not all the teams rosters for Las Vegas (which starts Friday) have been posted, and not all teams are participating in the Sin City summerfest, so it is still possible guys like Holy Cross' Torey Thomas and Keith Simmons could end up playing someplace.
Both worked out for several NBA teams prior to last week's draft. Simmons reportedly impressed the folks with the Utah Jazz, so that could be a summer possibility for this season's league POY. The Jazz are not playing in Vegas. They host the Rocky Mountain Review.
Torey Thomas is not the only Holy Cross player getting a look from the NBA. Patriot League Player of the Year Keith Simmons is also working out for NBA teams.
Simmons worked out Tuesday for the Utah Jazz. Monday, Simmons showcased his game for the Boston Celtics. The Celtics had Thomas in for a workout yesterday. There is also a report that Simmons had a workout last week at a joint session held by the New York Knicks and the New Jersey Nets.
Holy Cross' recently graduated point guard Torey Thomas is getting a look from NBA teams.
Thomas, the league's defensive player of the year and a first team all-league pick, worked out last week for the Utah Jazz and is also expected to get a workout with the Boston Celtics, reports his hometown paper.
Thomas plans to play in next month's Nike Summer Pro League and hopes to land a spot on an NBA team's summer league squad. Acknowledging the NBA this season is a long shot, Thomas' contingency plan is to take his game overseas to play professionally in Europe should no NBA job come about.
The Commercial Appeal in Memphis reports the Crusaders have dropped off of Memphis' schedule, opting out of a reported $70,000 buy game.
John Calipari told the paper HC had dropped its commitment to play the Tigers at the FedExForum. Since HC never announced the date, we will wait until there is word from Ralph Willard before buying into Calipari's renege allegations.
Our guess is most likely no contract had been signed and Calipari likely was premature in announcing the game.
Holy Cross' Keith Simmons represented the Patriot League in last week's Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, an event intended to give college seniors a chance to show off their game for NBA and European pro scouts.
Simmons averaged 8 points per game in his three games there. After scoring just 2 points on 1 for 3 shooting in 12 minutes of action in his first game, Simmons shot the ball better and scored in double figures in his other two games. In game two, Simmons played 26 minutes, going 4 for 9 from the field, finishing with 10 points. In game three Simmons was 5 for 9, 12 points, in 25 minutes.
NBADraft.net did not post a scouting report on Simmons, who was listed under their "unimpressive but not terrible" category.
The event has a reputation as a place NBA scouts find players, but that reputation might be based on years gone past. In recent years, few players who attend the PIT have been drafted and many NBA GMs apparently don't even bother showing up anymore, preferring to wait until the league's official pre-draft camp in May to get a look at top seniors.
Plenty of names familiar to Patriot League fans were on hand for the PIT, including Southern Illinois Jamal Tatum, who apparently did make a strong impression on the scouts who did show up.
A Colgate coach looks for a new job, Jeff Jones lands a high school player, former HC assistants have a reunion and the Lehigh Valley contingent looks to catch Holy Cross and Bucknell. But the biggest news: after a slow couple of weeks, there finally is some news.
Down in the Lehigh Valley, Corky Blake of the Express-Times probably has had some extra time on his hands since the weather has been wiping out spring sports events on an almost daily basis. Taking advantage of the free time, Corky checks in with a look at off-season workouts at Lehigh and Lafayette.
Emmett Davis still has a job, which is testament to either the Colgate administration's remarkable patience with the league's most disappointing program the last few years or the simple fact that nobody in Hamilton gives a rat's rump about basketball. But one of Davis' assistants is looking to escape Hamilton's frozen tundra for a Division III job below the Mason-Dixon line.
Speaking of assistants on the move, here is one from our Where have you gone? department. A pair of former Ralph Willard assistants have joined Tom Moore's staff at Quinnipiac.
Jeff Jones has another recruit. This one is not a juco player. Steve Luptak, a 6-3 guard from Munster, Indiana has made a verbal commit to American and is expected to sign next week. The scouting report on Luptak, who averaged 12.4 ppg his senior season: "If you were the best player on an opposing team, you knew Luptak would be inside your jersey."
Holy Cross' loss to Southern Illinois in the first round of the NCAA Tournament might have embarrassed Bill Simmons, but it did nothing to diminish the Crusaders respect among the voters in College Insider's Mid-Major Top 25 poll.
Ranked ninth at the end of the regular season, HC held on to that spot in the final voting, released today. Southern Illinois was the unanimous No. 1 pick.
Bucknell, which was tops among the others receiving votes in the final regular season poll, taken after the conference tournament, slid to fifth on the others receiving list in the final tally.
We have long ago given up trying to understand the minds of poll voters.
Thursday morning readaround Bill Simmons, ESPN's self-appointed Sports Guy, has a plan to save Holy Cross.
Simmons shares his plan in a piece for ESPN The Magazine, where he laments HC not winning an NCAA Tournament game since 1953 and suggests the solution is, among other things, bringing in a new coach who is willing to cheat.
Not quite sure whether Simmons, who also did a stint writing for Jimmy Kimmel Live, is one of that well-recognized segment of Holy Cross alums who are still pissing and moaning about the school not joining the Big East, or a comedy writer using his alma mater for easy column fodder.
He starts the piece like the former, complaining, among other things, that joining the Patriot League ("a homeless man's version of the Ivy League") has turned HC "into a D1 school with a D3 mentality."
His suggested fixes sound more like a shot at the big time schools who will do anything to win.
Were we convinced he is serious, we'd take issue with some of the arguments he makes about his alma mater's program. We'd argue that Ralph Willard has done a helluva job and that any alum not proud of the program should have graduated from someplace like Memphis, where winning is more important than graduating.
We'd also point out HC was not exactly setting the hoops world on fire when it joined the Patriot League. We'd mention that as a 1992 grad, the glory he longs for is not from his days on Mt. St. James, but from days before he was even born. We'd remind him that the Crusaders had been to the NCAA Tournament exactly twice in the period between Ike Eienhower's second inauguration and his last undergraduate kegger (and not once in his four years as a student, although there was an NIT loss his sophomore season).
Simmons also whines about the "gutting" of the school's football program, conveniently forgetting its glorious gridiron past consists of a 1946 Orange Bowl loss and a 1983 loss in the first round of the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs.
Yes Holy Cross has a proud athletic heritage. But it has an equally, if not superior, academic reputation. There is no shame in striving to find a proper balance between the two.
That has been the Patriot League experiment, one that is still ongoing. The recent move to allow athletic scholarships shows the experiment is far from complete. Give the league credit for being willing to tinker with its formula in an effort to find that balance, even if it only did so at gunpoint when Holy Cross threatened to bolt.
It is easy to do things the wrong way, much harder to have the courage to try to set an example for all of college athletics. It is even tougher to lead when nobody else has the courage or willingness to follow.
For all its faults, and there are many, the Patriot League has the right idea. Ever see those NCAA ads about athletes going pro in things other than sports? That is the norm, not the exception, in the Patriot.
Still, Simmons is not completely off the mark -- not so much in his criticism of Holy Cross (though we can only imagine what he'd have written had he known about the band-can't-miss-classes charter flight fiasco), but in his criticism of the rest of the league (he grants Bucknell an exception). No doubt Crest and Aquafresh probably could have gone close to .500 in the Patriot this season had they actually fielded a team.
Simmons didn't even mention the Division III-style playoff system that replaced the conference tournament this season.
And we absolutely love his "Girls of the Patriot League" idea. Matter of fact, we might just start selling such a calendar in the Hoop Time store.
Ralph Willard breaks down the Holy Cross-Southern Illinois game in his latest update on Coach Ralph.com.
While most of the coach's post deals with things like foul trouble and Keith Simmons' cramping, it also reveals the answer to the mystery of Holy Cross' circuituous travel itinerary. Turns out the Crusaders team couldn't charter to Columbus because the pep band was not allowed to miss an extra day of classes since it did not have to perform until Friday.
We'll leave it to you to decide if making sure the band doesn't miss a few classes is a worthy tradeoff for putting your team at a disadvantage in the biggest game most of its members will ever play.
(Links added at 8:37 a.m.) A tenacious Southern Illinois defense and some Holy Cross foul trouble left the 'Saders packing for home.
By CHRIS A. COUROGEN
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Cramps played a big role in Holy Cross' 61-51 loss to Southern Illinois in the firsts round of the NCAA Tournament Friday night.
Between the painful muscle cramps that hobbled HC's best player, Keith Simmons, and the spotty officiating that cramped the style of Crusaders' big man Tim Clifford, the Patriot League champions simply did not have enough weapons at either end of the court to overcome the No. 4 seeded Salukis.
Simmons, who was visibly hobbling by the end of the game, twice went to the bench for treatment late in the second half. Each time, like the warrior he has been throughout his career, Simmons came back on the floor and gave it a go. But the combination of the cramps and stifling, pressure defense by Southern Illinois, he never looked anything like the player fans in the Patriot League have watched all season.
For the first time all season, Simmons was held under double figures, finishing with just four points to end a streak of 44 straight games with at least 10 points. A career 50 percent shooter from the field, Simmons was 0 for 5.
It was not just the cramps that gave Simmons trouble. SIU's Tony Young also gave Simmons fits. You have to figure SIU coach Chris Lowery saw the problems Bucknell's Abe Badmus caused guarding Simmons in both the regular season loss in Lewisburg and the patriot League Championship game. Lowery stole that page straight from the Pat Flannery playbook, assigning the small (6-0), but strong and lightning quick Young the task of guarding the 6-5 Simmons.
"We really wanted to pressure everybody else and make it hard for them to do their sets that they run for him. But Tony Young was very good defensively," said Lowery. "We knew he was going to give up five inches, but we knew Tony was going to fight and try to make him miserable and get under his skin, which I thought he did."
Perhaps the best sign of how well the plan on Simmons worked was the fact that four of Simmons' five tries were from outside the arc. Not once could the Crusaders find him when he tried to go down on the block to post up the smaller defender.
The cramps were a problem all last season for Simmons, but after consulting with nutritionists and doctors and modifying his diet, he had gone all season with no problems until now. Clifford's foul trouble has been a problem throughout the season. This was the disqualification of the season for the 6-10, 270-pound junior.
In Clifford's defense, most of his fouls seemed to come on inconsistent, ticky-tack calls in what was a very physical game both ways. But regardless of how it happened, the effect was more than the Crusaders could overcome on a night when Simmons, and to a lesser extent, senior point guard Torey Thomas, both struggled on offense.
Clifford's first two fouls came in a span of 37 seconds, the second sending him to the bench with 6:54 to go in the first half and HC up 16-13. Ralph Willard was forced to send his big man back on the floor with 3:37 still to go in the half, after starting power forward Alex Vander Baan picked up his third foul. By then, HC's three-point lead had turned into a five-point deficit and SIU was in the midst of a 9-0 run that buil the lead to 7 and gave the Salukis control of the game.
Six points in the SIU run came on easy layups -- the kind that were not available when Clifford was anchored in the middle of the Crusaders zone. another came on a layup by point guard Bryan Mullins, who took advantage of Clifford's foul trouble by daring him to pick up another.
"Tim got in foul trouble and we didn't do a good job after he went out of the basketball game. They hurt us inside with a couple plays. When Tim came back in the game, he was a little tentative," said Willard.
That run proved to be decisive. After six lead changes in the first half, it gave the Salukis the advantage for good. Southrn Illinois led 30-25 at the half and Holy Cross could never get closer than 4 the rest of the night. It was still a four-point game when Clifford picked up his fourth personal with 5:40 to go.
"They are different (when Clifford is on the bench) because he is huge. He is massive in there," said Lowery. "That's when we really got it going."
SIU reserve forward Tony Boyle, who was the primary beneficiary of Clifford's foul woes, hit both shots to stretch the SIU lead to 48-42, starting a quick 6-0 run that pushed the lead to 52-43 while Clifford was on the bench. It was 52-46 when Clifford returned, and 53-46 12 seconds later when Boyle hit the front end of a one-and-one after Clifford fouled out at the 3:04 mark.
"Tim takes up that space. He blocks shots without going over people's backs. He really gives us an opportunity to go out and get on fast breaks, so losing Tim was a big bloc. Plus he came in and was playing tentative because he didn't want to pick up those fouls," said Thomas.
Boyle, who played just two scoreless minutes in the first half, played 19 minutes in the second after SIU's Matt Shaw suffered an ankle injury coming down with a rebound at the buzzer ending the first half. Shaw returned to the bench, but not to the floor, finishing with 11 points. Boyle picked up where he left off, scoring all of his career-high 14 points in the second half.
"We got Tony Boyle some stuff because (Clifford) was out," said Lowery.
With Clifford gone for good, SIU pulled away from there, going on a 7-0 spurt to put the game away.
Simmons was not the only Crusader who struggled on offense. Thomas finished with a game-high 15 points, but 9 of those came at the foul line and 4 more on a pair of uncontested layups in the final minute. Prior to the last minute, thomas had one field goal. Combined, Holy Cross' senior leaders went 3 for 21 from the field.
As a team, Holy Cross finished the night 14 of 42 (33.3 percent) from the field, turning the ball over 20 times against SIU's pressure. The Crusaders were 1 for 11 from the three-point arc.
Freshman Eric Meister was the offensive bright spot for HC, scoring a career-high 14 points on a 6 for 6 night, all from close range. Meister's scoring boost kept the Crusaders close much of the night. The 6-8 forward also had 8 rebounds.
Vander Baan, who also fouled out, grabbed 10 boards to lead all rebounders.
Joining Shaw and Boyle in double figures for SIU were Randal Falker and Jamaal Tatum. Falker had 12, most with Clifford in foul trouble. Hc kept Tatum, the Missouri Valley Conference Player of the Year, under wraps all night, holding him to 10 points on 2 for 9 shooting from the field. Four of his points came on free throws in the final 1:25 of the game.
10 minutes to tip: It appears we will get a late start. Thanks TV. The official tip time is here already and the two teams are actually back in the lockerrooms, getting final instructions before coming back out to complete warmups.
There's a healthy crowd of HC fans, along with the pep band, cheerleaders and the mascot. The band, cheerleaders and pep band do not appear to have consumed pregame spirits. All bets are off on the fans, especially the students, who look about how you would expect students to look at this time on a Friday night ... ready for a good time.
3:25 to tip: Both teams just returned to the floor. No obvious advantage crowd-wise if the size of the ovations as the teams came on the floor is any measure. It appears the obviously partisan sections are the only ones expressing a rooting interest thus far. That should be good news for the Crusaders. It does not appear as if the leftover Illinois fans are taking sides. At least not yet.
Player introductions: Having trouble publishing due to what is expected to be a brief server outtage. Great timing, eh? We will keep up while we wait for the server to come back on line.
HC 4, SIU 4 15:34 first On Keith Simmons' first shot, a missed three, Tim Clifford hustled after the long rebound in the corner, then tried to trap the Southern Illinois player who beat him to the ball. Admirable effort, but not a great idea. With Clifford trailing the play down the floor, Jamaal Tatum found an easy seem to the rim for a layup.
Clifford just tied things on a little jump hook after SIU's Randy Falker went down trying to draw a foul. Falker already has one personal. IF Clifford can get him in foul trouble, it could be key.
We're going to try to track deflections, a key stat for the HC defense which does not show in the official box score. At the first TV timeout, the Crusaders have three. Would be four, but a ref behind the play called a foul on Torey Thomas when he tried to strip the ball from SIU's Tony Young. .Missed the replay, so not sure about the call, but will question how the refs decided Young was in the act of shooting, thus giving him a pair of free throws.
SIU 9, HC 7 (11:32 first): HC's first lead comes at the 12:17 mark on a Tim Clifford bucket from two feet, powering through an SIU double team. The bucket came with Falker on the bench. the guy who replaced him, Tony Boyle, does not seem big enough to handle Clifford one on one and unlike Falker, seems to lack the athleticism to overcome the size and strength disadvantage.
HC 14, SIU 12 (8:58 first):potential problem for HC, Torey Thomas picks up his second personal at the 10:18 mark. It came on a three-point try by Tatum, who appeared to simply slip coming down from the shot.
To Thomas' credit, it does not seem to have taken away any of his aggressiveness. Less than a minute later he drew a charge. Meanwhile, Eric Meister has 5 points off the bench, the last three on an old fashioned three-point play after he beat the shot clock with a layup in traffic after a nifty pass from Pat Doherty.
Falker broke into the scoring column with a bucket in the paint while Clifford was on the bench catching a blow. Falker has done nothing offensively thus far when Clifford has been on him down low.
HSIU 24, HC 19 (3:37 first): Southern Illinois first to reach the bonus. Three quick calls against the Crusaders gave them seven team fouls at the 7:31 mark. The seventh was Tim Clifford's first. He got his second 37 seconds later and went to the bench.
Clifford's second, and most of the questionable calls against HC thus far, came from the whistle of the portly white-haired older gentleman, who thus far has not distinguished himself.
More trouble for HC. Vander Baan picks up his third foul with 4:36 to play. That brings Greg McCarthy into the game.
With Simmons catching a breath on the bench, and the starting bigs also sitting, SIU takes a 22-19 lead on an alley-oop layin by Matt Shaw. They extend it to 24-19 on another Shaw bucket, off a fastbreak -- this time after a goaltend call on McCarthy, who knocked the ball off the rim. The Salukis are in the midst of a 7-0 run.
HC deflections thus far stand at 9.
SIU 30, HC 25 (11:32 first):Clifford retunred at the last timeout and scored on another jump hook at the 2:58 mark, interrupting SIU's run, which had reached 9-0.
SIU's Shaw appears to have hurt his ankle coming down with an airball at the buzzer ending the first half. He was down a few moments, then got up and limped off. Shaw has a team-high 11 points at the half.
Other halftime stats: For SIU -- Tatum and Falker with 6 points each. SIU shooting 50 percent from the field (9 of 18), 1 of 6 from three-point range, 11-14 at the foul line.
For HC: Meister with 9 on 4 for 4 shooting. Clifford has 6. HC shooting 33 percent (7 of 21) from the field; 0 for 6 at the arc, 11 of 13 from the foul line.
Turnovers: HC with 12, SIU 12 Points from TO: HC 6, SIU 10 Points in the paint: HC 12, SIU 14 Fast break points: HC 2, SIU 6 Bench Points: HC 11, SIU 1 Largest lead: HC by 3 at the 9:44 mark; SIU by 7 at the 3:18 mark There have been 6 ties and 6 lead changes
Halftime analysis: Holy Cross has definitely shown it can hang with the Salukis when it has its best players on the floor. Whether they can keep those guys on the floor enough to pull off the upset remains to be seen. Most of SIU's late spurt came with Tim Clifford on the bench.
Still, if someone had told you Keith Simmons would be without a field goal and HC would still be within 5 at the half, you'd have to feel pretty good about your chances, assuming of course, Simmons gets things going a little on offense in the second half.
Thus far, HC unofficially has 9 deflections. That is well off the pace for reaching their goal of 40, but the defense has been very strong in the halfcourt. Where SIU has hurt them has been in transition. Limit that, get Simmons going, and keep Clifford on the floor and out of foul trouble, and things don't look bad for the Crusaders.
More halftime observations: Team fouls were even when Meister picked up HC's fifth team foul with 8:18 to go in the half. That started a string of 5 straight calls against HC players over the next two minutes, including two on Clifford and two on Vander Baan. When Meister picked up that foul, HC was up 16-13.
Team fouls in the first half: 11 on HC, 9 on SIU. But SIU's are spread across eight players, none of which has more than two.
SIU 31, HC 27 (15:20 to play) : Two fouls on SIU in the first two minutes include Tony Young's third and Falker's second.
Clifford's third foul -- at the 16:20 mark by our grey haired friend -- is an absolutely horrible call. Clifford straight up and down, holding his ground when Falker, out of control, drove into him. Falker made one of two, the first points of the half.
Clifford's answer was a strong bullrush move at the other end for HC's first bucket of the half.
SIU 35, HC 29 (13:21 to play): Speaking of officials, a check of the first round box scores shows friends of Hoop Time John Hughes and Rich Giallella each drew tournament assignments. Hughes worked the Virginia Commonwealth-Duke game; Giallella had the Belmont-Georgetown debacle.
HC cut the deficit to 31-29 on Thomas' free throws out of the last timeout. SIU responded with two buckets inside, one by Falker and one by TGony Boyle, bringing Ralph Willard off the bench for a timeout.
Simmons still without a field goal for HC. Actually, so is Thomas, who was 0 for 7 in the first half.
No sign of Shaw in the SIU rotation this half.
SIU 38, HC 34 (11:28 to play): Thomas gets his third personal at the 12:49 mark. Wanna guess which official made the questionable call?
Doherty hit HC's first three of the game at the 12:18 mark and Thomas followed with an acrobatic layup after a steal with Tatum defending. Thomas' bucket, at the 11:28 mark, is his first FG. Thomas and Simmons a combined 1 for 12 from the field so far.
SIU 44, HC 38 (7:53 to play): Simmons out of the game at the 10 minute mark, the trainer working on the back of his right leg. Looks like he is trying to massage out a cramp. Simmons returned 30 seconds later.
If HC should lose by one, or two, look back at Tony Boyle's tip in around the 9 minute mark. The ball seemed obviously on the rim to everyone near me on press row.
HC band, cheerleaders and some of the students break out that crazy drum cadence dance step at the timeout, trying to generate some heat for Simmons and Thomas, no doubt. Right now they are a combined 1 for 15.
SIU 52, HC 45 (3:16 to play): Clifford's fourth at the 5:40 mark. Guess who? Adding insult to injury, after Boyle makes both free throws, Clifford misses an open peep on an alley oop pass, though he did recover to break up an SIU fast break at the other end.
Falker also picked up his fourth, foulding Vander Baan at the 4:39 mark, but Vander Baan missed boith free throws, and another when he was fouled again six seconds later after HC got the rebound of his second miss.
Meister keeping the Crusaders in the game. His latest layup gives him 13 points and cuts the SIU lead to 52-45 with HC about to shoot two free throws after the timeout.
SIU 55, HC 46 (2:02 to play) Clifford returns at the timeout at 3:16 and fouls out 12 seconds later trying to block a Boyle shot. He got all ball with his hands, but may have had the body.
With Clifford out, Boyle scores an easy reverse layup for a 55-46 SIU lead. Things looking mighty tough for the Crusaders.
Simmons was out getting worked on again. He is back, but hard to expect him to suddenly become effective, especially if he is cramping.
SIU 56, HC 47 (1:29 to go): SIU fans on their feet and celebrating already. Of course a 9 point lead with a minute and a half to go seems fairly safe when you play D the way SIU does.
SIU 61, HC 51 (FINAL) Vander Baan fouls out with 1:12 to go. If you guessed our old buddy made the call, you'd be right.
Simmons leaves the game with 1 minute to play, finishing without a field goal in the final game of his career.
In the end, the Crusaders just didn't have the horses to keep with the Salukis, not with Simmons hobbling, Thomas missing shots and the big guys saddled with foul trouble. Given the circumstances, staying within 10 is probably as good as you could expect.
Among those giving it up for the Crusaders: NFL defensive back Ronde Barber (his brother Tiki takes SIU); Brian McGovern, who co-hosts Jerry Tarkanian's fine Shark Tank show; John Hein, co-host of the Wrap-up Show on Howard 100 and Alexis and Jenifer from the Martha Stewart Living Channel, who have the Crusaders inked in all the way to the final, when the ladies say they will lose the title to Oral Roberts (guess God likes fundamentalists better).
Over on the CBS network site, they unveil a few CBS celebrity picks. Only one CBS personality picks the 'Saders: Alyson Hannigan, who is in the show How I met Your Mother (she used to be in Buffy the Vampire Slayer and was that band camp girl in the American Pie movies).
The guy who does the Washington Post's Sports Bog blog got a bunch of D.C. area semicelebrities to enter brackets. Didn't check them all, but did find one prominent expert with a lot of hoops knowledge who picked Holy Cross -- Morgan Wootten, the legendary Dematha high coach).
It appears those two student buses made it through the snow.
By halftime of tonight's first game, the Holy Cross sections of Nationwide Arena have pretty much turned purple, with a full contingent of fans, many decked out in familiar 'Sader Nation T-shirts.
During the intermission, they even offered up a little of the "Holy" ... "Cross" call and response cheer.
Illinois lead Virginia Tech at the break, giving rise to speculative discussion about the possible impact of an Illinois win on the crowd for game two.
The question is, will Illinois fans root for Southern Illinois? Since Southern and the Illini are not rivals in the traditional sense, it would seem likely that Illinois fans would root for their neighbors to the south.
When Bucknell played Kansas two years ago, the conventional wisdom was that Oklahoma State fans, and Oklahoma City locals who root for Oklahoma, might give the Bison a crowd edge by cheering the Jayhawks' demise.
That did not happen, the Big 12 fans stuck together for the most part to support the Jayhawks.
If Illinois were to lose this one, that might become a moot point. Illini fans might simply leave en masse, leaving behind a score of empty seats for the nightcap, but no crowd edge for the Salukis.
On the other hand, an Illini win might trigger a decision to stick around, at least for half of the nightcap. If that happens, and the game stays close -- which everybody seems to expect since nobody is anticipating much scoring -- they might even hang around to the end.
On a related note, HC fans who could not make it to Columbus ought to be wishing for a blowout in the Villanova-Kentucky game. If that one stays close, CBS is unlikely to cut away to the HC-SIU game as often or for as long. Outside of New England and areas where Southern is a high interest team, the battle of the Wildcats is likely to be the lead television game.
Fans with high speed connections can also try using CBS Sportsline.com's free video stream to view the game. Bob Fouracre's call for the HC network is available online. You can also get the Westwood One radio feed of the game on Sirius 122.
Reports from teh Holy Cross camp indicate the winter storm that hit the northeast is playing havoc with fans' travel plans.
Assistant A.D. Frank Mastrandea says he has been getting calls all day from Holy Cross fans who are unable to get here due to grounded flights.
fans are not the only ones encountering difficulties. The Holy Cross women, en route to Raleigh for Sunday's first round game against Duke in the women's tournament, are spending the night in Boston after their flight was cancelled.
No word yet on the two buses of HC students that left Worcester at 6 a.m. The trip by bus was expected to take 12 hours, but with tipoff near for the evening's first game (Illinois-Virginia Tech), there are few signs of purple in Nationwide Arena -- at least in the seating areas, we have not checked the bars.
As promised earlier, here is a transcript of the Southern Illinois players' press conference:
REPORTER: This is for Tony. It's been quite a while since you guys played a game. How do you guys handle the time in between the tournament and do you think that will have any effect on the way you play?
YOUNG: I think the last week or so we've been getting back focused on doing the small things that we do. After last week's loss, we've had a lot of time to sit back and focus on things we need to getter better on and we've just been going hard at each other getting ready to play the game. I think we'll be ready to play once we get back on the floor.
REPORTER: Jamaal, could you just talk about your opponent and what kind of a game you expect.
TATUM: Well, I know off the top we expect a dog fight. That's the type of things we're good at. We know they're going to come out and play hard for 40 minutes just like we're going to do. As far as the type of defense and all that stuff, we haven't really gone over that stuff a lot yet, but I think we're ready to go.
REPORTER: A question for Jamaal or Tony, you've always been a really defense-minded team, but this year you're scoring a lot more points, you're winning a lot more games, getting a lot more national attention. Is there anything in your minds that has changed this year from last year that you're doing in preparation?
YOUNG: I don't think we're doing anything differently, I think we're just more focused on getting better at the thing we weren't as good at. Like I said last year we struggled a lot on offense, so for us being a more mature team and growing and learning from the things we did last year, I think this year is just focusing on doing offensive things and Coach is giving us a lot more shots in practice and just working on your own game and working on your own offensive skills.
REPORTER: Jamaal, I wonder if you could just reflect on when you first met Tony and how you've seen his game at all, but also his personality and temperament.
TATUM: When I first met him, I just thought that we were -- I looked up to him and I was like, he's going to take me, he's going to be what shows me the ropes and stuff and then I kind of realized that we were pretty much peers, you know, and we enjoy the same things, have similar personalities and we're both sore losers. And over the years, I just realized that we both had to become better leaders and we were both willing to do it and we both did. So I think that over the course of time, he's become a lot more mature and that's helped me become a lot more mature.
REPORTER: Both of you, I know I'm putting you on the spot because your coach is sitting next to you, but what's special about playing for Coach Lowery?
YOUNG: The biggest thing about playing for Coach is he's one of the coaches that understands his players. You've got a lot of people that push you to do things you don't want to do, he gives us the freedom to go out and play the way we want to play but within his offense and the things he wants us to do. And he really rides us and makes us strive to be the best we can be as far as people, as far as players, really just all around. He doesn't settle for us being second best. He doesn't let us settle for it either.
TATUM: I'll agree with Tony on that. He definitely pushes us. When he came back from Illinois and we got our first workout with him, he put me and Tony against each other and I thought he was trying to make us transfer schools or something the way he came at us, but he was just expecting a lot out of us, he knew it was going to be a big year and he knew that he had some shoes to fill and we had some shoes to fill and that we had to be a good team and we were a great team that year and he came back and he really put it on us and made things difficult for us. That's the thing about him, he expects so much out of all his players that he will push you and I'm thankful for what he's done because I've become a lot better player under him.
REPORTER: For both of you guys, Southern's been sort of the underdog in this situation in the last few appearances, now you guys come in with a high seed and you're sort of taking on a different role, could you talk about that, being the favorite, and also is Southern starting to become like a Gonzaga of the midwest?
YOUNG: I think as far as being a favorite, you look at every game the same because going into the NCAA tournament, anyone could lose at any day, so you can't come in and think that just because you're a favorite that you're automatically going to win or you can't disrespect your opponents. I think the big thing is to stay level headed and play our hardest.
TATUM: I definitely think we have the same mind set as we had the year before and the year before that, no matter what seed we are. We go in and fight every day in practice, we go in and work hard and we compete and I think fourth seed or 10 seed or 12 seed, we're going to go play the same, hardest on the court.
REPORTER: This is the fourth time around for both of you guys, it's the last time around for both of you guys, how are you approaching this or is your mind set any different after you've been here all these years?
YOUNG: I think maturity level is the big difference for us. Before we came in knowing we won't win, but having the outlook that if we lose, we'll be back next year, having something to look forward to as far as getting ready for next year, but with it being our last year, it really just hits you, the fact of reality that once you lose it's all over with, so we just stay on everyone else and stay on each other to continue to get better and get ready to play hard.
REPORTER: Tony, just look back at how you came to Southern Illinois, how that worked out, it seemed like kind of a crazy path.
YOUNG: I think it worked out great for me when I came in, I was a little scrawny kid getting beat up by everybody. It was a learning process for me, I mean, now, I go out and try and pick on as many people as I can. Once you've been in a program like this and you play with so many different people and so many different types of players, you learn how to grow up and you learn how to go out and try your hardest to win games and I think Coach Lowery really taught me a lot about myself as far as a person and playing basketball.
REPORTER: Just to follow up, also how did it work out to be at SIU?
YOUNG: How did I get there? I was getting recruited by a bunch of different schools, SIU, when I went on my visit, I went to the Sweet 16 and watched the practice. I talked to Marcus Belcher and Coach Weber, and then when I came on my visit, it was just a lockdown, talked to all the players, got a chance to hang out with everybody. With this program, being around us, you can feel how much of a family everyone is. You can feel how much everyone actually likes each other and is always around each other. When I got that feel from everybody, it was a no-brainer for me.
REPORTER: Do you feel an edge this year that you all didn't have last year at this moment going into this tournament, and why do you think that is? Based on what you guys have been talking about, but what's the single biggest factor?
YOUNG: I think the biggest factor is fear for us right now. We know what we want to do, but everyone's scared for it to end. Nobody wants to lose, nobody wants to go home. So I mean, we just go out and just continue to practice hard every day regardless of what we're going to play, who we're going to play. We continue to beat up on each other regardless of how we feel. We came to shoot a lot of shots and do all those little things that people would usually lag away from, just to try to get to the NCAA tournament, just for the fact that we want to continue to get better. So our mentality this year is different from other years and we don't want to lose, we're not going into it as, well, if we lose, it's another year. We're looking at it as if we lose, it's all over so we're going to go out and just give it our all.
TATUM: I think that we can tell we have an extra advantage this year by the way we're practicing right now, and practice has been very physical and everybody's been competing and that's what you expect for a team that's going to make a big run in the tournament. And every day, we haven't seen the intensity slip and that's what has to happen to carry over into the game so I think the edge is definitely there.
REPORTER: Can you answer the question I asked Tony a while ago, about how your attitude towards playing in the tournament is different this time around and how it's changed through the four years?
TATUM: I think we both know that this is definitely on our clock right now. You go out the first round of the tournament and that's when your clock is on, Tony and Jamaal's clock, no one else's clock. It's kind of one of those things if you want your legacy to be good or not, Tony and Jamaal, their senior year, they were really mature and leaders and led their team to how far we go in the tournament, to a lot of wins.
REPORTER: Could you just describe Tony's demeanor on the court and do you think it's accurate to say that he likes to have the other fans kind of hate him.
TATUM: I think so. I think we all like to have the other fans hate us, we get our motivation that way. But I think more than the other fans hate him, I think he likes to have the other players hate him and that's the biggest thing right there, when he knows he's getting underneath somebody's skin, he tries to do it even more. That's what you've got to have. That's the mind set of a great player, a great competitor like he is.
REPORTER: For both or either of you, for your years now you've seen how the Missouri Valley just keeps getting better and better. Can you talk a little bit about the quality of the conference, as a Mid Major, and maybe whether it's about time for it to go?
YOUNG: I don't even refer to us as a Mid Major. I don't even like the word, so I just look at it as if we're a competitive school. I feel we can compete with anyone anytime we get on the court with them. As far as our conference goes, we've got all these schools constantly winning games and beating these high major teams and all these bigger teams and the quality of players and all these schools are getting the quality players that we recruit and all these other schools are constantly getting better. So I think that just makes our conference that much better every year.
TATUM: Honestly, I don't even pay attention to the terms they use to describe the caliber of team as us right now or our conference, because we get the respect we deserve after the game and nobody comes up to us after the game and tells us, you're a good Mid Major team, they come up to us after the game and tell us, you're a good team. And I remember playing Oklahoma State sophomore year and their coach coming up to the coach and telling him how good of a team we are, he didn't say you guys are good for a Mid Major team, so I don't really even pay attention to the titles anymore.
REPORTER: Tony, maybe I should have asked you this first, do you sort of like that feeling of, I don't know if villain is the right word of really getting under people's skin and relish that?
YOUNG: I enjoy it. Ever since I was in high school, you just play defense on somebody, they get mad at you, it's funny to me, just to see how other people react, and then when I got here, I know how I reacted when Stetson and B. T. and all those guys did it to me, so if I can make somebody feel the way I used to feel, that's a great thing.
REPORTER: Just to follow up, what would you say the difference in your temper is today than it was four years ago?
YOUNG: I think it's maturity, just growing up and becoming more of a man than I was before. Before you get mad over everything and let certain things bother you, and now you just brush it off.
REPORTER: Tony, does Holy Cross remind you of any team that you've played before? How would they compare, say, to Creighton?
YOUNG: I can't compare them to Creighton, because I haven't seen them play a lot. I watched a couple games, but unless you play against them, you can't really compare two teams like that. But watching them play, they're a good team. Seeing them get out and run and seeing some of the things they do, but like before, we need to go out and continue to play hard, just do the things that we do.
REPORTER: For both of you, when you saw the brackets and people looked and saw Illinois is a possibility, what was the reaction or was there any reaction at all?
TATUM: I think everybody had to get past the fact that we couldn't possibly be playing them, because you have to get past your first round game to play everybody. We're a very mature team, so I think everybody got past that quickly and realized that we had a good Holy Cross team ahead of us, and that was the first line of business.
Both teams play tremendous defense. Both do it in a different way, though.
The matchup between Holy Cross and Southern Illinois features two of the top 10 defensive teams in the nation. The Salukis allow 56.5 points per game, third best among all 300-plus Division I teams in the nation.
Holy Cross, which allows 57.1 points per contest, is just behind, ranked sixth nationally in scoring defense.
"Our defense is very similar, they try to keep everybody out of the middle. They give great weak side help. They only allow 56 points a game, we allow 57. So they play with a great deal of emotion and passion on the defensive end as we do and it's going to be a battle," said HC senior Torey Thomas, when asked to compare the two styles of play.
Holy Cross switches defenses more and plays a good deal of zone. Southern Illinois will employ mainly man-to-man.
That is not the only difference.
"They're committed to defense like we are committed to defense," said Crusaders coach Ralph Willard. "But they're so much more physical than we are."
It's a difference in philosophy..
"We do many more things on the defensive end in terms of trying to make you think, they're just trying to wear you down and keep constant pressure on you," said Willard.
"We have to guard all of them. And I think when we focus on that and are consistently focused on trying to take away stuff and trying to make their life miserable, make them feel like they don't have enough space on the court, we have a chance," said SIU coach Chris Lowery.
MAN IN THE MIDDLE: The perception among the Southern Illinois media contingent seems to be that Holy Cross junior center Tim Clifford might give the Salukis fits inside. At 6-10, 270, Clifford is both taller, and physically more imposing, than any post type Southern Illinois can deploy.
Holy Cross coach Ralph WIllard hopes those SIU beat guys are right. Getting Clifford going in the paint could make a huge difference for the Crusaders.
"We're going to try and get the ball inside. Obviously we try and do that against every opponent," said Willard "They're quicker and more athletic than we are, but one of the things they do a great job is putting tremendous pressure on the basketball much so one way to relieve that is by getting the ball to the middle of the floor and getting it inside to your big guys. So they double, they take away the post in a lot of different ways, they do a great job rotating, but it's obviously something we're going to have to try and exploit in order to -- really in order to get our guards more looks at the basket too."
One thing Clifford adds to the mix is his ability to step away from the basket to shoot the jumper, even out to three-point range. A career 40.7 percent shooter from the arc, Clifford has knocked down 13 of the 35 treys he has taken this season. That is a concern for SIU coach Chris Lowery.
"(Clifford) is huge. I mean, he's very big. He's probably better defensively than most people think and he's not a high-riser. He takes up a lot of space and he challenges a lot of shots. So our biggest thing is that we can't allow him to get his confidence on offense, because when he does that, he can step away and make shots away from the rim, and when he's doing that, that makes Simmons even better," said Lowery.
One thing SIU will look to do is to attack Clifford when it has the ball, hoping to get him in foul trouble. That has been a problem at times; Clifford has fouled out of seven games this season. It is an area where he has improved as the season wore on, though. Through the last 17 games, Clifford has fouled out just once ( at Hofstra).
Without Clifford on the floor, Holy Cross looks very different. When he plays up to his capabilities, the Crusaders have looked very good.
"Tim's play down the stretch has been incredible. He had six blocks in the first half of our championship game. And like you say, he's been plugging up the middle. He's been a force on the boards, block shots, down on the post on offense, and his play really opens up our play," SImmons said. "Tim's been playing really well."
SCOUTING SIMMONS: Here is Lowery's take on the Patriot League Player of the Year: "He could play a lot of different places in the country. I was shocked how good he was, I had no idea until you watch him more than once. When people say somebody's good, your first impression is, yeah, he's okay, but as you continue to watch him, he's very talented. He's an explosive athlete. He's obviously become a much better shooter than when he got there. His field goal percentages are high. He's a kid who's going to make money playing, so obviously he's a good player."
TOUTING TOREY: Lowery is also very high on Holy Cross point guard Torey Thomas. Here is what he has to say about the 5-9 senior: "I love the kid, he'd be great with us. He steals the ball from anybody close to them. That sets up everything that they do, because not only is he their best defender, he also is their best guy at pushing the basketball. And that's why him and Simmons really have a strong niche together as teammates. They get in transition after steals, after misshots, as well as anybody in the country."
SHOOTAROUND TIDBITS: The crowds for the shootarounds seemed much smaller in Columbus than they did two years ago in Oklahoma City or last year in Dallas. There were probably less than 100 people on hand to watch Southern Illinois -- a good number of those being Illinois fans who arrived early. Even fewer folks on hand for HC's workout.
Aside from parents, only one bit of purple was spotted in the crowd.
Both teams took a similar approach to the shootarounds, running through a series of shooting drills to get used to the lights, background and rims in Nationwide Arena.
The Salukis have been to the Big Dance before. But then, so has Ralph Willard.
One of the biggest differences between these two teams is experience.
Not only do the Salukis have twice as many seniors (4-2) as Holy Cross, but two of their four are fifth-year guys, redshirting being a common practice at SIU (the roster also includes two second-year freshmen, two-third-year sophomores and three fourth year juniors. And most of the Salukis have been here before since Southern Illinois has made the NCAA Tournament six seasons in a row.
Tony Young, a fifth-year senior, added some perspective to that experience.
"I think maturity level is the big difference for us," said Young. "Before we came in knowing we won't win, but having the outlook that if we lose, we'll be back next year, having something to look forward to as far as getting ready for next year, but with it being our last year, it really just hits you, the fact of reality that once you lose it's all over with."
Contrast that with Holy Cross, which made it to the tournament three years in a row between 2001 and 2003, but has not been back since any players on the current roster arrived on Mt. St. James.
"When we were coming over here we had about three police escorts and I was like, Coach, we've got escorts, he said, if you would have made it to the tournament a couple more times, you would have known that," laughed HC guard Torey Thomas, one of the Crusaders two seniors.
Five of the Salukis have even won a game in the tournament, beating 10th seeded Saint Mary's in 2005 when they entered the first round in Oklahoma City as a No. 7 seed.
Being the higher seed this time won't change their approach, Tatum and Young both said.
"I definitely think we have the same mind set as we had the year before and the year before that, no matter what seed we are. We go in and fight every day in practice, we go in and work hard and we compete and I think fourth seed or 10 seed or 12 seed, we're going to go play the same," Tatum said.
"As far as being a favorite, you look at every game the same because going into the NCAA tournament, anyone could lose at any day, so you can't come in and think that just because you're a favorite that you're automatically going to win or you can't disrespect your opponents. I think the big thing is to stay level headed and play our hardest," Young added.
Having been here before is a definite advantage for the Salukis.
"It definitely makes a big difference that they've been here. The experience is always key," said Thomas.
That experience edge is limited to the players. Holy Cross coach Ralph Willard has been to five NCAA Tournaments -- including three with the Crusaders -- and three NITs.Salukis coach Chris Lowery would have been a freshman in college when Willard first coached a team (Western Kentucky in 1993) to an NCAA Tournament appearance.
Holy Cross will rely on Willard's experience, and his game plan, to even things with Southern Illinois.
"Coach Willard is a great Coach, he's been doing this for a long time, he's been at every level of college and the NBA. We've been trying to take a lot from his experience, he's been here with Holy Cross three times and with other teams so we try to look to him for guidance and I think he's done a really good job this week in preparing us for this situation and leading us with his experience and he's a great asset in this game because he's our leader and he's our coach and hopefully he can steer us in the right path," Simmons said.
"Experience is definitely something that they have on their side. It's a definite advantage for them. But we've developed a game plan and we're going to go out there and try and execute our game plan. We're really focusing ourselves in doing what we do best. Southern Illinois is a very good team and they are really experienced but we're going to concentrate on executing our game plan and playing the way Holy Cross plays," said Simmons.
Added Thomas: "Coach Willard is a great coach in this situation, you've got a chance to prepare, plenty of days to prepare for a team for one game and I feel like he's always got a great game plan to help us to a victory in that regard. He's going to help us play to our strengths and try to help us make them play to their weaknesses."
Willard said having a precise game plan will make it easier for his team to focus and avoid some of the distractions that come with playing on the game's grandest stage.
"This is the NCAA, but it's also another basketball game. We compartmentalize the game into sections. We come with a very detailed game plan, so I think by concentrating on the little things, I think you can tend to block out the surroundings and the so-called stature of the stage or the magnitude of the stage. So I think our guys, I know the two seniors, this won't bother them at all. Some of the young guys, it may have an effect, but again, we pa so much attention to detail and concentrate on that so much, I don't think the stage will be that big a factor," Willard said.
Here is thge full transcript of Holy Cross coach Ralph Willard's Thursday evening press conference: COACH WILLARD: Well, I'm happy for the two young men that were just here. They're great leaders. Our only two seniors, they've done a great job in our program. They've been a real credit to our school, both on the basketball floor and off the floor and couldn't be happier for those two guys.
REPORTER: How important is your inside play going to be against Southern? You have quite a big size advantage.
COACH WILLARD: We're going to try and get the ball inside. Obviously we try and do that against every opponent. They're quicker and more athletic than we are, but one of the things they do a great job is putting tremendous pressure on the basketball much so one way to relieve that is by getting the ball to the middle of the floor and getting it inside to your big guys. So they double, they take away the post in a lot of different ways, they do a great job rotating, but it's obviously something we're going to have to try and exploit in order to -- really in order to get our guards more looks at the basket too.
REPORTER: When you look at the Southern Illinois team, is there anything that makes you say, hey, they're like us, especially on the defensive end? I mean, are there things that they do that are very similar to what you do?
COACH WILLARD: Well, I don't know, I'll say this. They're committed to defense like we are committed to defense. I think that's the similarity. But they're so much more physical than we are. I saw the media guide and the Barry Hinson quote about getting the attack dogs from the police station and putting the meat juice on the players' arms, they're much more physical than we are. We do many more things on the defensive end in terms of trying to make you think, they're just trying to wear you down and keep constant pressure on you. Both teams, though both teams are committed to defense, I think there's a different philosophy between the two teams. Those kids are selfless, to play defense like that, you have to be totally selfless, and their team is, they are totally committed to that end of the floor first, and then to the offensive end. Which in today's game, it's tough to get kids to commit the way they do, but they certainly do a good job of it.
REPORTER: Coach Willard, what about their offense?
COACH WILLARD: Well, they have a great guard in Tatum, Young's a great shooter, Falker is great inside, 32, the other kid, the power forward stretches you because he can shoot the three. I've read where they're not a great offensive team, but looking at them, they do a lot of things that make it difficult to guard them. They used the high low pass exceptionally well with Falker and again, their guards are quick. The point guard is amazing to me, he reminds me of the Energizer bunny, he plays defense and never seems to tire. They're a good offensive team. They're also very patient. That's part of their philosophy in wearing you down too, making you defend for 25, 30 seconds before they take a shot. Now, obviously, the other thing is, because of their quickness, they are dangerous in transition, and that's one of the things we can't afford to let them do is transition and get out and get some easy baskets.
REPORTER: Ralph, you talked about your seniors, can you just talk a little more about how Keith came back from the whole cramping issue last year and Torey coming back from the off season knee surgery.
COACH WILLARD: Yeah, Keith's thing last year with the cramping, it really, if that didn't happen, we would have been a heck of a basketball team last year because we probably had two of the best wing players anywhere with Kevin Hamilton and if Keith would have been healthy. Unfortunately, he wasn't. He just did a great job of constantly battling. We tried everything in the world, pickle juice, the whole bit. We've tried everything to get rid of the cramps. He's just a great young man and I'm happy he had the year he's had. The fact he's been able to play 38, 40 minutes a game. Torey's getting hurt in the first half of the Bucknell game last year in the championship game was really devastating to him. And this year really he played on one and a half legs. The surgery was done, but he hadn't fully recovered going into the season and for the first, I would say, actually through the end of December, beginning of January, he was playing on one and a half legs, and he's got the heart of a champion, that kid. I hate to see this end. I want to keep this going for a lot of reasons, but saying good-bye to these guys is going to be very difficult.
REPORTER: Talk a little bit of their experience and what kind of a factor having them here these last four years.
COACH WILLARD: I think anytime you have experience in anything, it helps you. I'm sure that's one of the things that they feel good about. They try and compartmentalize their surroundings in the game. This is the NCAA, but it's also another basketball game. We compartmentalize the game into sections. We come with a very detailed game plan, so I think by concentrating on the little things, I think you can tend to block out the surroundings and the so-called stature of the stage or the magnitude of the stage. So I think our guys, I know the two seniors, this won't bother them at all. Some of the young guys, it may have an effect, but again, we pay so much attention to detail and concentrate on that so much, I don't think the stage will be that big a factor.
REPORTER: Talk about Alex Vander Baan. COACH WILLARD: He's a tall, skinny kid. He shouldn't get the rebounds he gets. He plays good defense. He blocks shots. He's one of those kids you need to be a good basketball team, and his offense has improved as the year has gone on. I wish he would shoot the basketball more than he does because he's a very, very good shooter, but Alex is a glue-type player, you need glue players on your team and he's one of them.
REPORTER: Coach, a key for your season, 25 wins, what do you feel has been the major key? I know defense, but besides that.
COACH WILLARD: I think we've become a pretty good rebounding team. We've developed our players a little bit as we've gone along. Clifford has gotten better offensively, he's had some big point games for us. I think the consistency of Torey and Keith has been the thing that's enabled us to achieve what we've achieved. They're consistent on both ends of the floor. They both defend exceptionally well and are both good offensive players. Torey has the ability to go by just about anybody, especially on the open floor. So I think those things, the consistency of those two kids and the development of some of the role players, if you will, has been what's enabled us to be successful.
Technical glitches prevent us from posting the audio from Holy Cross' press conferences, but here is a full transcript of Keith Simmons and Torey Thomas' Q&A with the media this evening in Columbus:
REPORTER: Keith, what have you learned about your opponent?
SIMMONS: We watch a lot of film of them and we just continue to learn how good of a defensive team they are and how tough they are on the defensive end. And Coach has been telling us that they're probably the most physical team that we're going to play all year, even with the schedule we've played, they play physical for 40 minutes and they play hard for 40 minutes.
REPORTER: A lot of talk about both teams being very good defensively. Can you compare their defense to yours and kind of contrast what do you do the same, what do you do different?
THOMAS: Well, our defense is very similar, they try to keep everybody out of the middle. They give great weak side help. They only allow 56 points a game, we allow 57. So they play with a great deal of emotion and passion on the defensive end as we do and it's going to be a battle.
SIMMONS: Well, we switch up defenses a little bit, we switch from a man to a zone, they're primarily a man team. Like Torey said, I think the principles are the same, to keep people out of the middle and to give a lot of help defensively.
REPORTER: To both of these gentlemen, how does this feel to make it to the NCAA for the first time?
SIMMONS: It feels really good. We're just trying to enjoy the experience and trying to prepare ourselves to compete tomorrow, but we're enjoying this and it's our first trip, it's our last year as seniors so we're trying to enjoy the process of this.
THOMAS: Just going on what Keith said, we've been here for four years together, we're the only two seniors here, so it's a special moment, special feeling, so hopefully it will be a special tournament for us.
REPORTER: How much did your early season, 11 games in a row, prepare you for this, and games at Syracuse and Duke and other places, how much did that prepare you for this?
THOMAS: It prepared, I think, one hundred percent for a game of this magnitude, Southern Illinois is a very physical team with the likes of Providence, Syracuse and Duke that we played early in the season. It keeps our mentality, because we have to play teams with high majors, the mentality for us is to be able to stay in the game and play tough defense and try to execute from the offensive end so those games helped a hundred percent.
SIMMONS: I think it gives us a little bit of experience going into this game to have played teams that are really tough and teams that are in the tournament, we've played some tournament teams. It gives us some experience and we were really just lucky to have the schedule that we did to prepare us for this time of the year.
REPORTER: Torey, what has Coach Willard told you about the whole NCAA experience, and have you talked to any of your former teammates who have been here before?
THOMAS: Well, a funny joke, when we were coming over here we had about three police escorts and I was like, Coach, we've got escorts, he said, if you would have made it to the tournament a couple more times, you would have known that. So he jokes, so really relishing the opportunity to be here, he's not telling me any logistics or anything, he's saying go out there, be yourself, have fun out there and that's exactly what he's preaching. He's giving us the experience that we came here for business, but also, this opportunity only comes once.
REPORTER: Keith, can you talk a little bit about coming back from the cramping issues that you had last season and just how you felt physically throughout this season.
SIMMONS: We, I felt a lot better this season, I haven't had any problems with the cramping. It just felt really good this season to be able to play at my full strength. Last year I was dealing with the cramps throughout the whole season. It was refreshing not to have to sit on the sidelines. That's why this is even a little more special for me because I didn't even know if I would be healthy enough to even play this year and to be healthy and to be back and be a hundred percent is and be here is really special.
REPORTER: And you've maintained that special diet and hydration plan that you got over the summer?
SIMMONS: Yes, I do some things with the trainer, Anthony, and just watching my hydration and watching my salt intake and potassium intake and some other things. It's not a hassle anymore. I'm used to it now, and just ready to play.
REPORTER: Both of you gentlemen, key or keys to your successful season this year.
THOMAS: One of our major keys is defense, but not only defense, but we play good field goal percentage defense, our rebound margin has been tops on our team and also transition, getting out in the open and transition. But when we don't have any transition baskets, our execution down the stretch has been good, different plays being drawn up.
SIMMONS: I think just staying in the moment. I think there was a time this year where we went through the rough patch where we lost four in a row. Things were really -- everyone was really frustrated and we looked at each other like, we're going to compete and play, but we need to enjoy every moment of this and really pay attention in practice and focus and stay in the moment and once we started to do that, we are able to build a little confidence even from practices and we were able to execute better at both ends of the floor and every possession is the most important possession.
REPORTER: Guys, if you could talk a little bit about, they are very experienced, been here four years in a row, you guys are making your first trip, does that make a difference and if so, how?
THOMAS: I feel like that that definitely makes a big difference that they've been here. The experience is always key. But for us, two seniors, our leadership, we've been in big games, we've played in big games, so we just understand the ability to keep your composure in big stages like this and help our team get through this and I think we'll be all right.
SIMMONS: Like Torey said, experience is definitely something that they have on their side. It's a definite advantage for them. But we've developed a game plan and we're going to go out there and try and execute our game plan. We're really focusing ourselves in doing what we do best. Southern Illinois is a very good team and they are really experienced but we're going to concentrate on executing our game plan and playing the way Holy Cross plays.
REPORTER: Torey, you've been known for your defense, but as of late, you've been the top rebounder as one of the smallest players on the floor; explain.
THOMAS: We're boxing out very well, our big men have been in position to box the big men out, so I've been able to get over the top rebounds and chase the guards down, so I really credit the big men down low, and the guards, putting the body on them and I'm just taking the scrap and I'm very aggressive to the ball, if you have the ball in your hand, you're going to win the game. As many times we have the possession, is a better chance we can win the game.
REPORTER: You guys both have played a lot of minutes this year. Torey, I guess neither of you will likely come out of the game for more than a minute tomorrow. Do you have to caution against coming out too amped up on this big stage to avoid running out of gas by the end of the game against a team that's deeper than you?
THOMAS: I feel like we've been playing. I'm accustomed to playing 40 minutes a game for the past two seasons. The biggest thing is hopefully not getting injured. That's what happened to me last year against Bucknell, I got injured in the game. If I can avoid an injury, I don't feel like the minutes will be a factor. My body got accustomed to it, my workout regimen is structured to handle that. You don't know how you're going to feel until the game comes so I'll see how that is when the game tips off at 9:40.
REPORTER: Could both of you comment on Coach Willard?
SIMMONS: Coach Willard is a great Coach, he's been doing this for a long time, he's been at every level of college and the NBA. We've been trying to take a lot from his experience, he's been here with Holy Cross three times and with other teams so we try to look to him for guidance and I think he's done a really good job this week in preparing us for this situation and leading us with his experience and he's a great asset in this game because he's our leader and he's our coach and hopefully he can steer us in the right path.
THOMAS: I feel like Coach Willard is a great coach in this situation, you've got a chance to prepare, plenty of days to prepare for a team for one game and I feel like he's always got a great game plan to help us to a victory in that regard. He's going to help us play to our strengths and try to help us make them play to their weaknesses. So Coach Willard, there is no other coach I would want to play for my four years, it's been a great experience much me and Keith have been with him for four years, and we learned a lot, we learned a lot about our leadership qualities and he drove us to be better leaders and better people.
REPORTER: A really big key this year has been Tim Clifford and the way that he's improved his game and been able to really plug up the middle. You guys have seen him mature and seen his game mature. What can you say about him and his contribution to the team this year?
SIMMONS: Tim has been huge for us this year. To be a good team, you need to have different looks, you need to have an inside/outside game. Tim's play down the stretch has been incredible. He had six blocks in the first half of our championship game. And like you say, he's been plugging up the middle. He's been a force on the boards, block shots, down on the post on offense, and his play really opens up our play, for him to be playing well in the middle allows the guards to get some open looks on the outside, so his play is tremendous and we've seen him mature and Tim's been playing really well and I'm really happy for him and he's going to be a really good player.
REPORTER:For Holy Cross to get a win, what will be a key or keys?
THOMAS: Got to be able to handle Southern Illinois's pressure, staying composed and making plays. I think it's going to be a defensive slugfest, but whoever executes the best is going to win the game.
SIMMONS: Keeping them off the offensive glass and having the transition work for every basket and keeping them to one shot.
Southern Illinois just wrapped up its press conferences here at Nationwide Arena
Tech problems prevent us posting the players portion. We should have a text transcript a little later though. Meanwhile, hear SIU coach Chris Lowery's thoughts on his team, Holy Cross and the game by clicking here.
Holy Cross has had its share of travel fun this season -- the train ride to Annapolis stands out as perhaps their most adventurous itinerary -- but you'd have figured traveling to the NCAA Tournament would be a breeze.
Figure again. Instead of a direct flight to Columbus, the Crusaders were forced to fly from Providence to Philadelphia, where they had a two-hour layover before catching another plane to Columbus.
The Crusaders left campus after practicing Wednesday and arrived at their hotel around 10 p.m. last night.
Not sure what brought about the round-about travel plans. A quick check on Expedia showed non-stops from Logan for a cheaper fare than what was available from Providence.
Today's schedule included a team breakfast with films, a late afternoon practice at Columbus State, then their press conference and public workout here at Nationwide Arena, followed by a team dinner tonight.
A busy day of public workouts and press conferences is underway in Columbus Ohio's Nationwide Arena, where Holy Cross will take on Southern Illinois Friday in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
All eight teams competing at the site take their turns meeting the media and getting in a quick shootaround on the Nationwide Arena floor.
Albany was first up, the Danes arriving at the arena with three motorcycle cops escorting their bus through the non-existent Columbus traffic.
Obviously today's weather -- it was raining when we hit the road in Zanesville this morning and snowing by the time we made Columbus around 10:30 a.m. -- has a factor in the lack of pedestrian traffic, at least in the parts of the downtown we drove through to reach the Arena District. But weather aside, this might be the slowest-paced city we've been in since we quit making the trek to Hamilton.
Columbua folks, it appears, are the ultimate Dilbert characters, cocooned in their cubicles downtown near the capital and out here near the Nationwide Insurance headquarters.
Albany led off the press conference lineup. They go student-athletes, then the coach, during these pre-tournament affairs. After Danes coach Will Brown wrapped up his comments, Albany was first to take the floor for the public practices.
These are the sessions that are open to the media and general public. For the most part, they tend to be more entertainment than preparation. Serious work is done at closed practices held in other gyms in town. These public sessions give the players a chance to shoot under the lights a little, but for a lot of teams, especially the major conference schools, they tend to become dunking exhibitions.
Southern Illinois will take the podium at 4:30, with its shootaround set for 5:10 p.m. Illinois will follow, then Holy Cross will end the day's festivities with a 6 p.m. press conference and a 6:40 to 7:20 slot for its public workout.
We rolled into the parking lot of the Super 8 off exit 152 of Interstate 70 in a driving rainstorm, arriving around 2 a.m., thrilled to find a cheap bed with wireless Internet.
It's about an hour from here to Columbus, where Holy Cross will be the last of the eight teams to take the podium for the afternoon press conferences. The Crusaders are on at 6:30 p.m.
We'll start updating from Nationwide Arena later this morning, with notes, mood and color. Southern Illinois will meet the media around 4. We will have a complete report, with Salukis press conference audio, shortly after.
In the meantime, here are a few links to help you kill time while you countdown to today's tip-offs:
Part two of our scouting report on Southern Illinois looks at the Saluki's bench and a little on the style SIU likes to play.
Southern Illinois definitely has an edge in numbers off the bench. The Salukis go 10 deep, with five guys making contributions from the pine.
How much an advantage that is Friday night remains to be seen. If Holy Cross stays out of foul trouble, it should not be too big a factor in round one. Should HC advance and have to play again Sunday, their short, seven (and a half) man rotation could result in some weary legs late in the game. In round one, coming off a week's rest, that should not be too much of a factor.
Keep in mind, it is not like Keith Simmons and Torey Thomas are not used to playing a lot of minutes by now.
SIU does not get a lot of scoring from its bench, but the way it plays defense, it does not need extra scoring. The three guards and two big men who see time off the bench give Salukis coach Chris Lowery the flexibility to give the five starters a blow here and there to keep them fresh.
The first guard off the bench is 6-3 redshirt sophomore Wesley Clemmons. Clemmons plays 16.2 minutes per game, averaging 3.1 points and 2.8 rebounds per game. He is capable of scoring more, as evidenced by the 12 point night he had against Western Kentucky and the 11 he scored against Saint Mary's, a game in which he was 3 for 4 from the arc.
Clemmons is not afraid to shoot the three, though he connected on only 28.9 percent of his shots outside the arc.
“He’s a fighter, and he’ll get down there and mix it up with those guys. He’s not afraid to get his nose knocked off,” Lowery
Tony Boyl;e, a 6-8, 235-pound redshirt sophomore if the first big man off the bench. Boyle is known as a tough defender.
"He is one of our tough guys that gets the rebounds, the fouls and all the dirty work," Clemmons said.
Boyle plays 11.4 minutes per game, averaging 2.4 points and 1.5 rebounds per game.
He is also prone to foul trouble. Boye played in every game this season, picking up 71 personals in 375 minutes of action. That is better then 5 per 40 minutes.
Jamaal Foster is a 6-10 redshirt junior who is the other big man off the bench. Foster is not much of a scoring threat. In 161 minutes, he has taken only 12 shots (making 6).
Foster played AAU ball with starters Jamaal Tatum and Randal Falkeron the Saint Luis Eagles team that won the July 2002 Nike Supershowcase in Orlando
Tyrone Green and Joshua Bone are two other backcourt types who see regular playing time.
Green is a left-handed 6-3 junior juco transfer who can play the point When Tatum had to sit out the first regular season game as part of his punishment for a DUI arrest, Green got the start. Best known as a defensive specialist, Green averages 1.3 points and 1.3 rebounds in 11.8 minutes per game.
Bone is a highly touted freshman who sat out nine games this season after breaking a bone in his right foot. Since coming back, he has had one turnover through 177 minutes. Bone was nearly redshirted after the injury, but started to come on in practice in December. Although he has not been a big scorer, Bone is not afraid to shoot the three, as evidenced by his 8 for 29 showing at the arc, which accounts for more than half his 15 made shots and more than 50 percent of Bone's 45 attempts.
How they play: Here is a quick scouting report on the Salukis' style, excerpted from a Kieran Darcy, ESPN story reprinted in the Saluki's game notes:
"“Disrupt” is the perfect word to describe what Southern Illinois does to teams defensively. The Salukis don’t apply a full-court team press, but Lowery has his point guard, Bryan Mullins, pick up the opposing team’s point guard and defend him the full length of the floor. That can really wear a point guard down and make it difficult for a team to get into its offense. And once a team manages to get into its half-court offense against SIU, it’s under constant pressure. Each Salukis defender gets right up in his man’s grill when he has the ball. Virtually every pass is contested, let alone every shot. It’s rare to see a team get a clean, uncontested shot against Southern Illinois.
And on the offensive end, Lowery’s Salukis are extremely disciplined as well. You’ll rarely see them take a quick or forced shot. They’ll pass the ball around the perimeter looking for an open jumper or for their big men inside, using the majority of the 35-second shot clock in the process. That wears teams down too, having to play defense for that long."
Leftovers: Tatum got his hair cut and dreadlocks done with roommate Falker in April, 2004. Neither have cut it since . . . only three opposing players have scored 20 or more points against the Salukis this season . . . Southern Illinois shoots 69.3 percent from the free throw line for the season, but the Salukis are better during crunch time, making 71.4 percent in the last two minutes of regulation . . . the Salukis are 4-9 all-time in NCAA Tournament games . . . SIU has now strung together six straight 20-win seasons . . . All five starters and the top eight in Lowery's rotation are the same guys who filled those roles on last year's SIU team, which lost in the first round.
A quick survey of the best of the rest of the Web on Holy Cross-Southern Illinois and other items of interest.
Apparently, in addition to the usual bracket-based contests, there are folks who draft fantasy teams for the NCAA Tournament. ProFantasySports.com lists Holy Cross guards Keith Simmons and Torey Thomas, along with Southern Illinois' Jamaal Tatum in its fantasy draft guide to guards in the tournament. They also list the Salukis' Randal Falker in their look at tournament forwards,claiming "Falker should be able to shut down the paint against Holy Cross." Maybe. Or maybe these folks will end up looking silly for failing to include Tim Clifford on their list of centers. If Clifford can stay out of foul trouble, he will be an awful tough matchup for the Salukis.
A quick look at the Southern Illinois starting five (includes bonus links)
When Holy Cross looks at film of Southern Illinois, they might feel a little like they are looking in a mirror.
The Salukis, the top-ranked team in the Mid-Major Top 25, are a defense-first kind of team with a pair of top-notch guards, a capable big man and a roster of quality role players. Just like Holy Cross, Southern Illinois is ranked in the top 10 nationally in scoring defense. Matter of fact, the Salukis' 56.5 points against per game rank even higher (No. 3) that Holy Cross, which is No. 9 on that list (57.4 ppg).
Also like the Crusaders, Southern Illinois' roster features a pair of first team all-league picks, one of whom was the Missouri Valley's player of the year, the other earning honors as the MVC's top defender.
When you break down the Holy Cross roster, the first guy you talk about is Keith Simmons. His counterpart for the Salukis is 6-2 guard Jamaal Tatum, the MVC player of the year. Tatum, who served a three-game suspension at the beginning of the season related to an off-season DUI arrest, averages 15 points per game, tops on the team. Tatum, a 44.3 percent shooter) leads Southern Illinois in three-pointers with 64 (on 154 tries - 41.6 percent). A little under half of his shots (154 of 352 come from the arc).
Tatum's player of the year award came in close balloting, with two other players finishing within 5 points in the voting. Third in that vote was his own teammate, Randall Falker, a 6-7 junior who was named the defensive player of the year thanks in no small part to his MVC-leading 70 blocked shots. Falker's 2.1 blocks per game ranks No. 39 nationally. By comparison, HC center Tim Clifford ranks No. 52 with 1.9 per game (52 total blocks). Falker's game is more than just blocking shots, he averages 12.5 points and a team-high 7.5 rebounds per game. He has posted seven double-doubles this season and shoots 60.1 percent from the field, all his shots coming inside the arc.
The third double figures scorer for the Salukis is Matt Shaw, a 6-7 junior who averages 11.4 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. A 47-percent shooter, Shaw has step-out range, hitting 35.7 percent from the three-point arc. Stopping him might be the key to beating Southern Illinois. When Shaw scores 15 points, the Salukis are 9-0. Keeping him off the boards is also a key; SIU is 15-0 in games where Shaw grabbed six or more rebounds.
Both teams have outstanding point guards, but unlike HC's Torey Thomas, the Salukis' Bryan Mullins is not a big scorer. The 6-2 sophomore is more a dish-off kind of guy with an assists to turnover ratio of nearly 2 to 1 (120 a-62 to). Like Thomas, Mullins is a tough defender. Mullins led the MVC in steals while earning freshman of the year honors last season and a team-high 46 steals this season. Like Falker, Mullins was namded to the MVC's all-defensive team.
Also accorded that honor was SIU's fifth starter, 6-0 senior Tony Young. Young also plays a little offense, averaging 9.8 points per game while hitting 37.9 percent of his three-point tries. A fifth-year senior and a 1,000-point scorer, Young is the NCAA career leader in games played with 135. A win over Holy Cross would allow Young to tie Darren Brook's school record of 106 career wins. The Salukis are 105-30 in games Young has played.
One other thing the Salukis have in common with Holy Cross is strong academic performance. Though the Salukis 67 percent graduation rate lags HC's tournament best 86-percent, Tatum is an Academic All-America pick and Mullins and Shaw joined him on the MVC's All-Academic team.
We will look at the rest of the Salukis' rotation tomorrow.
DOG BITES: Missouri Valley coach of the year Chris Lowery, who is 34, is the youngest coach in the tournament again. He was also the baby of the bunch in 2005 and 2006 . . . SIU is one of 12 schools to qualify for the last six NCAA Tournaments . . . . the other 11 include the likes of Arizona, Duke, Florida, Gonzaga, Illinois, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan State, Pittsburgh, Texas and Wisconsin.. . . Five of those six trips to the dance have come as an at-large team . . . Southern Illinois has never played a Patriot League team . . . The Salukis have beaten Colgate and Navy each once in games in the 1980s, before the Patriot League was formed . . . Only one team has scored 70 points against SIU (W. Kentucky, in a game SIU won 75-70 at WKU) . . . The Salukis have held 7 Division I opponents under 50 points SIU roster | SIU stats | SIU schedule/results
They say Columbus ie beautiful in the spring. Holy Cross is about to find out.
With the hometown Buckeyes down in Lexington as a Number One seed in the South, The Crusaders will try to paint Crimson Columbus purple. The Crusaders drew a number 13 seed and a Friday first round date with fourth-seeded Southern Illinois. The winner gets a Sunday meeting with the winner of the other West Regional pairing at Nationwide Arena in Columbus -- No. 5 Virginia Tech or No. 12 Illinois.
Southern Illinois (27-6) is ranked No. 15 in the latest coaches poll, after losing to Creighton in the Missouri Valley Conference final.
(Originally posted Sat. at 7:05 p.m., latest update at 9:25 a.m. to add links and fix audio link) Keith Simmons and Torey Thomas combined for 51 points to lead Holy Cross to the Patriot League championship.
By CHRIS A. COUROGEN
For Torey Thomas and Keith Simmons, their time has finally come. After three years watching their season end at the hands of the Bucknell Bison, twice in the league championship, Holy Cross' two seniors willed their team to a 74-66 win over their arch nemesis from Lewisburg and into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in their storied careers.
When Simmons and Thomas graduate in May, they will leave behind a lengthy list of accomplishments -- a combined five all-league selections, a player of the year and a defensive player of the year and a host of entries in the Holy Cross record books. But what Crusader fans will remember the most will be the show the two seniors put on in their last game in the Hart Center.
Simmons poured in 23 points, nailing down the tournament MVP award in the process, and Thomas added 28 to carry the Crusaders back to the big dance for the first time since 2003.
"I'm so happy for our two seniors, who have been on the cusp of this for a few seasons," said Holy Cross coach Ralph Willard.
Thomas and Simmons were a combined 11 for 22 from the field, helping Holy Cross to shoot 22 for 41 (53.7 percent) for the game. It was their shooting from the free throw line, though, that made the difference in the end. After building a 19-point lead early in the second half, Holy Cross watched it disappear in the wake of a 26-7 Bucknell run that culminated when Bucknell's Darren Mastropaolo tied it at 53-53 on a putback with 5:51 to play.
Holy Cross managed just one field goal the rest of the way. Matter of fact, that bucket, a huge three by Thomas that rebuilt the Crusaders lead to 60-53, was the only field goal the Crusaders would score in the final 9:45. The rest of Holy Cross' points in the last five minutes came from the foul line, all at the hands of Simmons and Thomas, who went a combined 16 for 16 from the stripe to ice the win.
"We were fortunate, we had the right guys going to the line," said Willard. "It comes down to the seniors making plays."
There was more to the Crusaders good fortune than that, though. After Bucknell tied the game, Holy Cross came up with three straight stops -- the first coming when Bucknell's Abe Badmus missed a pair of free throws that might have changed the complexion of the final stretch by putting Bucknell in the lead. That defense, along with four Simmons free throws and Thomas' big three, gave the Crusaders enough cushion to carry them down the stretch from the foul line.
"When they made their run and tied it, we stayed in the moment," said Simmons. "We got rebounds, we got stops, we made free throws and we were able to push it back up."
The rebounding was a key. Bucknell finished with 13 offensive rebounds, leading to a 17-4 edge in second chance points. But in the last five minutes, Bucknell got just one offensive board, and the Bison were unable to convert that one.
That Thomas three was also huge.
"I knew Castleberry was going to go underneath the screen. Tim (Clifford) did a good job burying him. I just had to lock and load," Thomas said.
That screen was not Clifford's only big play. Although the 6-10 junior finished with just 8 points and 4 rebounds, his six blocked shots, all in the first half, were a key to Holy Cross establishing its big lead. WIth Chris McNaughton on the bench most of the final nine minutes of the first half after picking up two fouls, Bucknell seemed unable to get anything going offensively. Lacking Bucknell's force in the middle to keep them at home, Holy Cross' guards were able to get out and pressure Bucknell's shooters, knowing Clifford was there to erase any mistakes should they get beat off the dribble.
"It gets dark in there, You just can't see. (Clifford) is so big," Flannery said.
Bucknell had just two field goals in the final nine minutes of the first half while Holy Cross stretched a 5-point lead to a 35-22 halftime margin.
"One of the things that hurt us was Chris' second. We got down in the first half when Chris got his second and they were able to stretch it a little bit," said Flannery.
McNaughton scored 10 of his 12 points in the second half, helping key Bucknell's rally. But when he picked up his fourth personal with 6:10 to play, it took some wind from Bucknell's sails. The Bison tied it while he was on the bench, but before Flannery could get him back on the floor, Holy Cross had used Simmons' four free throws to regain control. McNaughton played just 25 minutes before fouling out in the final 25 seconds.
John Griffin led Bucknell with 15 points, including four three-pointers. Brown finished with 11 and Castleberry had 10.
In the end, though, Holy Cross' pair of seniors was a hand that beat Bucknell's four double figures scorers.
Holy Cross will find out Sunday where it is headed for the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Bucknell now will have to wait and see if the NIT sends them an invite.
NOTES: The win closes out Holy Cross' home slate with a perfect 14-0 record in the Hart Center . . . HC has now won 18 straight in Hart . . . Thomas, who set a Holy Cross record for minutes played in a season during Sunday's semifinals win over American, added another 40 minutes to that mark in the final . . . Simmons played 39 minutes for HC . . . Holy Cross finished the game 23 of 26 from the foul line, Bucknell was 18 for 21 . . . Even though Bucknell reached the double bonus 2:40 before the Crusaders, HC ended up taking 25 free throws in the second half to 16 for the Bison . . . The loss snappeed a 14-game win streak for Bucknell . . . Joining Simmons on the All-Tournament team were Thomas, Clifford, Brown, McNaughton and Andre Ingram of American Box score | Gameblog | Postgame audio (Willard, Simmons, Thomas; Flannery, Brown, Castleberry) | Daily Item | Sun-Gazette | Telegram & Gazette (gamer) | Telegram & Gazette (sidebar) | Boston Herald | The Sports Network
Five seniors will bow out in a final between two teams they have built into fierce rivals.
Bucknell vs. Holy Cross for all the marbles. What else is new?
It's like a broken record, which for those of you too young to remember vinyl, is a little like a CD that skips, stuck on the same note over and over and over again.
For those who prefer their pop culture references from the world of film, think Groundhog Day.
Like last season, and the season before that, the Bison and the Crusaders will meet on the Friday before Selection Sunday to decide who will represent the Patriot League in the Big Dance.
Only one thing is certain: somebody's streak is going to end. Holy Cross has won 17 straight games in the Hart Center. Bucknell has won 14 in a row and eight straight league tournament games.
For the five seniors on the rosters of the two teams, it is a fitting ending to an era that has made the Bucknell-Holy Cross rivalry arguably the best in the league.
Whather or not it stays that way when these five seniors graduate, taking with them a combined collection of hardware that includes a player of the year, two preseason POY selections, two all-rookie picks, two defensive player of the years, three (and counting) all-tournament team picks and a combined nine all-league choices.
There have been a lot of very good groups of seniors to pass through the league. This year's bunch, led by these five guys -- Keith Simmons and Torey Thomas of Holy Cross, and Chris McNaughton, Abe Badmus and Donald Brown would rank up there with the best.
The past three years, they have been a part of a two-team league dominance that has been almost unprecedented in league history. In that stretch, Bucknell and Holy Cross are a combined 81-3 against the rest of the league, 59-1 the last two seasons and 30-0 this season alone.
These seniors have, in many ways, been the vanguard of what many are expecting to become a better and better conference now that scholarships are being offered across the board. In fact, the Bucknell seniors are the school's first scholarship class.
These five seniors have also been a part of the only three postseason wins in league history.
By any measure shy of championships, Holy Cross' seniors have had extremely successful careers. In the past three years, they have only lost six games in Patriot League competition -- including a 6-2 mark thus far in league tournament action.
But without a win in this afternoon's final, Simmons and Thomas will graduate with a hollow feeling. Five of those six conference losses over the past thee seasons came against Bucknell. Two of those came in the conference finals.
It has been Bucknell that has stood between them and the dance.
If HC should lose, they are guaranteed a spot in the NIT by virtue of being the league's top seed. There is considerable speculation that Bucknell's name recognition would land them in the consolation ball should they lose in the final, but that is not guaranteed.
Much has changed since the two teams first met back in January in Worcester. There have been some big changes since the two met three weeks ago in Lewisburg, too.
The biggest change has been the return of Bucknell's Donald Brown, who missed seven games due to a broken bone in his shooting (right) hand. Brown was not in uniform when Bucknell handed HC its only league loss in Sojka Pavilion.
Since he returned, Brown has posted two straight 15-points, 9-rebounds games coming off the bench in relief of Darren Matsropaolo, who regained his starting job at the four while Brown was out.
With McNaughton and Mastropaolo, Bucknell dominated inside the last meeting. Brown should add to that edge.
It's worth mentioning Tim Clifford was in foul trouble in that game. Holy Cross needs the 6-10 junior to stay on the floor in the final.
Player of the Year, Keith Simmons, scored 15 for Holy Cross in that loss, but he was effectively shutdown in the second half by the defense of Bucknell's Abe Badmus.
After the game, both HC coach Ralph Willard and his point guard, Thomas, spoke of the need to let the 6-5 Simmons post up against the 6-0 Badmus in that matchup. It will be interesting to see if that is part of the gameplan this afternoon.
Having Brown back on the floor might allow Bucknell to stay with more of its matchup zone since he is quicker to get out on perimeter shooters than Mastropaolo.
None of that will surprise Holy Cross. They know what Bucknell will try to do, just like the Bison have a pretty good idea what the Crusaders' plans will be. This is the 12th time the seniors on these two teams have met since they started their college careers. There are no secrets.
Breaking down the Bucknell-Holy Cross matchup is as easy as 1 - 2 - 1,199.
0 -- Number of times, in the 16-year history of the league, a team seeded lower than No. 2 won the Patriot League championship 1 -- Number of teams who have ever won three Patriot League titles in a row (Holy Cross) 2 -- Consecutive championships for Bucknell heading into this game 3 -- Losses by the two teams combined to other league teams over the past three seasons (the two are a combined 81-3 against the rest of the league in that span) 4 -- Total number of league titles won by HC, the most by any team in the league. This is also Bucknell's 4th appearance in the league championship game 5 -- Combined number of seniors on the two team's rosters 6 -- Number of Bucknell wins in the 10 meetings between the two in league tournament play 7 -- National ranking of Holy Cross' 57.1 points allowed per game scoring defense. BUcknell has allowed 57.2 ppg. 8 -- Number of Patriot League championship games HC has played, number of consecutive league tournament wins for Bucknell coming into this one, Regular season losses for both teams 9 -- All-time Bucknell wins against Holy Cross in the Hart Center, also number of Bucknell losses to Holy Cross in Hart all-time 10 -- Bucknell road wins this season 11 -- This will be the 11th all-time tournament meeting between Bucknell and Holy Cross 12 -- This will be the 12th time the two team's seniors have faced each other in their four seasons 13 -- Straight Patriot League games in which Bucknell has outscored the opposition in the paint (Bucknell has done so 15 of 16 games this season. In the 15th it was even 22-22 in the first game against HC) 14 -- in a row, Bucknell's current win streak 14.5 -- points per game averaged by HC senior Keith Simmons in nine career PL tournament games 15 -- times this season HC has reached double figures in steals 16 -- times Simmons has led the Crusaders in scoring this season 17 --Straight wins in the Hart Center by Holy Cross, a school mark 17.2 -- points per game averaged by Simmons, tops in the league 18 -- Tournament wins by BU coach Pat Flannery, most in league history 19 -- Bucknell wins in 23 games where they out-rebounded the opponent 20 -- Bucknell wins in 21 games where they shot more free throws than the opponent 22 -- Bucknell wins this season 24 -- Holy Cross wins this season 43 -- Consecutive double figures scoring games by Simmons 44 -- Number of times the two teams have met (Bucknell leads series 25-19) 53 -- Straight games Bucknell has not allowed a PL foe to score 70 points 66 -- Holy Cross' ranking in the RPI 77 -- Wins in Hart center by HC since start of the 2000-2001 season. HC is 77-12 in Hart in that stretch 78 -- Bucknell's RPI 87 -- School record number of wins by Bucknell's current senior class 123 -- Career games played HC point guard Torey Thomas, 2nd on HC's all-time list 124 -- Career games played by the guy ahead of Thomas on that list, Crusaders' guard Keith Simmons, and by Bucknell's Chris McNaughton, who now holds the BU school record 137 -- Career blocked shots by HC center Tim Clifford (second all-time at HC, ninth all-time in PL) 156 -- League best all-time wins by Bucknell (156-68 -- .696 in 17 seasons) 158 -- wins as head coach of Holy Cross in eight seasons by Ralph Willard (158-88) 191 -- Career three-pointers by Simmons (2nd all-time at HC) 619 -- Combined career wins for Flannery (317) and Willard (302) 1,199 -- Minutes played this season by Thomas, breaking his own school record set last season
The Patriot League Championship game between Bucknell and Holy Cross is sold out. Bucknell officials confirmed this morning they will not be returning any unsold tickets from their allotment of approximately 1,200 for Friday afternoon's 4:30 showdown at the Hart Center in Worcester.
Holy Cross previously announced its seats were sold out.
Bucknell alums still needing tickets might want to contactBison Club head Todd Newcomb. The school purchased the few it had left at the deadline to return any unsold tickets. Newcomb said the Bison Club has a "very limited" number of tickets available for club members and alums only.
There is a state mental hospital in Danville, Pa., a small town about 15 miles from Bucknell that will have a lot in common with Worcester, Mass. on Friday afternoon.
You clicked expecting some sort of bad taste "madhouse" reference. You should be ashamded for thinking such un-pc thoughts. You probably like Indian nicknames and mascots in feathers, too.
The comparison is one of color schemes. Purple and Orange are the colors of the local high school team, the Ironmen. Same colors that will be on display in Hart.
It won't be even, but anybody who thought hosting the final meant an all-purple atmosphere failed to check the Patriot League rules. The reulebook says the host school must make available one-third of the seats in the building for the visiting team to sell.
Last year, only about 400 Holy Cross fans bought tickets for the final in Lewisburg. The other 1,000 or so were returned unsold, put on sale day of the game to folks at Sojka Pavilion.
Reports out of Lewisburg today indicated Bucknell did not expect to return near that many tickets, demand was running high, both locally and from alums, especially those in the New England area.
By noon, five fan buses were nearly full, the roughly $2,000 per bus cost being picked up by sponsors in the Lewisburg area, giving students and fans a free ride to the game.
Meanwhile in Worcester, tickets for non-students are reportedly sold out. There is no mention in that release of the possibility of additional tickets for non-student fans if Bucknell returns any of its allottment. Also, apparently any student tickets not sold in advance will be available day of the game, but only to HC students, raising the possibility that the game could end up not selling out, despite heavy demand for tickets.
Ralph Willard preaches defense from the gospel of deflections. His team got a huge one Sunday to seal its semifinals win over American.
Down two with 4.8 seconds to play, American had plenty of time to get the ball up the floor for a potential game-winning three or a two to send it to overtime. But after Holy Cross guard Pat Doherty deflected the Eagles inbounds pass, AU had to settle for a Brayden Billbe desperation heave from the backcourt. Like American's upset bid, Billbe's shot came up short, giving Holy Cross a 55-53 semifinals win and a berth in the Patriot League championship game opposite Bucknell for the third year in a row.
It was the third time this season American (16-14) could not hold a lead against the Crusaders (24-8). Up 26-21 at the half, the Eagles extended their margin to 31-23 in the first two minutes of the second half.
Holy Cross battled back, seemingly taking control with a 9-0 run after the game was tied at 40-40. But American would not go quiet, tying it at 53-53 on an Andre Ingram three with 29 seconds to play.
Patriot League Player of the Year Keith Simmons, held to 3 points and just three shots in the first half, and playing with four fouls the last 6:36 of the game, scored the game-winner on a driving runner from five feet with 4.8 seconds to go, setting the stage for Doherty's key deflection.
Willard says he learned long ago his team will win most games if it gets 40 deflections and shoots 40 percent. Deflections don't show up in the box score -- it's a stat the HC staff keeps itself on the bench. But the Crusaders overcame an icy 8 for 28 first half (28.6 percent) to finish the game hitting 41.7 percent (20 of 48) from the field by shooting at a 60 percent clip (12 of 20) in the second.
Credit center Tim Clifford for keeping the Crusaders in the game in the first 20 minutes. Clifford was 5 for 9 from the field the first half, scoring 11 of the 'Saders 21 points. No other HC player had more than one bucket in the opening stanza.
Clifford finished with a typical Big Purple Dog vs. AU showing -- 19 points and 8 rebounds. Point guard Torey Thomas also had a huge afternoon for HC, scoring 16 points while dishing out 6 assists and coming up with 4 steals. Thomas, who is listed at 5-11 and is actually about two inches shorter than that, led all rebounders with 9 boards.
Simmons, kept in check the first half, responded in the second to post his 43rd straight double figures game, finishing with 11 points.
Ingram led AU with 20 points. Nobody else reached double figures for the Eagles, who shot 37.9 percent (20 of 53) from the field, including 7 three-pointers on 19 tries.
Coaches love to trot out the cliche about how hard it is to beat a team three times. We'll see if it matters in this afternoon's Patriot League semifinals.
To many fans and observers, the first two rounds of the tournament are viewed as mere window dressing, necessary but not necessarily needed warmups to the highly anticipated main event -- a third straight league final between Bucknell and Holy Cross.
Don't try convincing American and Army that they are just items on the Big Two's checklists, though. Both underdogs will enter this afternoon's games with reason to believe they are capable of pulling off an upset.
No. 4 American at No. 1 Holy Cross (matchup), 2 p.m. -- American wants to take advantage of its third chance to knock off Holy Cross, it will need to find a way to limit the Crusaders' second chances. In a 69-64 overtime loss Jan. 20 at home, and again in Worcester 11 days later, in a 58-47 loss, American's downfall came on the glass. Specifically at the Holy Cross offensive end.
The Eagles held HC to 38.7 percent shooting in the first game and were even tougher in the second, limiting the 'Saders to a 34.7 percent field goal shooting night. But Holy Cross had 12 offensive rebounds and a 12-2 edge in second chance points in the game at AU and 16 offensive boards leading to an 18-2 advantage in second chance points in the rematch. That has been the biggest difference between the two.
Travis Lay might provide some help there. Lay has seen his minutes off the bench increase down the stretch and he has responded by averaging 8 boards per game over the last four.
Holy Cross' all-league junior center Tim Clifford has a long history of big games against American. Expect Jeff Jones to abandon his usual philosophy of trying to guard the post man to man in favor of a scheme that provides his big men some help on Clifford down low.
Jones would like nothing more than to get a strong game out of 6-11 senior Paulius Joneliunas, who has played well down the stretch. Joneliunas is shooting 63.2 percent (12 of 19) over the last four games.
In the backcourt, AU's Andre Ingram has been an effective defender against Keith Simmons. In two games against AU, Simmons has averaged 12.5 points per game, well below his average of over 17 ppg. In the first meeting, Simmons didn't reach double figures in regulation, scoring 6 of his 14 points from the foul line in overtime.
Of course even if they slow down the Crusaders offense, American will still need to generate enough offense to put up more points than HC. The Eagles have plenty of weapons, and if Ingram and Arvydas Eitutavicius both manage to get going from the arc, they could be tough to stop.
That is easier said than done against a Holy Cross defense that has been the stingiest in the league this season. In the two regular season games, AU shot a combined 40.2 percent while turning the ball over 37 times.
A few extra nuggets about this one:
It will be the third time the two schools have met in the league tournament; the first time they have met prior to the finals. HC has won both previous postseason encounters.
HC leads the series 12-3, including wins in the last six meetings in Worcester, where AU has won once in 7 tries.
Holy Cross is 12-0 in the Hart Center this season and has won 16 in a row there dating back to last season.
Ironman Torey Thomas was expected to play less minutes this season once Pat Doherty returned, but sometime in the first half he should break his own HC school record for minutes played. Thomas needs just 8 minutes to equal his own mark of 1,166 set last season.
The number one seed has never failed to advance to the championship game of the Patriot League tournament.
No. 6 Army at No. 2 Bucknell (matchup), 3:30 p.m. -- After taking the Bison to the wire in the regular season finale, the Black Knights should come into Sojka a heckuva lot more confident than they were when they left after the first meeting between the two.
The Bison jumped out to an 18-2 lead in that first game, and led 43-15 at the half before coasting home.
The rematch at West Point was considerably closer, tied 19-19 in the final minute before Bucknell pulled out the 54-49 decision.
Army hit 9 treys in that second game. If they light it up from the arc again, who knows what might happen.
Aside from the change in game sites, there is another big difference between this afternoon and that regular season finale -- Donald Brown. The Bison senior was in street clothes, waiting for clearance to return from a broken hand, when the two teams played at West Point. Brown came back in the first round of the tournament and looked like he had not missed a beat, scoring 15 points and grabbing 9 rebounds.
Brown was 4 for 5 from the field, with 12 points and 8 rebounds in just 27 minutes of action in the first meeting with Army. His return adds to a huge Bucknell advantage in the frontcourt.
The Black Knights are playing with house money. Almost nobody expected them to finish higher than last in the regular season and few thought they would get past Lehigh in the first round. Yet a resurgent season and a blown call later, here they are, in the league semifinals for just the third time in 17 seasons of Patriot League play.
Bucknell needs to start strong and establish control from the start. Put Army in a hole early and that confidence will start to wane. Let the nothing-to-lose underdogs hang around and gain confidence, who knows what might happen. Just ask either school's women's teams.
Choice tidbits from the two team's gamenotes:
The Bison hold a 36-14 lead in the series, which dates to 1929.
Bucknell has won 14 in a row against Army and 35 of 39 meetings between the two in Patriot League play.
In tournament play, Bucknell is 5-1 against Army, the loss coming in a first round upset in 1995, when Bucknell was a No. 2 seed and Army No. 7. Army finished that season 4-10 in league play, the same record it posted this year.
Bucknell is looking to extend its current win streak to 14 games, the longest in -one-season steak in school history
The Bison are looking for their 35th straight home win against Patriot League opponents
No current Bison is averaging in double figures against Army for their career. Chris McNaughton, who has averaged 9.8 points per game in nine games against Army, has Bucknell's best career numbers against the Black Knights. Abe Badmus, who will also be facing Army for the 10th time, has the Bison's best single-game showing -- a 15-point game the last time the two met.
Army's Jarrell Brown scored 25 against the Bison at Christl Arena last season.
the two teams met in the first round last season, with Bucknell pulling out a 59-47 win in a game they led by just 1 point with 10 minutes to go before using a 14-0 run to gain separation
Army's win at Lehigh in the first round snapped a 10-game tournament losing streak
That win also snapped a 10-game road losing streak for Army and an 11-game losing streak in road league games. Sun-Gazette preview
Tim Clifford and the Crusaders made it look easy in a 30-point first round win over Lafayette.
Clifford poured in 22 points and grabbed 8 rebounds as top-seeded Holy Cross (23-8) made quick work of last place Lafayette (9-21), sending the Leopards packing with an 83-53 win.
The 83 points were the second most scored by HC all year, just a point less than the 84 they scored in their conference opening win at Lafayette.
The Leopards led early, and were up 11-10 when the sky fell. Holy Cross took command of the game with a 9-0 run, then after a Lafayette bucket, put it away with a 15-0 run, holding the Leopards scoreless for 8:19 while building a 34-13 lead.
It was 42-18 at the half, and Lafayette never got closer than 19 the rest of the way.
Torey Thomas added 13 points for HC and Keith Simmons also reached double figures with 12. Pat Doherty had 5 of the Crusaders' 10 steals, which helped force 20 Lafayette turnovers.
Turnovers were not the Leopards only problem. Even when they held on to the ball, the end results were seldom favorable. The 'Pards were just 5 of 18 from the field (27.8 percent) in the first half, finishing 17 of 48 (35.4 percent).
Holy Cross had no such troubles, knocking down 32 of 60 from the floor (53.3 percent). Even when they did miss, HC was nearly as likely to get the rebound as Lafayette. Thirteen of the Crusaders' 40 rebounds came on the offensive glass, leading to 18 second chance points. Lafayette finished with 19 boards, 14 on HC misses.
Andrew Brown led Lafayette with 26 points, hitting 8 treys (on 12 tries). Matt Betley closed his career with 12 points for the 'Pards. No other Lafayette player made more than one field goal. Take away Brown and Betley's combined 14 for 23 shooting and the rest of the leopards went 3 for 25 (12 percent) from the field. Box score | Telegram & Gazette | Boston Globe | Boston Herald | Express-Times
March Madness starts in February this year. Here is a look at tonight's first round Patriot League playoff contests:
No. 6 Army at No. 3 Lehigh 7 p.m. (matchup) -- Looking for tonight's upset special? here's your game. Army (14-15, 4-10) comes in losers of eight of its last nine, the only win in that span coming at home against last place Lafayette. After a strong start filled with promise, including a 3-2 start to the conference season, the Black Knights seemed to slide into the abyss.
So what makes anybody think a team that has won just twice on the road all season can pull off an upset against a Lehigh team that was 9-3 this season in Stabler?
For starters, there is Army's win in the first meeting between the two. The Black Knights held Jose Olivero to 7 points in that one. In other words, they know first hand that if you shut down Olivero, Lehigh is beatable.
Of course they also know what happens when Olivero does go off. Lehigh's all-league senior put up 30 on Army when they met earlier this month in Stabler.
In a strange way, that ought to give Army some confidence. Even with Olivero combining with freshman point guard Marquis Hall for 50 points in that game, the Black Knights kept it close much of the way before falling by 11. The Black Knights (2-16 all time in the league tournament) come in knowing that if they can just limit Olivero to somewhere around his 16.6 ppg average, they should have a shot at winning their third-ever tournament game and at advancing for the first time since 1996.
At that point, Lehigh's only home setbacks all season had come on a disputed call in the final seconds of a 1-point loss to Columbia and in a 5-point loss to Navy three days before Army came to town.
That Navy loss put a crack in the Mountain Hawks' air of home invincibility. It was shattered in the last week of the season, with Bucknell and Holy Cross both coming into Stabler to pick up wins. Add a Feb. 18 loss at last place Lafayette to the mix and you have a reeling team that comes into the post season having lost three in a row.
Here is an interesting stat to ponder as you consider the possibilities of tonight's game: In a nine-game stretch beginning with a loss at Bucknell Jan. 23, Lehigh has shot 36 percent from the field, 33 percent from three-point range. That bodes well for a low scoring, defense minded team like Army.
One thing that has changed since the two teams last met is the return of 6-10 senior Jason Mgebroff to the Lehigh lineup. If Mgebroff can regain his form of earlier in the season, before the stress fracture that left him out of action for 13 games, he could be a huge presence against an Army team that is not real strong in the post. There has been no sign of that Mgebroff in the four games since he has returned, though. In those four, Mgebroff has scored a total of 8 points, 5 coming in an overtime win at Colgate.
No. 8 Lafayette at No. 1 Holy Cross 7 p.m. (matchup) -- The Leopards put a scare in the Crusaders back in their conference opener in Easton. That might give Lafayette some confidence, but it also is likely to help make certain Holy Cross doesn't look past the last-place Leopards. No top seed has ever lost in the first round of the league tournament, and it is not likely to happen tonight. Note: The game can be heard on Sirius satellite radio on channel 140.
No. 7 Navy at No. 2 Bucknell 7 p.m. (matchup) -- There are a lot of streaks on the line for Bucknell, which is looking to win 13 in a row for the first time under Pat Flannery. The Bison have won 33 straight Patriot League games in Sojka Pavilion, six straight league tournament games and have won five straight games against Navy.
There is also a streak the Bison are looking to end. They are 0-3 all time against the Midshipmen in PL Tournament games.
If Navy's shots are falling and Bucknell's are not, this could be close. That was the situation when the two met in Sojka earlier this season. With Navy making eight treys while Bucknell hit just two, the Mids kept it tight throughout before falling 59-51.
Since then, though, Bucknell has won 13 out of 14 while Navy has gone 4-9. Even though three of those wins came in the last six games, the Mids' resurgent season should end tonight.
Worth noting: There are tickets available for this one. They can be purchased online or at the Langone Center box office up until 5 p.m. or at the door at Sojka beginning at 5.
No. 5 Colgate at No. 4 American, 7:30 p.m. (matchup) -- Watch out for the AU Eagles, who come into the tournament on a roll, winners of their last four in a row. American started the season strong, winning seven of their first nine. As losses began to pile up, Jeff Jones began tinkering with his lineup in an effort to reverse that trend.
It didn't work, but late in the season Jones smartened up and went back to the lineup that had been successful early and AU put together a surge that secured a homecourt game in the first round.
Since joining the league, American has never lost in the first round of the tournament. The Eagles won both regular season games against the Raiders, who limp into the postseason losers of four of their last five.
The loser gets out its golf clubs. The winner gets a bus ride to Worcester. Hard to say which is the better deal. Note: You can listen to this one on Sirius 143.
Bison streak into Patriot League tourney (AP) Genaro Armas previews the Bucknell-Navy matchup. Take the comments on Donald Brown's return with a grain of salt. Pat Flannery seemed to be bluffing during the conference call when he said the Bison won't know if Brown can play Wednesday until they saw him practice for the first time on Monday. Armas was not there Saturday after the BU-Army game when Brown told Tom Housenick of the Daily Item and I that he had returned to practice, already had some contact with the hand he had broken, and was ready to play when the tournament gets underway.
Net Dreams & Local Teams (Times Herald-Record) -- Talk about a newspaper that just doesn't get the reality of the times. The Times Herald-Record seems to cling to some notion that they can sell more papers by imitating the down-Hudson big boys like the NY Post and The Daily News and covering the heck out of the New York city pro scene. In an era when the mantra in the industry is local, local, local, their solution to declining circulation has been a cutback on their local college sports coverage. They don't even staff most Army games anymore. In this case, rather than allow Ken McMillan to write a story just about the Patriot League, they lump it all in one package with women's stuff, local jucos, Marist -- 10 teams at all. Anyhow, there is enough good Patriot League stuff in the story to make it well worth a click, even if you have to wade through the SUNY-Orange coverage to find it.
An impressive defensive display in the second half gave the Crusaders a win over Lehigh Sunday, clinching the top seed for the playoffs.
By CHRIS A. COUROGEN
Trailing by six points early in the second half, its offense sputtering and its dream of hosting the Patriot League Tournament final in danger of turning into the prospect of a nightmare bus ride for the title game, Holy Cross did what it does best Sunday afternoon. It played defense.
Holding Lehigh scoreless for a stretch of almost 13 minutes, the Crusaders rallied for a 62-50 win, clinching the regular season league title and securing that coveted home court advantage should it reach the only game that really matters in the one-bid conference.
Technically, the Crusaders (22-8 overall, 13-1 Patriot) share the regular season crown with two-time defending champion Bucknell, which also finished 13-1 in league play. The two teams split their regular season series, a sign of just how important that home court might be in the final. Holy Cross will have that edge if it makes it that far thanks to a better RPI rating than the Bison, the last in a series of tiebreakers used by the league to determine seedings for the tournament when teams tie in the standings. Headed into the Lehigh game, HC unofficially was ranked No. 69 in the RPI; Bucknell, which wrapped its regular season with a win Saturday at Army was No. 90.
Two minutes into the second half, it looked as though the RPI might not be a factor. Lehigh (12-18, 7-7) outplayed the Crusaders in the first half, though they only had a 32-30 lead to show for it at the intermission thanks to some strong free throw shooting late in the half that allowed Holy Cross to cut into the Mountain Hawks 6-point lead. The Crusaders went 10 for 12 at the line in the first half, 6 of 8 in the last 4:34 of the period.
Credit sophomore forward Alex Vander Baan with helping Holy Cross stay in the game in the first half. Vander Baan was 7 for 7 at the foul line, finishing the half with 9 points en route to a 14-point night. Vander Baan's offensive contribution was huge in a half where Torey Thomas (12 of his game-high 21 points in the first half) was the only other Crusader who had much luck finding the bottom of the net.
With Holy Cross struggling on offense -- they were 9 for 26 from the field (34.6 percent) in the first half -- it looked like a brewing upset when Lehigh opened the second half with two quick buckets to push their lead to 36-30.
That was before Holy Cross coach Ralph Willard called a timeout and gave the Crusaders a readers digest version of the sermon he had just finished in the locker room during the break, when he preached from the book of defensive intensity.
"It was a re-emphasis; ringing their bell if you will. I wanted to get their attention," Willard said.
Willard was not bothered by Holy Cross' offense, which missed its first two shots of the half after going 9 for 26 (34.6 percent) in the first half. That would fix itself once the defense, which created only three Lehigh turnovers in the first half, was back on form.
"We only had six deflections at halftime. There wasn't a whole lot else to talk about," said Willard, who gauges his team's defensive effort by that measure. Holy Cross sets a goal of 40 deflections each game.
If you ask Willard, he will tell you his team's 28 second half deflections (and 8 turnovers) were a far more telling indicator than the fact that the Crusaders held Lehigh's leading scorer, to just a pair of free throws in the second half after he had scored 11 points in the first.
"We didn't do a good job on him the first half. We refocused on him at the half," said Holy Cross senior Keith Simmons.
"I told the guys 'we're not going to win this game unless we really get up, get in his grill and have a lot of help. That was a point of emphasis," Willra dsaid.
"They turned up their pressure and intensity. We did not respond," said Olivero.
Holy Cross picked up its intensity on the glass, too. In the first half, HC held a slim 20-17 edge in rebounding. By the end of teh game, that margin swelled to 39-28, with 14 of Holy Cross' rebounds coming on the offensive glass.
"We would get the defensive stops we needed, but we couldn't get the ball," Lehigh coach Billy Taylor said.
Truth be told, HC's offense did not exactly catch fire. It took holding Lehigh scoreless for nearly 4 minutes to erase the 6-point deficit and the Crusaders lead was only 42-36 when Lehigh's scoreless drought hit the 10-minute mark. But the way HC played defense in the second half, the offense could take its time. By the time Lehigh finally scored, HC's lead was up to 12 and the game was all but in the books.
It didn't hurt any that Keith Simmons got his game going after the intermission. The league's leading scorer, averaging 17.7 points per game, scored 10 of his 14 points after the break. Simmons also had 10 rebounds for his third double-double of the season.
"Coach told me I was standing around and watching too much. He told me I had to be more aggressive," Simmons said.
It also helped that Tim Clifford stayed out of foul trouble. Lehigh scored 17 of its 32 first half points in the 7:36 span at the end of the half when Clifford, the league's leading shot blocker, was on the bench after picking up two quick fouls. In the second half, with Clifford on the floor the entire 20 minutes, the Mountain Hawks found the door to the middle closed and the pressure on the perimeter intensified by HC guards knowing their 6-10 eraser was waiting to fix any mistakes should their man beat them off the dribble. Clifford finished with 5 blocks, 3 in the second half, and added 9 points and 5 rebounds.
Clifford also held Lehigh's senior center, Jason Mgebroff, to 4 points and 3 boards in his first start since returning to action after missing over two months with a stress fracture in his leg. Lehigh's backup center, Phil Anderson, did manage 12 points on 5 of 6 shooting, but 10 of those points came in the last 5:57, with the outcome all but determined.
Freshman Zahir Carrington added 11 points for Lehigh, 9 in the first half -- 5 of those while Clifford was sitting.
Holy Cross will open the postseason tournament Wednesday night in the Hart Center against last-place Lafayette. A win in that one would bring the winner of the Colgate at American first round game to town on Sunday for the semifinals. The final is set for March 9 -- in Worcester if HC wins its first two. Box score | Postgame audio (Willard, Simmons, Taylor, Neptune and Olivero) | Notebook | Express-Times
Leftovers from the notebook following Holy Cross' 62-50 win at lehigh Sunday.
Lehigh opened the game with all four of its seniors starting. That meant freshman point guard Marquis Hall sat the first 3:41, allowing little used Adam Hycik to get his first start of his career. Jason Mgebroff also made his first start since returning to action Feb. 14 following a lengthy absence due to stress fractures in his leg. Also starting was Kyle Neptune, who has been coming off the bench in recent weeks.
A decent crowd on hand, especially considering the threat of nasty weather this afternoon in the Lehigh Valley. Less than 100 students behind the west basket, though and the pep band is smaller today (8 members) than it was for last night's HC-Lehigh women's game. The Stabler ticket office appears to have wisely tried to sell the side behind the players benches, opposite the ESPNU cameras, making the place look fuller on TV than in person. Unfortunately, the lower middle section, direcly behind the scorers table, is only about half full, presumably due to season ticket holder no shows.
Holy Cross center Tim Clifford, the league's leading shotblocker at 1.7 per game, exceeded his average in the first 2:18 of the game, snuffing Bryan White on Lehigh's first possession and swatting away a Neptune jumper with 17:42 to go in the first half. Clifford also hit a three in the early going. Clifford, though, was 1 for 6 from the field with just two rebounds when he took a seat with 7:36 to play in the half after picking up two quick fouls in a span of about 30 seconds.Clifford finished with 5 blocks and 5 rebounds and was 3 for 7 from the field after the break to finish with 9 points.
Holy Cross reserve forward Colin Cunningham didn't get an inch shorter. He just looks it now that he has changed his hair style. Gone is the curly mop-top he sported since arriving in Worcester last season. In its place, a sparse buzzed, but not shaved, look.
In the scoring battle between tow of the league's top four scorers, Lehigh's Olivero had the early edge over Holy Cross star Keith Simmons. Olivero scored Lehigh's first 6 points of the game. Simmons did not have a bucket the first 13:30. At the half, Olivero, fourth in the league coming in with a 16.7 points per game average, had 11 on 4 for 7 shooting. Simmons, who leads the league at 17.7 ppg, was 2 for 4 for 4 points. The second half was a complete turnaround, with Simmons scoring 10 of his 14 after intermission while Olivero added just a meaningless pair of late free throws while going 0 for 4 from the field.
The winter storm arrived early for Holy Cross, which experienced icy conditions early. Through the first 12:24 of the game, the Crusaders were 3 for 5 (20 percent) from the field, 1 of 5 from three-point range. During that same span, Lehigh was 6 for 18 (33 percent). By the half, Holy Cross had imporved to 9 for 26 (34.6 percent). Lehigh was 11 for 27 (40.7 percent) from the field in the first half.
Holy Cross stayed close in the first half by going 10 for 12 at the foul line, led by Alex Vander Baan, who was 7 for 7 to account for all but 2 of his 9 first-half points. Torey Thomas, who had 11 in the opening stanza, was 3 for 4 at the line.
Most amazing stat of the first half: Lehigh with just three turnovers against HC's ball-hawking defense, which has been forcing over 17 turnovers per game.
The first half battle of the big men was a draw. Clifford played 10 minutes with 2 rebounds and 3 points. Mgebroff had 2 points, 0 rebounds in 11 minutes. The second half was all Clifford. Clifford finished with 9 points, 5 rebounds, 5 blocks. Mgebroff's end of the night line: 4 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist.
Lehigh was without the services of two sophomore reserves, 7-foot center John Gourlay and 6-5 forward Greg Page. Gourlay, who also missed Wednesday night's Bucknell game, is out with an unspecified shoulder injury. No word on Page's situation.
Lehigh's freshman point guard Marquis Hall was 2 for 8 from the field, finishing with 5 points, 5 assists and 4 turnovers. It was the second straight off night for the expected league Rookie of the Year. Wednesday against Bucknell, Hall had a streak of eight straight double figure scoring efforts end when he was held to 4 points on 1 of 8 shooting from the field, 0 for 4 from the arc. Hall was 1 for 4 from three-point range against Holy Cross.
For four years, Andrew has been a loyal Lehigh fan. This afternoon, when the Mountain Hawks take on Holy Cross (matchup), Andrew figures he will be one of the few students who will show up to honor the team's four soon-to-be-graduating seniors.
The game will determine the top seed for the postseason. The visitors are a possible NCAA Tournament team. Yet it seems as though, short of a free keg behind the south basket, nothing draws the Lehigh's students to the games.
Interestingly, the Morning Call had a story on this same topic this morning. They seemed to cast much of the blame on Stabler's location, about three miles from the main campus. But that is bullshit. You don't see Big Five kids staying away from the Palestra just because they need to catch a bus to get there. And how can the distance issue be reconciled with the fact there were more Bucknell students than Lehigh students on hand Wednesday night?
It seems Andrew's insight, in an e-mail he sent last week, is a little more on target. No, the distance to Stabler does not help matters, he says, but the problem is deeper than that.
Here is the text of his e-mail:
I have seen talk on various boards around the league and on Hoop Time about the lack of the Lehigh student section, and I felt the need to chime in. I am currently a senior out here, and must say that the situation is sad.
About four years ago a group of sophomores started regularly attending games and painted themselves (the L-E-H-I-G-H guys, you refer to them as). In the beginning they were usually the only students at the games, but word grew around campus that basketball games can be fun, and the team was starting to play a lot better, so some (stress some) students started to join them. Over the next few years, it turned into a nice student section that would travel to Maryland for the league tournament, up to Colgate for a game, up to HC a few times, over to Army and BU, and even having a better showing than the Zoo-Crew in their building. (Actually in one of your posts from two years ago, you commented on the presence of the Lehigh student at Lafayette in that game we lost).
Unfortunately, most of the original L-E-H-I-G-H guys have graduated, leaving me (although I never paint myself) and maybe about 8 other regulars. Most Lehigh students who do come will sit behind us and not really get into the game anymore. The atmosphere at Stabler is nothing less than depressing this season. I think it is a combination of the team not performing that well and these guys graduating. Another thing to look at is the distance that we must travel to get over to the game. If I am not mistaken, I think all Patriot League arenas are within walking distance of where most students live. You know this is not the case at Lehigh. Ultimately, this kills attendance. On top of that, the Athletic Department shows no commitment to Lehigh basketball. Very rarely do they promote a big game in ways that go beyond a few fliers around their building and outside the ticket office. We never get campus wide e-mails like HC students do. The student paper is a joke, when it comes to LU sports.
The whole situation is a mess out here, which is unfortunate. We have a great, young coach who is an unbelievable recruiter. We have the best freshmen in the league (by far) and possibly the player of the year (although his last few games may indeed hurt him). Students should want to see this team play and actively cheer them on. They really are missing something thousands of other students are getting across the country exciting college basketball.
Hopefully I was able to shed a little light on this mess. I don t see things changing at all in the near future. For senior day on Sunday, being at 1PM, my guess is most LU students will be hung over, and not show up. Those that do will show up at about 1:15, missing the chance to honor Jose, Jason, Kyle, and Adam. Next week, for the 1st round of the tourney, expect a student crowd half of what was there for Bucknell. From there, it is up to the team to try to win at an arena (most likely Bucknell) where more than a handful of students give a bleep about their team.
Do you have any thoughts?
*by the way, if you do post this on your site, do not hold me responsible for poor grammar or spelling. I should have written this on a word file and sent it to you, but I just typed it into this little box...which is tough to proof read...i didn't think I would ramble on this long, but I wanted to get a lot of things off my chest.
Not a lot to add, but since Andrew asked if I had any thoughts, we will point out that aside from that 2003-04 team, it has been a very long time since Lehigh has had a winner. And that team, by losing in the play-in game, might have done more to hurt the cause than help it, giving the impression that Patriot League basketball is a weak sister league.
In fact, one of the students quoted in the Morning Call piece refers to it as one of the worst conferences in the country, oblivious to the fact that the Patriot's RPI ranks it solidly in the middle of the Division I pact; conveniently forgetting the first round NCAA wins the league's representative has posted the last two NCAA Tournaments.
Those of us with longer memories can recall big crowds and a full student section back in the Dozie Mbonu-Bob Krizansky era. Of course Lehigh was winning consistently back then.
It is no coincidence that Bucknell's attendance jumped when they started beating big name teams like Pitt, Kansas and Syracuse. When Lehigh does that, and there is no reason they can't if they can keep Billy Taylor on board, the fans will find their way back to Stabler.
(Updated with bonus links and some editing at 9:51 a.m.; additional edits made at 10:54 a.m.)) We already know who will be the home teams in the first round of the playoffs. Who the visitors will be gets finalized this weekend, beginning tonight when Lafayette visits American. (matchup)
American has already clinched a home spot in the first round. A win tonight , coupled with a Holy Cross win at Lehigh Sunday, would give AU the No. 3 seed for the tournament, not that there appears to be much of an edge gained by moving from No. 4 to No. 3. means nothing. EDITORS NOTE: Thanks to the folks who caught this one ... Lehigh swept that season series and owns the tiebreaker over AU).
A Lafayette loss leaves the Leopards in the No. 8 seed. A win, coupled with a Colgate loss Saturday against Navy, would move the 'Pards to No. 7. The only real difference for Lafayette would be the psychological boost of not finishing last -- either way they play on the road against either Holy Cross or Bucknell.
It makes a bigger difference to the eventual No. 1 and No. 2 seeds, who both probably would prefer to face Lafayette in the first round.
Here is a look, best we have been able to figure, at the various tiebreaking scenarios that could play out over the weekend:
Holy Cross 12-1 at Lehigh (Sunday) -- Win and the Crusaders get the No. 1 seed, a loss and a Bucknell win at Army would drop HC to No. 2 behind the Bison. EDITOR'S NOTE: Bucknell grad Manny Perez is first to e-mail pointing out that if both Bucknell and Holy Cross would lose, Bucknell would gain the top seed by virtue of its sweep of the season series with Lehigh. Good catch Manny, thanks!) Bucknell 12-1 at Army (Saturday) -- Bison can finish no lower than the No. 2 seed. Would be No. 1 if HC loses at Lehigh and BU wins at Army (see above) Lehigh 7-6 home vs. Holy Cross (Sunday) --A win clinchesHas clinched the No. 3 seed. A loss and an American win tonight against Lafayette would drop Lehigh to the No. 4 seed behind AU courtesy of AU's better RPI (192 - 240) American 6-7 home vs. Lafayette (tonight) --Can finish no worse than Is No. 4. Navy 4-9 at Colgate (Saturday) -- If Navy wins and Army loses to Bucknell, Navy becomes the No. 5 seed. If Navy and Army both win, Army's win over Bucknell would boost Army past the Mids on the basis of the second tiebreaker -- comparison of records. If Navy loses, it becomes more complicated. A Navy loss and a Lafayette win would leave the Mids in the No. 7 spot, ahead of the Leopards by virtue of sweeping the season series. If Army also loses, the Black Knights still have the tiebreaker edge for the No. 6 seed by virtue of a win over American, which swept Navy. Army 4-9 home vs. Bucknell (Saturday) --Army cannot finish eighth. In the event of an Army loss and a Lafayette win, the Black Knights would hold the RPI tiebreaker edge. If Colgate also loses, Army drops to No. 8 since the tiebreaker would be record against the other teams involved in the multiple-tie. Colgate would be 3-1 against Lafayette and Army, Lafayette 2-2 and Army 1-3. If Lafayette wins and Army and Navy lose, Navy (3-1 by viture of sweeping Lafayette) gets the No. 6 spot, Army (2-2) is seventh, Lafayette stays in eighth. Colgate 4-9 home vs. Navy (Sat.) -- A win makes the Raiders the No. 5 seed. A loss, coupled with a Lafayette win at AU, would drop Colgate to the No. 8 seed since the Raiders were swept by American. If Army also loses, see the three-way tie scenario above. Lafayette 3-10 at American (tonight) -- A trip to either Bucknell or Holy Cross is inevitable for the 'Pards. A Lafayette loss leaves them in the No. 8 spot. A win and losses by Colgate and Army would move them to No. 7. A win with a Navy loss
A senior night crowd of 3,178 enjoyed the show as the Crusaders improved to 11-0 this season in Hart.
Poor Colgate. Even when they shoot the ball well, they still get blown out.
The Raiders, one of the worst shooting teams in all of Division I, hit 22 of 43 (51.2 percent) of their shotsand still were no match for Holy Cross, dropping a 68-57 decision on Senior Night at the Hart Center.
The win is HC's 15th straight in Hart. As has been the case in most of the other 14, seniors Keith Simmons and Torey Thomas led the way.
Simmons, the odds-on favorite for the Patriot League's Player of the Year honor, scored 18 points, grabbed 7 rebounds, made 4 steals, blocked a shot and dished off 3 assists. Being a home game, Simmons did not have to drive the bus.
Thomas added 11 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 steals for the Crusaders, who can clinch the homecourt advantage for the league final with a win Sunday at Lehigh.
Also in double figures for Holy Cross were center Tim Clifford (14 points) and forward Alex Vander Baaan (11 points, 5 reb., 5 asst.).
Jon Simon had 17 points and Kendall Chones added 14 for Colgate, which could end up seeded last and back in Worcester for the first round of the playoffs if it loses to Navy, American loses to Lafayette and Army knocks off Bucknell Saturday.
Holy Cross took control of the game with a 10-1 run prior to the half, then extended its 33-24 halftime lead to as many as 23 before Colgate used a meaningless late run to make the final look closer than the game really was.Box score | Telegram & Gazette
The first round playoff sites have been determined. Semifinal sites, barring major first round upsets, are already set. So what are the six teams involved in the three games on tap tonight playing for?
For Bucknell and Holy Cross, the answer is simple. The two are deadlocked for first place, with the highest seed gaining the homecourt edge in the league final, should it get that far.
For Holy Cross, that means avoiding a slip up tonight when they host Colgate (matchup). Win this one and win Sunday at Lehigh and the top seed is theirs, no matter what Bucknell does. The Raiders gave the Crusaders a battle in Hamilton last month. The Crusaders trailed by 10 in the second half of that one and needed a Keith Simmons three with 20 seconds left to pull off a 58-55 win.
Tonight, in Worcester, in front of a Hart Center crowd that out to be whipped into a frenzy during the pregame festivities honoring the team's two standout seniors -- Simmons and point guard Torey Thomas -- the Crusaders should have no trouble getting into the game from the start.
Bucknell, of course, needs to win tonight at Lehigh (matchup), Saturday at Army and also needs someone to knock off Holy Cross.
Lehigh, with the No. 3 seed locked up, would love to win its last two home games to send a message to the frontrunners prior to the start of the playoffs. Bucknell had an easy time of it against the Mountain Hawks in Lewisburg last month. Two big differences this time around (besides the change in venue): Lehigh did not have Jason Mgebroff last time the two met. Bucknell did have Donald Brown.
Brown was not even wearing a wrap on his broken right hand Saturday when Bucknell took on Towson. But he was still in street clothes and there has been no indication he is ready to return just yet. He was a big factor in the first meeting, scoring 15 points and grabbing 7 rebounds.
Mgebroff has not put up any impressive numbers in his two games back after sitting out over two months with stress fractures in a leg. But the 6-10 senior went 11 minutes Sunday against Lafayette. Part of those minutes might have been because of the foul trouble the rest of Lehigh's lineup got into against the Leopards.
We'll see tonight if Mgebroff is in good enough shape to go extended minutes and make a difference against Bucknell or if he is still playing back into shape for the postseason.
The evening's third game is probably the most significant in terms of first round pairings. Lafayette travels to Army (matchup), with the winner escaping last place in the league standings. Lafayette, with a win here and some help from its friends, could actually finish as high as fifth, avoiding a first round matchup at Bucknell or Holy Cross. The Leopards win over Lehigh would give them a tiebreaker edge over Colgate if the two finish tied for a spot.
The avoid-HC-or-BU scenarios are less favorable to Army, which also has to beat Bucknell Saturday for any chance of that happening. Even then, the Black Knights need some help since Colgate swept the regular season series between the two teams, giving the Raiders any tiebreaker scenarios.
If Army wins out, and Colgate beats Navy Saturday, the Black Knights would tie the Mids for sixth, and would have the tiebreaker edge by virtue of a win over Bucknell.
(Originally posted Sat, at 6 p.m., links added at 6:59 a.m.) Carlos Rivera played Hempstead hero in Hofstra's BracketBusters win over Holy Cross.
It was there for the taking. After trailing since midway through the first half, Holy Cross took a 64-63 lead on an Eric Meister tip-in with 1:36 to play. Twice the Crusaders (20-8) came up with defensive stops and had a chance to extend that one-point lead. Each time they failed, allowing Hofstra to sneak back for a 65-64 win.
Rivera was the hero, making a pair of free throws with 1.7 seconds left to give Hofstra (20-8) the lead, then blocking a Keith Simmons jumper at the buzzer that would have given HC the win.
It might not have come down to that had Meister hit a pair of free throws with 18 seconds left, when HC was still up by one. An earlier opportunity to extend that lead ended when Torey Thomas drove baseline and had the ball knocked out of bounds off of him.
The Crusaders, who were 25 of 50 from the field before their final possession, got the ball in the right guy's hands, with Meister, in the game replacing Tim Clifford, who fouled out with 6:45 to play, finding Simmons with the long inbounds pass. Simmons caught the ball just inside the arc, but Ruiz got a hand of his 17-footer to preserve the Hofstra win.
Simmons led all scorers, finishing with 22. Thomas added 16 points and 6 steals. Clifford finished with 11 points and 5 rebounds before fouling out when he picked up a pair of fouls in a 17-second span in the second half. Simmons played a total of 29 minutes before being disqualified.
The Crusaders hit 25 of 51 from the field(49 percent), 4 of 14 three-pointers. HC was 10 for 16 at the foul line, four of the misses coming from the freshman, Meister, who was 0 for 4.
Rivera led Hofstra with 19 points, including four treys (on five attempts). Antoine Agudio also had 19 for the Pride. Loren Stokes added 16.
Hofstra shot 55.8 percent (24 of 43) from the field against Holy Cross, 7 of 12 from the arc. The Pride struggled at the free throw line, making 10 of 20. Box score | Newsday | Telegram & Gazette
With just one day to get ready, Holy Cross takes on Hostra in the BracketBusters.
Preparation is the key for a team like Holy Cross when it takes on top teams from other conferences. Patriot League teams don't have the athletes to just throw the ball out and run with the big horses. Instead, teams like the Crusaders, and Bucknell, have found their out of conference successes by playing a maddening style of tough defense, mixing looks and forcing teams to play a style the opponents find uncomfortable.
Time for preparation before HC's BracketBusters game Saturday afternoon at Hofstra has been extremely limited though, causing a concern for Crusaders coach Ralph Willard. Willard expected to have two full days to get his team ready to face the high-flying Pride.
Then came this week's winter storm and the 'Saders susequent planes, trains and rental vans adventure that resulted in Wednesday's game at Navy being pushed back a day, upsetting Holy Cross' preparation rhythm.
"I thought we'd have (Thursday and Friday) to prepare for Hofstra. Unfortunately the weather screwed us up," WIllard said after beating Navy THursday.
The Crusaders flew out immediately after Thursday's game, heading straight to New York for the Hofstra game. Plans called for fil study Friday morning, a 2:30 practice at Hofstra in the afaternoon, then more film, to be followed with yet more film at breakfast Saturday prior to the 3 p.m. tip on ESPNU.
The one day of preparation situation took its toll on Holy Cross in its pre-conference schedule. Hc found itself in that situation five times -- six if you count the fact that one of the two days between the Yale and Dayton games was spent in transit. Holy Cross lost four of those six and barely held off a weak Delaware team for a two-point victory in one of the two it won.
Prep for the game began on the plane after the Navy game. Immediately after the Navy game, Willard reported, "We have nothing in place. We haven't even looked at Hofstra."
When Willard looks at the Pride, here is what he will see: A three-guard outfit that likes to get up and down the floor. The complete antithesis to the pace HC will try to impose.
Hofstra averages over 73 points per game. With guards like Loren Stokes, Antoine Agudio and Carlos Rivera, the more shots the better. Stokes, a senior who averages 21.1 points per game, is a 2,000-point scorer who needs just 35 more to become the school's second leading scorer all-time.
Agudio averages 20.4 ppg, making Hofstra the only team in the nation with two 20-point scorers in its lineup.
Rivera, a senior like Stokes, is also a career 1,000-point scorer. Rivera averages 11.7 points per game.
Along with 6-5 forward Zygis Sestokas, who averages 7.6 points per game, they give the Pride four guys who are not afraid to shoot the three-pointer. Sestokas hits treys ata 45.4 percent clip. Agudio, who has made 84 treys already, knocks them down at 42.5 percent. As a team, Hofstra shoots 39.5 percent from the arc.
Where Hofstra is not so strong is in the frontcourt. The tallest starter is 6-7 Mike Davis-Sabb, who will have his hands full with HC's 6-10 Tim Clifford. Clifford tuned up for this one with a 33-point afternoon in Annapolis on Thursday.
Clifford can be a big factor in this game if he stays out of foul trouble. As long as he is anchoring the inside, the Crusaders perimeter defenders can push up on the Hofstra shooters knowing help is there if they get beaten on penetration. Without Clifford clogging the middle, the seams in HC's zones will seem far more inviting.
If Clifford can establish some inside offense, it will also make a big difference. Torey Thomas and Keith Simmons ought to be able to hold their own with the Hofstra guards. If Clifford comes to play, the paint could be where HC finds its advantage.
To take full advantage of Clifford's presence, the Crusaders need to dictate pace. The big junior is too slow to be a factor if this game becomes an end-to-end foot race. The Crusaders need to force Hofstra to play a halfcourt game.
Whether of not they will be able to do that with one day to get ready, remains to be seen.
"That is a big part of us being good -- preparation, defensive preparation. . . . It would have been OK if we had played Wednesday," said Willard. "We've got our work cut out for us." Matchup
(Originally posted Thurs., 6:52 p.m., links added at 8:31 a.m.) Crusaders start fast, romp past Midshipmen.
By CHRIS A. COUROGEN
It took Holy Cross over 24 hours to make the trip to Annapolis. When they got there, the Crusaders had to wait another 21 hours to play their scheduled game, which was postponed due to their winter storm-related travel woes. It took the Crusaders considerably less time to dispatch of the Midshipmen once they finally took the court.
Behind a career-effort from center Tim Clifford, the Crusaders jumped out to a big lead early and cruised to a 68-40 win in a late-afternoon matinee in Alumni Hall.
Holy Cross (20-7 overall, 11-1 Patriot) looked like a team in a hurry to put this wild road trip from winter storm hell behind them, opening the game with a 9-0 run that they built into a 23-4 advantage before the Mids made their second field goal of the game.
“I didn't know what to expect. I didn't know if we'd have any legs after riding five and a half hours on a train,” said Holy Cross coach Ralph Willard.
Not to worry. Holy Cross came out hot on offense while its defense made the Midshipmen (13-13, 3-8) look like they were among the 60,000 folks in the Annapolis area still without power following Tuesday's storm.
The Mids were 1 for 12 with 9 turnovers before their leading scorer, Greg Sprink, hit a layup with 7:32 to play in the first half to account for Navy's second field goal.
“It was obvious from the start we weren't going to shoot the ball well,” said Navy coach Billy Lange.
It was equally obvious Clifford would. By the time Sprink made that layup, Clifford already had scored 15 points and blocked a pair of shots. Sprink's bucket cut HC's early lead to 17 points (23-6). Navy cut the lead to 15 twice late in the first half before going to the intermission down 36-18.
At that point, Clifford'd 21 points were more than the whole Navy team combined. Clifford scored a dozen more in the second half before calling it an early night. When Clifford sat down with 6:23 to play, he had a career-high 33 points. At that point the Navy team has scored 36.
Lange's game plan called for the same defense the Midshipmen used to limit Clifford to 6 points when the two teams met a month ago in Worcester – double teams from the weak side, guards pinching down, anything to make Holy Cross beat them from the outside.
“We didn't do what we were supposed to do (against Clifford). We were going to play the paint first and make them throw it around the perimeter,” Lange said.
Instead, “The game started and it looked like we never practiced,” Lange said.
All afternoon, Holy Cross found the entry passes to Clifford with ease. Clifford heaped abuse from there, knocking down 12 of 19 from the field, including 1 for 1 from the three-point arc. He was also was a perfect 8 for 8 at the foul line, blocked four shots and grabbed four rebounds – all in just 29 minutes of action.
“Tim Clifford had a huge game,” said Willard, who was pleased with his team's ball movement, which led to 21 assists on 24 field goals.
Even though Navy has no legitimate post player to match up with him in the paint, Clifford insisted his big night was not by design. It just sort of happened that way.
“We've always been good at getting the ball to the hot hand. I had the hot hand tonight,” Clifford said. “It just happened that way.”
Keith Simmons added 10 points and grabbed 9 rebounds, but the way Holy Cross played defense, the 'Saders barely needed more offense than that provided by Clifford.
Holy Cross held Navy to 12 field goals, tying the Mids' all-time single-game low. The Midshipmen's 40 points were the sixth fewest they have scored in a game since the school began keeping records in 1953. Navy's 25 percent (12 of 48) shooting from the field was its fourth coldest shooting night ever. Add it together, and toss in Holy Cross' 68-point, the second most the Mids have allowed in league play this season, and you have the makings of a 28-point shellacking that was the second widest margin of defeat Navy has ever suffered at home.
Navy's leading scorer, Greg Sprink, was held to 6 points, more than 10 below his average. T.J. Topercer's 8 points off the bench made him the Mids' top scorer. Like his teammates, Sprink had more turnovers (3) than field goals (he was 2 for 7 from the field). As a team, Navy turned the ball over twice as often (24 times) as it put it in the hole.
After the game, Lange said he didn't know if the one-day delay had taken any edge off of his team, but he was pretty sure he could answer for Holy Cross.
Notes and observations from courtside at this afternoon's late matinee in Annapolis.
The officiating crew working this afternoon's game is not the one originally assigned to work this contest. The postponement and weather related travel woes forced assigners to scramble to put together crews.
One of the three working this game said a high school ref worked Wednesday night's ESPN game between No. 2 Ohio State and Penn State when the the third official assigned to the game could not make it through the snow to State College.
The Mids were 0 for 3 with 4 turnovers on their first seven possessions, falling behind 9-0 before making its first field goal -- a T.J. Topercer three at the 16:32 mark of the first half.
Between Topercer's bucket and the next media timeout, which came at the 11:46 mark, Navy was 0 for 4 with three more turnovers. The Mids did manage a free throw in that stretch. In the same span, Holy Cross added 10 more points for a 19-4 lead. Seven of the 10 came from Tim Clifford, who had 11 points in the first 9:10 of the game. The Crusaders opened the game shooting 8 of 13 (61.5 percent) from the floor.
By the time Greg Sprink made Navy's second field goal of the game, Navy had gone 7:55 without a field goal. The Mids, between Topercer's trey and Sprink's layup, were 0 for 8 with 5 more turnovers. After Sprink's bucket cut the Holy Cross lead to 23-6, Navy was 2 for 13 from the field with 9 turnovers. In that same stretch, Clifford was 6 for 8 with 15 points, two blocks and a steal.
The Mids missed four more shots before Bryce Brigham scored their third field goal of the half, a three that resulted in a four-point play when he was fouled in the act by Eric Meister.
At the media timeout with 2:59 to play first half, Holy Cross was 12 for 21 (57.1 percent) from the field. Clifford (7 for 9) has 17 points. Navy was 4 for 19, 21.1 percent. Brigham, with two treys and 7 points, was the only Mid with more than one basket.
A 5-foot jumper from the left baseline with about 45 seconds to go in the half gave Clifford 21 points at the half, one shy of his whole game season high of 22 at Harvard back on Nov. 21. Keith Simmons (10 points) was also in double figures at the break.
FIRST HALF STATS: HC 15 of 26 (57.7 percent) from the field; 3-9 on three-pointers, 3-4 at the foul line. Navy 5 of 23 (21.7 percent), 4 of 10 threes, 4-5 FT. Turnovers: HC 10, Navy 11. Rebounds: HC 19, Navy 11.
Navy's 5 of 23 first half shooting is identical to its first half the last time HC visited Alumni Hall. HC led 35-15 in that one at the break.
The Crusaders scrambled out of Alumni Hall in a hurry after the game, headed for the airport and an 8 p.m. flight to New York . . . Holy Cross will spend Friday wrapping film sessions at their Long Island hotel around a 2:30 practice at Hofstra to prepare for Saturday's BracketBusters game . . . The win was Holy Cross' 17th in a row over Navy, the longest such streak in the league . . . just one of the last 12 HC wins in the series has been by a single-digit margin
It's looking like an Oreo cookie kind of night in the Patriot League tonight. The two league co-leaders take on two of the teams at the bottom of the standings, but the good stuff is the two game involving the four teams in the middle.
In Hamilton, Lehigh will face Colgate (matchup) looking for its seventh straight win over Colgate. A win would give the Mountain Hawks a three game lead over the Raiders in the win column and a virtual lock on a first round home game in the playoffs since Lehigh will have swept the season series with the Raiders and American, who sit in a tie for fourth place heading into tonight's action.
Lehigh's notes indicate senior center Jason Mgebroff will return to the lineup in the next week after being out since December due to a stress fracture in one of his legs. Whether that means as soon as tonight, Saturday's rivalry game at Lafayette, or a Willis Reed-like inspirational return at home against Bucknell or Holy Cross remains to be seen.
The Raiders are almost as bad at home (4-8) as Lehigh has been on the road (2-12). They have shown a particular knack for losing close games on their own floor. Colgate is 1-4 at home in league games, the four losses coming by a combined 18 points. including one loss in overtime.
In the nation's capital, American, still alive in the home-game hunt thanks to Colgate's Sunday blunder, hosts an Army five (matchup) that is barely clinging to its home for the first round life. After a promising 3-2 start in league play, the Black Knights have hit an 0-5 wall. Army probably has to go 4-0 down the stretch, starting tonight, to have a chance of hosting in round one. That would make them .500 in the league, which might just do it, given the mediocrity of the bottom five-eighths of the conference.
AU, with two more conference games after tonight, would be in good shape for a home game with a win tonight, especially coupled with a Colgate loss. The Eagles have the most favorable schedule of the teams battling for that fourth spot, with a home game against Lafayette and a visit to Navy left following tonight.
In Lewisburg, Bucknell will look to solidify the momentum of its win over Holy Cross when last place Lafayette comes calling (matchup). The Leopards gave the Bison a battle in Easton last month. In Solka Pavilion, where Bucknell has can close out another unbeaten home league slate with a win, it should not be anywhere near as close.
This is the part of the season when Bucknell traditionally plays its best basketball. Since that win in Easton, the Bison have compiled an eight-game win streak. The only way it does not make it nine in a row is if they get caught got looking past the Leopards. A simple two-word message on the chalkboard should suffice. In big, orange letters, it should say "Central Arkansas."
Wrapping up the four-game slate tonight is Holy Cross visiting the Midshipmen of Navy (matchup). Navy's five-game losing streak is history. In its place, a two-game win streak that began with a confidence building win at Lehigh.
The Mids are always an upset threat thanks to their five-man perimeter-oriented attack. Navy fires up half its shots from outside the arc. If a couple Mids get two or three in the same game, they could put up a lot of points.
Of course you can tell by Navy's 11-12 record in games against Division I teams, that has not happened a lot this season. And it would be asking a lot for it to happen against a team that plays defense the way Holy Cross does. Add in the extra motivation the Crusaders should have after losing at Bucknell and HC's huge edge in the frontcourt, and an upset seemes even more unlikely.
Should HC need extra motivation, it can look back two seasons to when Bucknell lost at American, then followed it with a loss at Navy, two setbacks that resulted in the Bison being forced to go on the road for the tournament final.
As the Crusaders know all too well, that scenario ended up working out OK for Bucknell. But HC would far prefer to sleep in its own beds throughout the playoffs. With senior leaders like Keith Simmons and Torey Thomas, don't expect the Crusaders to lose focus on the prize.
Leftover tidbits and trivial observations from Bucknell's 48-45 win over Holy Cross:
Holy Cross opened the game with a 12-2 run in the first 4:16 of the game, then was outscored 20-15 the rest of the half.
The Crusaders were hurt by foul trouble up front, with both Tim Clifford and Alex Vander Baan forced to the bench the last 4 minutes of the half with two personals each. Abe Badmus had two for Bucknell.
Bucknell's offense during Holy Cross' run was limited to a Chris McNaughton foul line jumper on the first possession of the game. Justin Castleberry entered the game at the first TV timeout and hit a pair of buckets, including a three-pointer, to spark a 9-2 Bucknell run that got the Bison back in the game. McNaughton had the other four points, finishing the half 4 for 7 from the field with 8 points. Castleberry was 3 for 4, with 2 treys, good for 10 points. The rest of Bucknell's roster was 2 for 12 from the field in the half.
Holy Cross was more balanced, with Keith Simmons 4 for 6, 9 points in the half. Clifford and Torey Thomas each had 5 points, Vander Baan added 4.
Bucknell obviously needed to find scoring from someone besides Castleberry and McNaughton. Early in the second half, that answer was Abe Badmus, who started the half beating Thomas on dribble penetration for a layup, then hit a jumper off a curl screen to make it a one-point game. Moments later he came up with a steal on the defensive end, then, after a Thomas foul, hit his firsts trey of the game to give Bucknell a 29-28 lead with 18:16 to play.
Vander Baan picked up two fouls in the first four minutes of the second half, returned with four fouls around the 8:58 mark and fouled out 32 seconds later while being outhustled for a loose ball by Darren Mastropaolo after a rebound was tipped out by McNaughton. Mastropaolo made both foul shots for a 39-35 Bucknell lead. Vander Baan played just 18 minutes, finishing with 4 points and 1 rebound.
Holy Cross responded with a 7-0 run, sparked by a Thomas three, followed by two Thomas free throws and two more by Simmons, going back on top by 3. The Crusaders stayed on top until Mastropaolo put Buucknell ahead for good with two free throws at the 3:52 mark.
Holy Cross managed only 4 field goals the entire second half. Simmons, who had Abe Badmus hounding him the entire half, managed only three shots after the half, making just one, a three-pointer with 12 seconds left. Simmons' three was Holy Cross' only score in the final 5:27.
The Crusaders first field goal of the second half came after going without for the first 3:39 of the half. Their last field goal of the first half came with 2:17 to go in the half. In other words, the tone for the second half was set late in the first. Not counting the 15 minutes of the intermission, HC had gone 5:56 without a field goal when Thomas made a steal and went coast-to-coast for a layup at the 16:31 mark of the second half. It would be another 4:09 until the Crusadsers' next bucket -- a Colin Cunningham three, and 4:27 more until Thomas hit another three at the 7:55 mark. Simmons' late three, the Crusaders only other field goal of the half, came 7:43 later.
If and when these two meet again, expect Holy Cross to do one thing very different. If Bucknell decides again to use Abe Badmus, who, as he put it, is 6-feet tall with his shoes on, to guard the 6-5 Simmons, HC will respond by posting Simmons more.
"The mistake was, Badmus playing Keith, we need to get Keith down low. That's a mismatch," said Torey Thomas, who took it on himself for failing to exploit the size difference, saying, "That is a point guard mistake."
"We ran four or five plays for (Simmons) to post up and we didn't get him the ball," said Willard, who credited Bucknell's ball pressure for making it tough to make that entry pass.
The battle of the big men was dominated by Bucknell this time around. After being outplayed by HC's Tim Clifford in the first game in Worcester, Bucknell's Chris McNaughton turned the table. mcNaughton scored 9 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, dished off an assist, blocked a shot and had just one turnover. Clifford finished with 5 points, 1 rebound, and three turnovers. Clifford also had a pair of blocks and a steal. Between them, Holy Cross' staring front line of Vander baan and Clifford managed 2 rebounds to 15 for Bucknell's combination of Mastropaolo and McNaughton.
Holy Cross backup center, 6-11 sophomore Greg McCarthy managed just a single rebound and 2 turnovers in 15 minutes, making him about equal in production to Bucknell's 6-11 sophomore Josh Linthicum, who played two minutes, with a single foul the only non-zero in his box score line.
Crusaders freshman Eric Meister had a slight edge on Bucknell freshman Patrick behan in the battle of 6-8 backup four men. Meister played 21 minutes, finishing with 6 rebounds and 2 points (1 for 3 shooting). Behan scored 6 points (on 3 for 4 shooting) and grabbed one board in 12 minutes.
Bucknell's Jason Vegotsky, who struggled to match Simmons' and Thomas' quickness on defense, played a season-low 13 minutes and was held scoreless for the first time this season. It was just the third time all season Vegotsky failed to hit a single three. Vegotsky took just one shot.
The standing room only crowd of 4,209 was the fourth largest in Bucknell history and the largest ever for a Patriot League game in Sojka.
The win, Bucknell's second of the season against a Top 100 RPI team, boosted the Bison into that realm. Bucknell is now No. 95 in the RPI, according to Ken Pomeroy's latest calculations. Holy Cross dropped 3 spots to No. 63 with the loss.
Bucknell's 2006 record as the only team to go unbeaten in Patriot League will stand at least one full season after the Bison knocked off Holy Cross.
BY CHRIS A. COUROGEN
According to the popular urban legend, every year, when the last unbeaten NFL team suffers a loss, the members of the 1972 Miami Dolphins gather together to celebrate with a bottle of champagne.
It doesn't really happen; the members of the only team to go through an entire NFL season unblemished is far too spread out for such a gathering to take place. But it makes a good story.
There are no such tales about last season's Bucknell basketball team. None are likely to start, either. Not with half of the team still under 21 and the four graduated seniors from the only team to go unbeaten in Patriot League play scattered to the wind. Charles Lee is playing professionally in Israel. Kevin Bettencourt teaches school in Massachusetts. Reserve forward Holland Mack is coaching a high school freshman team in Jersey. Tarik Viaer-McClymont is out there waiting for us to put him on a T-shirt.
It would be little surprise if the players from last season's Bison team were burning up the Internet with a few congratulatory e-mails after they knocked Holy Cross from the ranks of the league unbeaten with a 48-45 win in a Sojka Pavilion dogfight. The loss ends the Crusaders' 12-game win streak and their dreams of matching Bucknell's 17-0 2006 record and creates a tie between the two for first place in the conference standings. It could also mean HC seniors Torey Thomas and Keith Simmons end their outstanding carers never having won a game in Sojka, where Bucknell (16-8, 10-1) has now won 32 straight Patriot League games.
What it does not mean is that the Crusaders (19-7 overall, 10-1 Patriot) will have to make another trip to Lewisburg this season. Even though almost everybody who follows the conference expects these two to play a rubber match in the March 9 conference final. If both win out in their three remaining league games, that would put that game in Worcester, assuming both make it to the finals. If both finish 13-1 in league play, Holy Cross, which won the first meeting back on Jan. 12 in the Hart Center, has the tiebreaker edge due to an insurmountable edge in the RPI.
"We still have our fate in our hands," said Holy Cross coach Ralph Willard.
"We just have to get the next three games in conference and come back home," said Thomas, who finished with 12 points and four steals, but had an uncharacteristic five turnovers and shot just 3 for 12 from the field, including a miss on an open three from the left corner that could have sent the game into overtime
"That felt real good coming out of my hand. I should have connected on that. Big shots, you've got to make them in big games," Thomas said.
Thomas was not the only guy who struggled to make shots. Holy Cross finished the night 14 of 41 (34.1 percent) from the field. Bucknell was not a lot better, making 17 of 43 (39.5 percent).
"I knew this would be a defensive struggle," said Willard "It was not a pretty basketball game."
That was not all Willard knew ahead of time. He's no psychic, but he knew what play Bucknell was going to run when they inbounded the ball out of a timeout, up 43-42, with 11 seconds on the shot clock, 1:11 left in the game. During the timeout, Willard told his team to expect Bucknell to run a play designed to get junior John Griffin a three-point look in the corner.
"We worked on that play 30 minutes in the walk-through today," said Willard.
"That was a bad defensive adjustment. We knew the play and we didn't get the stop," added Thomas.
Knowing it was coming and stopping it proved to be two different things. Bucknell point guard Abe Badmus skipped the ball over the Holy Cross defense, his pass barely getting over the outstretched hand of Keith Simmons, who was caught between Griffin and another Bucknell shooter on the arc. It was Griffin's only three-pointer of the night, coming after he missed his first five. He never hesitated.
"It came to my hands. My immediate reaction was to shoot the ball," Griffin said.
Had the reaction been a nano second after he caught it, Simmons probably would have deposited the ball in the second row of the seats. The 6-5 senior Simmons recovered quickly; Griffin got the shot off quicker, just barely clearing the leaping Simmons before finding the bottom of the net for a 46-42 Bucknell lead.
"They made the play they had to," said Willard. "That three was a dagger."
Bucknell stretched the lead to 48-42 on a pair of Badmus free throws with 38 seconds left. But the Bison were 0 for 4 at the line the rest of the way, leaving the door open for Holy Cross to try to come back. The Crusaders got a foot in the door when Simmons hit a three-pointer with 12 seconds left, but Thomas' mis at the buzzer left them outside, looking in.
Simmon's finished with 15 points to lead all scorers, but the leading candidate for tghe league's player of the year honors was blanketed by Bucknell's Badmus the second half. With Badmus all but inside Simmons' jersey, the league's top scorer only managed to get off three shots in the second half. That late three was the only one he made.
Nine of Simmons points came in the first half; seven during a 12-2 Holy Cross run to open the game. The Crusaders rode that cushion to a 27-22 lead at the half, but managed only four field goals and 18 points total after the break.
Sophomore Justin Castleberry was the only Bucknell player in double figures, coming off the bench to score 10 points. Senior Center Chris McNaughton added 9 and had a game-high 10 rebounds, getting Holy Cross' big men in foul trouble in the process. Forward Alex Vander Baan fouled out and center Tim Clifford finished with 4 fouls. Clifford had just one rebound, a big reason Bucknell held a 29-24 edge on the boards.
Holy Cross will look to bounce back Wednesday when it visits the Naval Academy.
Here I am again right where I know I shouldn't be I've been caught inside this trap too many times I must've walked these steps and said these words a thousand times before It seems like I know everybody's lines.
-- David Bromberg
The whole league is better. It's not just Bucknell and Holy Cross anymore. Yeah, right.
That's what everybody tried to tell us back in November, when the whole league was 0-0 and tied in the standings. They kept it up throughout December, when teams like Army and Navy raced out to impressive records that had all the credibility of a house of cards. When Bucknell started out 0-4, and Holy Cross followed with a four-game losing streak of its own during a 2-5 month of December, it was hard not to wonder if it was true.
So why is it that David Bromberg song keeps running through my head on this fine, frigid February morning?
The answer to that one is pretty obvious. If you need a hint, click here.
Yes, there is more parity in the Patriot League. The bottom of the league is definitely better. Army is vastly improved. Navy is better. Lafayette is a slightly different story, but now that he has scholarships, give Fran O'Hanlon a recruiting class of two and they will get better in a hurry.
But the middle of the league is still the middle. Colgate remains an enigma, a team seemingly full of under performing talent and a coach that would be on the hot seat if there enough fans interested in the team to generate some heat and any media covering the team to write about it.
American is once again a talented roster -- this year you can even add the adjective "experienced" to that description -- that seems to lack chemistry and the mental toughness it takes to win close games.
Lehigh is still there in third, telling everybody it can win the league, but once again lacking the necessary big man to back those boasts (a caveat: if Jason Mgebroff is able to come back and play at the level he was at before being hurt in December, the Mountain Hawks could be a very different team down the stretch).
Which leaves us where we have been the last two seasons, getting set for another matchup between the Bison and the Crusaders with league championship implications.
Winning this game all but clinches the homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs for Holy Cross. Mathematically, a two-game lead with three to play is not insurmountable. Realistically, though, Bucknell has a better chance of the Easter bunny bringing them a championship than it has of Holy Cross losing all three down the stretch. Since Easter does not come until April 8, it seems they'd best take matters in their own hands tonight.
Even if Bucknell wins, Holy Cross is still in the driver's seat thanks to the RPI tiebreaker, which would kick in if both teams finish 13-1. The Crusaders are far enough ahead of Bucknell in those rankings to have a lock on the higher number under that scenario. But HC still has to run a three-game gauntlet that includes suddenly dangerous Colgate and a trip to Bethlehem to face a Lehigh team that likely will have Mgrebroff back by then.
In other words, win here and Bucknell's beacon of hope still flickers.
That would seem to mean all the pressure is on Bucknell. It's not.
Holy Cross is chasing history, and haunted by it a little, too. The Crusaders are trying to become just the second team in 17 seasons of Patriot League play to run the conference table. To do it, they need to win tonight in Sojka Pavilion, something nobody on the current roster has done, something nobody in the league has done in Bucknell's last 31 home games.
There is also the pressure of the Crusaders' 12-game win streak, the second longest in the nation (behind Florida's 15).
Of course all the talk about pressure probably will mean very little when the two teams take the floor, unless you mean the defensive pressure both will look to apply. The two teams come in ranked 1-2 in scoring defense, with Holy Cross less than a point per game better in that category.
Bucknell will be without Donald Brown, who remains out with a broken hand suffered at Colgate. The Bison have gone 2-0 in his absence.
While they certainly will miss the presence of their leading scorer and the league's top rebounder, Darren Mastropaolo, who started on both of the Bison's NCAA Tournament teams, is a more than capable fill in.
For Bucknell, the keys to this one are pretty simple. On offense, they need to knock down some shots from the perimeter to keep Holy Cross from ganging up on Chris McNaughton in the paint. Abe Badmus did not score a point when HC beat the Bison in Worcester earlier this season. If that happens again, Bucknell will be in trouble.
On defense, they have to keep Torey Thomas and Keith Simmons away from the basket. Easier said than done. Guard penetration killed the Bison in the first game, not just in terms of scoring, but also by getting Brown and McNaughton into foul trouble. McNaughton only played 22 minutes, and scored only 4 points, in Worcester. Bucknell needs a lot more from him tonight.
Holy Cross won't make that easy. The Crusaders big men are strong inside defenders and they will get a lot of help from the guards. Simmons and Thomas both have the kind of jet pack quickness that allows them to dig down and still recover when the ball is kicked out.
A big (pardon the pun) key for the Crusaders will be center Tim Clifford. Like McNaughton, Clifford was in early foul trouble in the first game, going scoreless in just 9 minutes before the intermission. In the second half he went 5 for 6 from the field and pulled won 6 of his team-high 8 rebounds. If he plays like that the whole game tonight, it could be a long night for Bucknell.
For those who doubt how big this rivalry has become, here are a few factoids lifted straight from Bucknell's game notes:
The Bison and Crusaders have combined to win five of the last six Patriot League titles, and they are the only two league teams to have won in the postseason (Bucknell in the 2005 and 2006 NCAA Tournaments, Holy Cross in the 2005 NIT).
These two teams have met 10 times in 16 Patriot League Tournaments, including three times in the championship game. Bucknell defeated Holy Cross in the 2005 and 2006 title tilts, while the Crusders topped the Bison in the final in 1993.
Excluding games against each other, Bucknell and Holy Cross are a combined 71-3 against the rest of the Patriot League since the start of the 2004-05 season. The Bison have not lost to a PL team other than the Crusaders since Jan. 30, 2005 at Navy.
The Bison and Crusaders had never met until the formation of the Patriot League in 1990-91, but in 16 years since then they have clashed 43 times, an average of 2.6 meetings per year.
Bucknell had won four straight and six of the last seven in the series before Holy Cross ended that streak with a 65-60 win at the Hart Center earlier this season. Bucknell now leads the series 24-19.
Bucknell is 11-7 against Holy Cross in Lewisburg, including 4-1 at Sojka Pavilion.
Army pushed the league leaders to the limit in regulation, but form held in the extra session.
After battling Holy Cross tooth and nail through 40 even minutes of regulation play, the Black Knights' upset bid came apart like a trailer in a twister in overtime, allowing the Crusaders to escape with a 70-54 overtime win to remain unbeaten in league play.
The win sets up Friday's much-anticipated showdown at Bucknell, which also escaped a trap last night at American. Holy Cross' 12th straight win was in jeopardy in the second half when Army used a pair of three-pointers from little used freshman guard Josh Miller to build a 40-33 lead with 8:05 to go in regulation.
Keith Simmons, who finished with 26 points, led Holy Cross back, tying the game at 49-49 after Simmons hit a pair of free throws and a layup with 2:10 to play in regulation. After each team added a free throw, a short jumper by Simmons put the Crusaders up with 15 seconds to go. Army sent it to OT when Jarrell Brown (21 points) made a little running scoop shot with 0.5 seconds to go.
The overtime, though, was all HC. The Crusaders opened with a 12-0 run and held Army to a pair of free throws in the extra session. Army, which shot 17 for 45 (37.8 percent) in regulation, including 5 of 10 from the arc, went 0 for 6 in overtime, five of the misses coming from the arc.
Holy Cross was perfect in the OT, going 5 for 5 from the field, including a pair of Pat Doherty treys and 6 for 6 at the foul line. For the game, HC shot 46 percent (23 of 50), 8 for 18 on three-point tries.
Matt Bell added 12 points for Army (13-11, 3-6 Patriot), which lost its fourth in a row after starting conference play 3-2.
Torey Thomas had 14 points, 7 rebounds, 7 assists and 5 steals for HC. Tim Clifford finished with 11 points, 8 boards and 6 steals.
Everybody is talking about Friday's Holy Cross-Bucknell rematch, but first they both have to get by tough road opponents tonight.
It's a classic trap situation for both teams. Both are coming off emotional wins Saturday -- Holy Cross's winter homecoming thrashing of Lafayette and Bucknell's big win at Navy in its first game without senior leader Donald Brown -- and headed into a game with potential league championship implications. But if either lets down, or if looks past tonight to even sneak a peek at the other, Friday's ESPNU matchup could end up taking on a very different context.
Holy Cross throttled Army when they met in Worcester back on Jan. 10, winning by 24 points. It would be understandable if a bunch of 20-year-old kids would take Army lightly in the rematch (matchup). It could also be fatal to HC's championship dreams. The Black Knights are a very different team in West Point, where they are 9-2 on the season.
Ralph Willard knows the danger. In 2002, his team went into West Point one game before a big showdown with American and came out with a loss that eventually forced it to go on the road for the league final against AU. All worked out in the end for the Crusaders, who won the second of its three titles under Willard by beating the Eagles in Bender. But nobody wants to have to win the championship final on someone else's floor.
No need to harken back to that 2002 slip-up to make the point about needing to stay focused in a tough road game in an empty gym. Willard can simply remind his team what happened two weeks ago in its last trip to New York, when they needed a Keith Simmons three-pointer at the end of the game to get past Colgate.
Bucknell faces a similar challenge at American (matchup). The Bison didn't win by a big margin when the two met in Lewisburg, but they did win pretty convincingly.
The Bison were dominant inside, but allowed Au to knock down 7 threes in the second half to keep it close. If the Eagles are able to shoot like that at home tonight, it could be a very long night for Bucknell.
Bucknell's defense has improved considerably since the two met back on Jan. 10. We'll see how much it has improved tonight.
The good news: Holy Cross got one of the televised games in the BracketBusters.
The bad news: It won't be easy to see it. The game at Hofstra, set for Saturday, Feb. 17 at 3 p.m. will be shown on ESPNU. ESPNU, or ESPN Unavailable, as some call it, is available in about 7 million homes nationwide. By comparison, the WWLIS' main property, good old ESPN, is available in 92.2 million.
For many fans, the best hope for seeing the game on TV is probaly to find a sports bar or restaurant with a dish package that includes ESPNU. One tip: Many places pre-program their dish offerings. Best to call ahead to make sure they will include the game on one of their screens. Offering to arrange a gathering of fellow fans can't hurt.
Checked out all yesterday's games and still crave more hoops? Here are few other items of interest.
Tom Housenick of The Daily Item spent his spare time between Friday night's Bucknell-Navy men's game and yesterday afternoon's women's game between the same two schools to put together a column on the Donald Brown situation.
Navy beat guy Bill Wagner does a nice job covering the Mids for the Annapolis Capital. Often it goes unmentioned here because the paper does not update its Web site until late in the day, well after we have finished our updates. Here is his account of Friday night's game.
You need a lot of institutional memory to recall the play of Holy Cross center Jim Nairus, an academic all-American who was a first-team all league pick and also made the all-tournament team back when this thing of ours began in 1991. A guy who has that kind of recall is Holy Cross play-by-play man Bob Fouracre, who has called over 2,500 HC games in his 37 years behind the mic. Both are set to enter the Holy Cross athletics hall of fame in May.
Army's freshman center, Chris Walker, Saturday got some ink back home in Georgia in a little where-are-they-now type piece from the Gwinnett Daily Post.
We don't cover much of the ladies' side of the league. Matter of fact, aside from the HC games we cover for the Telegram & Gazette and the occasional Bucknell women's game with the daughters, we pay next to no attention to the women's games. Time constraints and a lack of media coverage make it impossible to keep up with the whole league, so we didn't know (Celtics player) Wally Szczerbiak's little sister Wendy played for Lehigh until we read Bill Doyle's column in today's Telegram & Gazette.
If you are looking to catch up on the women's side of the league, here's a quick primer: Bucknell is in first place following a win Saturday at Navy. Defending champion Army is one game back after beating Colgate. Longtime league powerhouse Holy Cross has struggled after losing its top two point guards to knee injuries, but seems to be starting to pick up the pieces after a win Saturday over Lafayette that got the Crusaders back to .500 after a 1-4 start in league play.
Lafayette's undersized frontline was no match Saturday for the league-leading Crusaders of Holy Cross.
In front of a sellout Winter Homecoming crowd of 4,000 in the Hart Center, HC simply dominated the Leopards inside, pounding out a 74-52 win to remain unbeaten in league play. Holy Cross (18-6, 9-0 Patriot) outsocred Lafayette 43-10 in the paint and piled up a 32-17 edge on the boards.
Two Holy Cross centers reached double figures, with starter Tim Clifford and backup Greg McCarthy each scoring 11 points. Keith Simmons added 17 and Torey Thomas had a game-high 19 for the Crusaders. Thomas was the only HC player with more than one three-pointer (he had three). He was also one of three players with five assists (Alex Vander Baan and Clifford also had 5) for Holy Cross, which recorded assists on 20 of its 28 field goals (28 of 52, 53.8 percent).
The inside domination extended to the defensive end for Holy Cross. Lafayette finished with 16 field goals (16 of 41, 39 percent), nine of them coming from beyond the arc, where the Leopards jacked up 25 of their 41 shots. Adding to Lafayette's offensive woes were 21 turnovers, 15 coming on HC steals. Bilal Abdullah (13 points) and Jesper Andersson (10) had three treys each for the 'Pards (8-15, 2-6), who are now alone in seventh place following Colgate's win at Army. Box score | Telegram & Gazette
Holy Cross tries to stay on top while the rest of the league jostles for playoff position in a trio of games today.
The biggest game of the day takes place in the nation's capital, where Lehigh (9-14 overall, 4-3 Patriot) takes on host American (11-10, 3-4) (matchup) in a game (7:30 p.m., Sirius 181) that is close to a must win for the Eagles if they hope to host a first round game in the postseason playoffs.
Lehigh is not mathematically eliminated from the regular season championship, but they are realistically out of contention. Second-place, and the possibility of two home playoff games, is still within the Mountain Hawks grasp. If they can beat the two teams ahead of them in the standings (Holy Cross and Bucknell) at home, and HC beats the Bison in Lewisburg, Lehigh would have a tiebreaker edge (the win over HC) over the Bison should both win out.
For that to happen, though, Lehigh needs to win on the road, something it has done just once in 11 games. It won't be easy in bender, where American's only loss this season came in overtime to Holy Cross.
Senior center Jason Mgebroff out since mid-December with a stress fracture in a leg, has returned to Lehigh's practice, but is unlikely to be available tonight. The Hawks got by without him in Stabler -- barely -- pulling out a 51-49 win on a Phil Andersen putback with less than three seconds to play.
American shot 26.1 percent in that game. Lehigh's seven-foot sophomore John Gourlay scored 10 points. Don't expect either performance to be repeated. Examiner preview
Lafayette at Holy Cross (matchup) -- The Crusaders, riding a nine-game win streak, are unbeaten in conference play heading into this evening's sold-out Hart Center rematch with Lafayette. Their first league win came in Easton over Lafayette in a game that was still in question late in the second half.
It should not have been. But after building a 15-point lead, the Crusaders exhaled, allowing the hot-shooting Leopards to make a game of it down the stretch. It took HC 84 points to put away Lafayette, an uncharacteristic showing for Ralph Willard's defense first club. That's the most HC scored all season and around 20 more than it has averaged in six other league wins.
The way Lafayette shot the ball (56.8 percent from the field) against the 'Saders zone, it needed nearly all those points to escape with the W.
With Pat Doherty having since returned from his broken hand, HC probably could muster even more offense if need be. But expect a different style at Hart, where Holy Cross is 8-0 this season. Lafayette's only road conference win came at Colgate. They will need to repeat their 56.8 percent shooting to stay in the game in Worcester, something that is highly unlikely.
Colgate at Army (matchup) -- The Raiders won in overtime the first meeting in Hamilton. It won't be easy to repeat that feat in Christl Arena, where the Black Knights are 9-1 this season.
Army (13-9, 3-4) needs a win to stay in the mix for a home playoff game. Colgate (7-13, 2-5) needs a win to try to get into that mix.
Down three at the half, the Crusaders blitzed American after the break to stay unbeaten in Patriot League play with a 58-47 win.
Holy Cross' 10th straight win was a tale of two halves. In the first half, Andre Ingram score 8 points for American (11-11 overall, 3-5 Patriot) and Arvydas Eitutavicius had 7. Keith Simmons was 0 for 3 and scoreless for the Holy Cross (17-6, 8-0), which trailed 25-22 at halftime.
Simmons scored all of his 11 points after intermission. Ingram had just three more points and Eitutavicius, who torched the Crusaders defense for 24 points in the first meeting between the two teams, went scoreless in the second half.
Holy Cross kept American off the scoreboard the first five minutes of the second half, using a 7-0 spurt to take the lead. After American tied it at 29-29, HC went on a 10-1 run to take the lead for good.
American shot 36.7 percent (18 of 49) for the game, 4 of 18 from three-point range. In the second half, American was 8 for 26 (30.8 percent) from the field, 1 for 11 from the arc.
Holy Cross was 17 of 49 (34.7 percent) from the field, 5 of 15 on three-pointers. But the Crusaders went 19 for 26 at the free throw line, while AU made just 12 trips to the line, converting 7 times. The Crusaders also held a 38-32 edge on the boards.
Usual AU nemesis Tim Clifford was plagued by foul trouble, finishing with just 6 points in 27 minutes. But Alex Vander Baan and Pat Doherty pitched in with 10 points each to pick up the offensive slack. Torey Thomas led all scorers with 16 points, including 7 free throws in the final 2:24 to help seal the deal.
The 3,118 fans in the Hart Center were the fourth straight 3,000-plus crowd for the Crusaders, who are now averaging 2,827 per game, second in the league behind Bucknell (3,829). Box score | Telegram & Gazette (gamer) | Telegram & Gazette (sidebar)
The Eagles travel to Worcester hoping to get back to .500 in the league by avenging an overtime loss to Holy Cross 11 days ago.
Chances are AU has been kicking itself over its missed opportunity since that loss. The Eagles did almost everything they needed to win in regulation, shutting down Keith Simmons, holding the Crusaders under 40 percent shooting and shooting 50 percent from the field themselves.
But American did not rebound, didn't take care of the ball and did not have an answer for Tim Clifford, who finished with 19 points and 9 rebounds
In that game, American had the benefit of feeding off what was called the largest crowd in Bender Arena history (in reality, it was not quite as big as the crowd for the HC-AU championship game in 2002). In this one it will have to contend with a hostile crowd in the Hart Center, where Holy Cross is 8-0 this season and riding a 12-game home win streak dating to last season. Since the 2000-2001 season, the Crusaders are 40-5 in Hart, including 5 wins in 6 games against American.
(Updated with additional links at 7:09 a.m.) The Crusaders will travel to Hempstead, Long Island to meet the Pride in the ESPN BracketBusters. Holy Cross is the only Patriot League team to get a televised game during the two-day BracketBusters event. Matchups for Bucknell and Colgate will be announced tomorrow.
Hofstra is currently 15-6, ranked No. 10 in the latest Mid-Major Top 25 poll with an RPI of 66 heading ibefore losing Monday night at Delaware, according to Ken Pomeroy's calculations. They are 9-2 in the Colonial Athletic Conference, their other loss coming at Northeastern.
HC, No. 17 in the Mid-Major poll, is 16-6 with a Pomeroy RPI of 69. The Crusaders and Hofstra have played four common opponents. Both were 3-1 in those games when the pairing was announced. Hofstra is now 3-2 after losing 72-68 Monday night at Delaware in their second conference meeting with the Blue Hens. According to Realtime RPI, the Pride dropped to No. 79 with the loss to Delaware.
Both lost at Syracuse. Hofstra beat Siena (84-80) at Siena and has home wins over Delaware (75-50) and William and Mary (77-69). Holy Cross beat Delaware on a neutral floor (49-47) and beat Siena (65-57) and W&M (66-57) at the Hart Center.
The game is set for Saturday, Feb 17 at a time to be determined. Game times and which ESPN network will carry the game will be announced Feb. 5. Six of the thirteen televised games -- including one of two set for Friday night -- will be shown on ESPN2. Five will be on ESPNU, including the other Friday night game. The other two will be Webcast on ESPN 360.
Monday's poll news, plus the latest from Ralph Willard.
Holy Cross moves up four spots to No. 17 in this week's College Insider.com Mid-Major poll. Bucknell also reappears in the others receiving votes category with 16 points, good for an unofficial No. 36 spot.
Again this week, no Patriot League teams garnered any votes in either of the major Top 25 polls.
In his latest post on CoachRalph.com. HC coach Ralph Willard recaps the Lehigh game and responds to a few e-mail questions, including one asking his thoughts on Internet message boards.
Holy Cross continued Lehigh's road woes last night in Worcester.
For the 11th time in 11 trips to the Hart Center, Lehigh bussed home empty handed after a 64-53 loss at Holy Cross last night. It was also the Mountain Hawks 11th loss in 12 games on the road this season.
It was too much Torey Thomas in this one. The Crusaders' senior point scored 18 points, including the 1,000th of his career, dished out 8 assists, made 7 steals and pulled down 6 rebounds. Had Holy Cross been on the road, he might have driven the bus home, too.
Thomas also had a lot to do with Marquis Hall's off night. Lehigh's standout freshman did manage 11 points, but it took him 14 shots (4 of 14) and the usually on-target from the arc Hall was just 1 of 5 on three-point tries.
Lehigh managed to hang with the Crusaders early, even leading 10-9 after about 12 minutes of play. And despite Holy Cross building double digit leads in each half, the hawks were within 3 at 54-51 late in the game. But Holy Cross closed with a 10-2 run to improve to 16-6 overall, 7-0 in the league.
Lehigh (9-14, 4-3) was led by Jose Olivero, who finished with 18 points on 5 of 14 shooting from the field. Phil Anderson added 10 for the Hawks.
Anderson and the rest of Lehigh's big men did a nice job defensively on HC center Tim Clifford. Clifford finished with 12 points and 9 rebounds, but like Hall and Olivero, it took him a lot of shots to reach double figures. Clifford was 5 of 16 from the field.
Keith Simmons added 16 points and 6 rebounds for HC.
Neither team shot it well. Lehigh was 17 for 48 (35.4 percent) from the field; Holy Cross went 21 for 57 (36.8 percent). The biggest difference was Lehigh's 20 turnovers, 11 the result of HC steals. Box score | Telegram & Gazette
Remember Bill Raynor and Sal Mentesana? Raynor coached at Holy Cross prior to Ralph Willard. Mentesana was Billy Taylor's predecessor at Lehigh.
Raynor is still coaching hoops; he heads the program at someplace called Mass bay Community College. Mentesana is on the side of a milk carton, at least as far as a quick Google on his name is concerned.
Sal was a clothes horse, better known for his success in those best dressed coaches playoffs than the success of his teams at Lehigh. Likewise, there is a reason Raynor is now coaching at a community college. Raynor took over for George Blaney and after two winning seasons, went into a three-straight losing seasons spiral that ended with his firing. Mentesana took over a horrible program at Lehigh and arguably made it worse, barely winning 25 percent of his games in six seasons.
You might wonder: Why the history lesson? What does this have to do with tonight's Lehigh at Holy Cross game? (9 p.m., ESPNU -- Harrisburg area fans can catch it at Damon's off I-81 at Progress Ave.)
Good question. Simple answer: just to give you a little perspective on how this series has gone over the years, especially in games played in Worcester. Over the years, these two have met 21 times in the Hart Center. Lehigh has won but three of those 21 games.
Raynor and Mentesana? They were the coaches the last time Lehigh won in Worcester. That was back in the 1997-98 seasons. Lehigh's Mountain Hawk mascot was still in diapers Want more perspective? Lehigh senior Jose Olivero and Holy Cross senior Keith Simmons would have been in seventh grade the last time the Mountain Hawks won there.
Since then, Holy Cross has won 10 in a row over Lehigh in Worcester, including tournament wins there the last two seasons. That underscores the importance of this game from Lehigh's perspective. With two league losses already, for Lehigh to have a realistic chance of gaining the regular season title and the homecourt advantage throughout the playoffs, they must win tonight.
Win here, and win out -- not totally unrealistic since Lehigh will have the two teams it has lost to, Army and Bucknell, and Holy Cross all at home in Stabler Arena in the second half of the conference schedule. The Mountain Hawks have lost just once in Stabler this season, and that came at the last second on a disputed call. Add the expected return of center Jason Mgebroff and Lehigh's second half prospects look even brighter.
Lose here, and the Mountain Hawks almost certainly will need a lot of help to get to the top of the Patriot League heap. Even if it holds serve in Stabler the second go-round, three losses would mean they need two others to knock off Holy Cross. Realistically, one of those two could come when Holy Cross is at Bucknell. But that would mean Lehigh needs somebody else to beat the Bison.
Sure there is a strong possibility, maybe even a probability, that one of the top two will stumble elsewhere on the road - just look how tough it was for Holy Cross to get past the gang-that-can't-shoot-straight in Hamilton Tuesday night. But the Mountain Hawks are no lock on the road, either. They already lost at Army and have just one win outside of Stabler all season.
While we are dealing in reality here, we should probably mention that breaking that 10-game losing streak in Worcester tonight might not be impossible, but no sane person would put money on the Hawks without being spotted significant points.
With Mgebroff out, the formula for beating Lehigh is pretty obvious. Cut off the headband and the body dies too. Bucknell was the latest team to shut down Jose Olivero, holding him to 9 points Tuesday night. It was the fourth time Olivero has been held below double figures this season. The Hawks are 0-4 in those games.
Marquis Hall is having a splendid freshman season, but he is not the kind of guy who can carry a team. Not yet, anyhow. Kyle Neptune is also capable of putting up nice numbers. But Olivero is the engine that drives the Lehigh machine, and without Mgebroff's inside presence, that is not enough -- not against teams with legitimate big men.
Skinny Phil Anderson has done a decent job playing out of position in Mgebroff's absence. But Anderson has struggled against teams with true centers, and Holy Cross' Tim Clifford is as true a center as there is in the league. Clifford might not be as quick as Bucknell's Chris McNaughton, but he is probably even more a nightmare matchup for Anderson, given his sheer size and strength.
Lehigh has a guy big enough to matchup with Clifford in 7-foot sophomore John Gourlay. But Gourlay is still very raw, and no match for Clifford. The over-under on Gourlay fouling out if he plays against Clifford is probably less than 10 minutes.
Holy Cross' depth up front does not stop with Clifford. Even if Clifford gets in foul trouble himself, sophomore Greg McCarthy and freshman Eric Meister both would still give the Crusaders and edge in the post.
That inside dominance will make it awfully tough for Olivero to get off -- especially against the Crusaders zone, which makes getting to the basket mighty tough. Olivero shoots just 30 percent from three-point range.
Lehigh's best hope probably lies in turning it into a low-scoring defensive struggle. If the Hawks can keep it close enough to have a shot at stealing it at the end, they could pull off the upset.
That is not beyond the realm of possibility. As well as Holy Cross has played, they have had a knack for letting folks either stick around, or get back into games. Three of HC's last four wins were by 5 points or less, including one in overtime -- the Saders' third OT win of the season.
Crusaders escape with a win to stay atop the league standings.
In a game that featured 12 ties and 11 lead changes, Keith Simmons hit a three-pointer with 20 seconds left to give Holy Cross a 58-55 come-from-behind win over Colgate in front of an announced crowd of 543 in frigid Hamilton.
Simmons' game-winner capped a HC comeback from a deficit as big as 10 points in the second half. Colgate was up 47-37 after a Daniel Waddy free throw with 10:49 to play. Holy Cross responded with a 12-0 run to take a 49-47 lead with 5:31 left. There were 4 lead changes and 4 ties from that point on.
The temperatures outside were nearly equalled by the frigid shooting inside Cotterell Court. Holy Cross went 19 of 48 (39.6 percent) from the field, falling below 40 percent from the field for the third game in a row.
Colgate, which had shot above 40 percent just twice in 11 games coming in, managed to hit 17 of 40 from the field (42.5 percent), including 8 of 16 from the three-point arc. But the Raiders turned the ball over 16 times and Holy Cross had 10 offensive rebounds, which led to 12 second chance points. Colgate had just 5 offensive boards and scored only 3 points off those.
The result, Holy Cross had 8 more attempted shots than Colgate and two more makes.
Simmons finished with 16 points, a team-high 7 rebounds and 4 steals. Tim Clifford added 18 and Torey Thomas had 11 for HC, which improved to 15-6 overall, 6-0 in league play.
Jon Simon led Colgate with 22 points, including 5 three-pointers. No other Colgate player reached double figures. Box score | Telegram & Gazette
The two teams currently tied for second in the league standings meet tonight in Lewisburg while the team they are chasing tries to avoid a trap in snowy Hamilton.
Most fans around the league, at least those who don't bleed Brown and Yellow, would probably tell you Bucknell is the favorite tonight against Lehigh (matchup) -- especially at home in Sojka Pavilion, where the Bison have won 29 straight league games.
Those Lehigh fans would ask, with good reason, why? Take a look at the league's team statistics. You'll have a tough time finding categories where Bucknell ranks ahead of the Mountain Hawks. Lehigh tops the league in scoring offense, field goal percentage and rebounding margin and ranks second in field goal percentage defense.
Bucknell is fourth in scoring defense, seventh in scoring offense, seventh in field goal percentage defense, seventh at both ends of the floor in three-point shooting.
So what makes the Bison the favorite? Bucknell fans might say those stats are skewed by the Bison's tough out of conference schedule. But guess what -- while it did not look as strong on paper prior to the start of the season, the strength of Lehigh's non-conference schedule ranks second in the league (No. 147 nationally), just behind Holy Cross (142). Bucknell (189) is third in the league in that category.
Still, until Lehigh beats Bucknell or Holy Cross on the road, it just is not going to get the respect of the rest of the league's followers. That has been the Mountain Hawks downfall in recent years. The Hawks have not won at Holy Cross since 1998. Their recent history at Bucknell is a little better. Lehigh spoiled the opening of Sojka Pavilion in 2003 with a 60-56 win. But that was the year before Bucknell began offering scholarships.
For Lehigh to move beyond the esoteric world of number crunchers and stats freak and gain mainstream respect as a legitimate contender, it needs to establish superiority of the floor, not the stats sheet. And it needs to win some games on the road.
Thus far that has been tough for the Mountain Hawks. While Lehigh is within a few seconds and a disputed call of being perfect in Stabler Arena, it is also just a win at Navy away from being winless outside of its own concrete shed.
They keys here are the usual ones for both teams. Bucknell needs to exploit what should be a big advantage close to the basket, especially with Lehigh's Jason Mgebroff still sidelined by a stress fracture in his leg. Mgebroff is expected to miss another two to three weeks.
In his stead, sophomore Phil Anderson has been a capable fill-in, but he has yet to face a frontline the quality of Bucknell's. If Chris McNaughton stays out of foul trouble -- anything but a given this season -- the trio of McNaughton, Donald Brown and Darren Mastropaolo give Bucknell a huge edge up front.
Lehigh needs to get Jose Olivero going. The Mountain Hawks leading scorer has been held to single digits three times this season, including two of Lehigh's last three road games. The Mountain Hawks are 0-3 when Olivero does not reach double figures.
Looking for a key matchup -- try the point, where Lehigh's super frosh Marquis Hall meets Bucknell senior Abe Badmus. Hall is averaging 10 ppg and comes in off a 24-point showing against Lafayette. Badmus is one of the league's top defenders when he stays out of foul trouble (like McNaughton, that has been a challenge). Badmus has never been a big offensive threat, but two of the three games in which he has scored 15 or more in his career have come against Lehigh.
Holy Cross at Colgate (matchup) -- Forget how bad Colgate has been shooting the ball. Forget the Raiders are last in the league and Holy Cross first. The temperature outside Cotterell Court will be in the mid-teens. The attendance inside won't be a whole lot higher. Neither will be the mathematical odds of Colgate winning this game, but therein lies the makings of a classic trap game.
The challenge for Holy Cross, which has had trouble staying focused through entire games, is more mental than physical. Coming off an OT win in front of a packed Bender Arena, heading into a big ESPNU matchup Friday with Lehigh, the Crusaders need to find a way to get themselves up for this one if they want to stay alone atop the standings.