Navy basketball gets knocked down by injuries, hopes to get back up

Navy's Worth Smith has given the Midshipmen a boost after returning from a knee injury. US Presswire photo by Mark L. Baer
Navy’s Worth Smith has given the Midshipmen a boost after returning from a knee injury. US Presswire photo by Mark L. Baer

It has certainly not been the season Navy basketball head coach Ed DeChellis imagined back when his Midshipmen tipped off their season on Nov. 14 by giving 18th ranked Michigan State everything it could handle. The Mids showed tremendous promise in their 64-59 loss, and it looked like this might be the season they make it out of the Patriot League basement.

Maybe the Mids can still make their move towards the top of the conference, but the journey there will have been anything but a straight line or a smooth ride.

Starting with their season opener, the team has been racked by injuries, while simultaneously playing a schedule full of power conference heavy hitters.

“It’s been a tough schedule, we’ve had a lot of guys hurt and I’m not sure where we’re at,” said DeChellis.

Before the season even began, the Mids lost one of their projected starters, junior guard Kendal Knorr, to a knee injury. Then during the Michigan State game, they lost one of their best players in senior forward Worth Smith to a knee injury. They also lost sophomore wing Michael Brown to a broken jaw and sophomore guard Tim Abruzzo to a torn ACL.

Losing Knorr and Smith pretty much left senior guard Brandon Venturini on the floor as the only proven player capable of consistently producing early on. And the Midshipmen’s 0-4 start and 2-7 continuation was a reflection of being forced to play so many young players against some very strong opponents.

“We’ve played a lot of young kids, and I guess that’s good for the long-term, because they get some experience, but it hasn’t really transferred to the wins and losses,” said DeChellis. “We played a brutal schedule, non-conference, especially really early. We really ran into the buzz saw early with Michigan State, Notre Dame, Providence, Northeastern.”

Navy was able to pick up its first win by scraping past Binghamton, before downing Division III Harrisburg. After losing three straight following their first two wins, the Midshipmen have won two of their last three, knocking off VMI, losing to UMES, and then downing Towson 61-56 for their best win of the year. Against the Tigers, the Mids received reinforcements in the form of the return of Knorr, Smith and Brown, and will enter conference play with a 4-9 record.

Amidst all of the losses and roster shuffling during the non-conference, DeChellis was able to uncover a solid small forward in freshman Shawn Anderson.

“Shawn Anderson has been very solid for us at the three spot. That’s been nice to see. All of the other freshman have had their moments where they pitched in, but he’s probably been the most consistent of the young guys who have had to play.”

Unfortunately, the injury bug has now hit Anderson, and he has missed several days due to a concussion.

And although DeChellis’ team continues to get knocked down by things out of his control, he remains positive.

“I don’t know where we’re at because the guys that played for us last year, we hoped would play substantial minutes for us this year, have not played,” said DeChellis. “But I like what we did last week, had everyone back against Towson, and able to win a game at home.”

It still remains to be seen what this year’s Navy team can really do at full, or close to full, strength. But after the slate of losing seasons and injuries, the only way to go for DeChellis and his team is up.

“I think we’ll become better as the conference season goes on, once those guys are back and more comfortable,” said DeChellis.

America East 2015 New Year’s Resolutions  

Albany head coach Will Brown. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Albany head coach Will Brown. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

A new year brings a new conference tournament format that raises the stakes on what awaits the nine America East teams over the next nine weeks. Whoever keeps true to these resolutions the longest could very well be the last team standing come March 14.

America East 2015 New Year’s Resolutions

Albany: Better balance inside

Albany’s post game right now is the Sam Rowley show. He’s the only Great Dane in the top 20 in rebounding among conference players, and no other post player has more than four points or rebounds per game. John Puk was a great compliment to Rowley the last two years, both conference tournament championships for Albany. Now, UAlbany needs to find John Puk 2.0 or they will be muscled out of a three-peat.

Binghamton: Lay the groundwork for the future

Binghamton’s resolution won’t fully come to fruition for another year or two, but when it does, it could be something really special. This year’s team was supposed to be carried by Jordan Reed with the hope they might sneak into the top four of the conference and earn a 1st round tournament home game. When Reed left the team earlier this month, the already-young Bearcats got even younger. With just one senior and one junior left on the roster, neither of whom average more than eight minutes a game this season, the pressure falls on the 12 freshmen and sophomores to prove this team will be a legitimate contender down the road.

Hartford: Consistent shooting

It’s been said multiple times that Hartford’s A-game, with a heavy dose of ball movement and outside shooting, is better than anyone else’s A-game in the conference. The issue for them will be making sure that A-game shows up night in and night out. Poor shooting, especially from 3-point range, led to losses at the hands of Sacred Heart, Central Connecticut State, and Rider. Hartford’s A-game is why they were picked 2nd in the pre-season poll, and if they can get hot at the right time, could be what takes them to the top of the conference for the first time ever.

Maine: Better team defense

First year coach Bob Walsh has talent on the offensive side of the ball, as Shaun Lawton, Zarko Valjarevic, and Till Gloger are all top 20 scorers amongst America East teams in non-conference play. Where the Black Bears have been exposed repeatedly this season is the defensive side of the ball. Maine is last amongst AE teams in field goal percentage defense, 3-point percentage defense, and points per game allowed, which at more than 81 a game, is among the worst in all of Division 1. The Black Bears currently force more than seven steals a game, 2nd among conference teams; there just needs to be better execution when those steals don’t happen.

UMass Lowell: Continue ignoring the skeptics

Few expected anything from UMass Lowell when they moved to the Division I level prior to last season; the River Hawks were a unanimous last place pick in the pre-season poll. All they did in response was finish 5th in the conference with an 8-8 record (NCAA transition rules held them out of the conference tournament.) Pat Duquette’s group was once again picked to finish last in the conference this season, but Jahad Thomas and Marco Banegas-Flores have both averaged double figures in scoring in non-conference play, as the team won six of its first eight games, including road wins over Fordham and former America East member Boston University. The will to win can take teams a long way, and this team’s will to win might give a lot of AE teams headaches come 2015.

New Hampshire: Maintain early season balance

On paper, New Hampshire has done nothing mind-blowing this year, but they’re 1st among conference teams in points per game and points allowed. Tanner Leissner, Daniel Dion and Jaleen Smith are all averaging double figures in scoring, leading a balanced attack where each of the 11 Wildcats averaging 10 or more minutes a game has contributed nicely. The Wildcats will have pre-season favorite Stony Brook on the road, followed by two-time defending champion UAlbany at home to open conference play. Both games will have a lot to say about whether the Wildcats’ early success was a fluke, or a potential sign of something special come March.

Stony Brook: (tie) Keep Carson Puriefoy and Jameel Warney healthy/ Get support from players not named Carson Puriefoy and Jameel Warney

The two preseason All-Conference selections, combined, have accounted for a sizeable percentage of the team’s statistics, top to bottom, in non-conference play. The rest of the Seawolves will have to provide their stars with consistent support if the pre-season number one pick is finally going to break through with a conference tournament championship and an NCAA Tournament berth. Kameron Mitchell and Rayshaun McGrew filled those support roles nicely with 22 combined points in the Seawolves’ upset of previously 13th ranked Washington.

UMBC: Offensive execution

Replacing Rodney Elliott, who was declared out for the season with a shoulder injury earlier this month after playing in just one game, has not come easy for UMBC.  The Retrievers are last among America East teams in points per game, free throw percentage, and turnovers per game, as well as eighth in 3-point percentage. Elliott carried much of the load as a freshman last year, which brought even larger expectations for this season. Like Binghamton, Aki Thomas may want to start looking ahead to the future, prepping his young unit for a conference tournament title run a few years down the road.

Vermont:  Stay healthy

A healthy Vermont team is a scary thought for the rest of the conference. The scary thing for Vermont is that they’ve been unable to stay healthy early in the year. Ernie Duncan played in only four games before red-shirting due to a back injury, Zach McRoberts missed the first seven games due to injury, and Hector Harold missed games vs. Yale and St. Louis with foot problems. Vermont has finished either 1st or 2nd in the conference every year since 2008-2009, and will need a clean bill of health the rest of the season if they want a shot at doing that again this year.


OBW MAAC Power Rankings v6

MAAC non-conference play is complete, at least the main chunk of it, as we bring you OBW’s latest MAAC Power Rankings. Our buddy Ray Curren of Big Apple Buckets was at Iona’s 87-82 loss at UMass Tuesday night — the last non-conference game to end — and we had the following interaction on Twitter after the game.

Really, though, the MAAC had its chances in the non-conference slate and repeatedly came up short. Siena, Manhattan and Iona at UMass. Monmouth against West Virginia, Maryland and Rutgers. Iona at Arkansas. Niagara at St. John’s — yes, Niagara at St. John’s. Fairfield at Duke — kidding.

MAAC teams combined for a 1-23 record in non-league play against KenPom top 100 squads, the win delivered by Quinnipiac over No. 96 Yale in the season opener. They went 17-28 against KenPom 101-200 teams and 25-11 against the rest.

Iona (82), Canisius (106) and Rider (177) are the only MAAC teams in the RPI top 200.

So what does all this mean? Well, unless something miraculous happens, like Iona or Canisius losing just a couple of conference games, the MAAC likely won’t seed a team better than 14th or so in the NCAA tournament. But, hey, this does seem like the year that a team like Fairfield could take an 11-19 record into the conference tournament and sweep the thing anyway.

Happy New Year! At least everyone’s undefeated in 2015.

Iona (8-5, 1-1)

Previous ranking: 1

Results: W 86-67 vs. Florida Gulf Coast; W 81-62 at Drexel; L 87-82 at UMass

This week: Sunday at Siena

Iona whiffed on its third and final shot at a RPI top 100 opponent, getting outscored by 10 points in the final five minutes at UMass. A.J. English and David Laury, two of the best mid-major players in the country, combined to shoot 1-for-3 from the field for two points in that stretch. UMass is a decent defensive team, but Iona needed more out of its two best scorers.

That loss aside, Iona looked great in its wins over Florida Gulf Coast and Drexel. The offense dominated, and the defense — yes, the defense — held the Eagles to 1.00 points per trip and the Dragons to 0.91.

2. Canisius (7-4, 2-0)

Previous ranking: 4

Results: W 67-55 vs. UMKC

This week: Friday vs. Monmouth; Sunday vs. Manhattan

KenPom had Canisius as 67-57 winners over UMKC, and the Golden Griffins won 67-55. So close, Ken! If only the Kangaroos had converted one more field goal than the two they made in the last 10 minutes.

The Golden Griffins won’t out-shoot many teams — efficiently, at least — but their gritty, tenacious defense will fluster opponents night in and night out. This weekend’s games against Monmouth and Manhattan could be the basketball versions of Peter Griffin’s fights with that chicken.

I’m jumping Canisius over Monmouth from a what-have-you-done-for-me lately standpoint — the Griffs have won five of six — and over Rider because I think Canisius’ style is more sustainable.

3. Rider (7-6, 1-1)

Previous ranking: 3

Results: W 76-71 at Wagner

This week: Friday at Marist

Rider has won five of six, but who, exactly, have the Broncs beaten? Hartford’s the nicest win, and even the Hawks — losers of four of six, including a setback against Central Connecticut State — have struggled. Two of Rider’s wins — CCSU and Morgan State — were against KenPom sub-300 teams. Wagner is right there at No. 299, and we’re all familiar with Siena’s woes.

The good news for Rider: Jimmie Taylor has had two straight solid games — 13 points against Morgan State and 25 at Wagner.

4. Monmouth (5-7, 2-0)

Previous ranking: 2

Results: L 71-46 vs. St. Francis (NY); L 58-57 vs. Rutgers

This week: Friday at Canisius; Sunday at Niagara

Defense is Monmouth’s identity. That’s fine and dandy, but, man, the offense was terrible against St. Francis. And the defense was pretty bad, too. The Terriers got 1.11 points per possession while holding the Hawks to 0.72 and 40.5 percent shooting on two-pointers.

Monmouth responded well, and would have picked up the program’s biggest win if Myles Mack had done what most players would do when shooting a deep, double-teamed stepback at the buzzer. But Mack splashed home the winner, leaving the Hawks stunned and losers of three of four entering conference play.

Rutgers isn’t even THAT good, despite hailing from a power conference. Sweep the Western New York trip, Monmouth, and you’ll probably end up at No. 2 again.

5. Quinnipiac (6-5, 0-2)

Previous ranking: 5

Results: W 81-64 vs. Maine

This week: Friday vs. Saint Peter’s

The Bobcats, who did exactly what they were supposed to do against Maine, enter MAAC play on a three-game winning streak. They had fallen all the way to No. 9 in these power rankings after losing three straight to Siena, Fairfield and Boston University, but this recent stretch has them back in the top five.

Ousmane Drame dominated against Maine, which had no answer for the 6-foot-9 center who had 20 points, 11 boards and two blocks.

6. Manhattan (4-7, 1-1)

Previous ranking: 7

Results: W 71-57 vs. Fordham (neutral)

This week: Friday at Niagara; Sunday at Canisius

It’s never wise to put too much stock in one game, especially when the opponent is Fordham, but Manhattan finally played like Manhattan in its romp of the Rams, a sign that bodes well heading into conference play.

After falling down 16-4 early, Manhattan found its rhythm, increased its pressure and ran away with the win. The Jaspers forced turnovers on 27.3 percent of Fordham’s possessions, a ridiculous figure that doubles as Manhattan’s No. 4 ranked average for the season. In too many games, Manhattan has been careless with the ball, which has often negated any potential advantage from their forced turnovers. That changed against Fordham, which turned Manhattan over 19.7 percent of the time.

The Jaspers are also finally converting from long range. They have hit 18-of-38 three-point attempts in their last two games, raising their season percentage from 27.6 percent to 31.1.

7. Saint Peter’s (6-7, 0-2)

Previous ranking: 8

Results: W 69-60 vs. Fairleigh Dickinson; W 59-52 OT at Cornell

This week: Friday at Quinnipiac; Sunday vs. Marist

Saint Peter’s has won three of four since Desi Washington returned from a wrist injury that sidelined him for eight of the first nine games. The only loss in that stretch: Seton Hall. The Peacocks are hot right now, even if they’ve picked up their recent wins against an underachieving Princeton squad, KenPom No. 291 Fairleigh Dickinson and Cornell, which took Saint Peter’s to overtime.

Washington hasn’t even been that great. Marvin Dominique has still been Saint Peter’s MVP, and Tyler Gaskins had the best game of his career — 16 points, six rebounds, three assists, three steals — against Cornell. But make no mistake, the Peacocks are a different team with Washington, their Mr. Clutch.

8. Siena (4-7, 1-1)

Previous ranking: 9

Results: L 75-57 vs. Cornell; W 73-71 vs. Bucknell

This week: Friday at Fairfield; Sunday vs. Iona

Siena has definitely seen better days. Jimmy Patsos played just eight players in Siena’s two most recent games — not by choice but because he couldn’t call on anyone else. The Saints are banged up, and they’re struggling. How much? Cornell, which ranks 284th with an adjusted 95 points per 100 possessions, scored 1.09 points per trip in its beatdown of Siena at the Times Union Center.

At least the Saints held on against Bucknell, riding another stellar performance from Marquis Wright, who had 24 points and six assists to two turnovers. Rob Poole had his best game in a long time. The senior, who posted a 127 offensive rating, scored 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting and added six rebounds and two dimes.

9. Fairfield (4-8, 2-0)

Previous ranking: 6

Results: L 77-66 at Albany; L 61-59 vs. Loyola Md. (neutral)

This week: Friday vs. Siena

Fairfield has endured a rough three-game patch, falling to Belmont, Albany and Loyola Md. after beating Manhattan and Quinnipiac. The Stags haven’t been nearly as good defensively, and when they struggle to limit an opponent’s scoring, chances are they won’t win.

Albany torched Fairfield for 1.38 points per trip a game after Belmont got 1.11.

10. Niagara (2-8, 1-1)

Previous ranking: 10

Results: L 74-69 vs. Arkansas State; W 65-47 vs. Albany

This week: Friday vs. Manhattan; Sunday vs. Monmouth

Yep, the same Albany team that picked apart Fairfield’s solid defense registered 0.82 points per possession against a Niagara team that ranked 302nd Tuesday morning with 105.9 points allowed per 100 possessions. Go figure.

That was a surprising win to say the least, but Niagara has been tough at times this season — think Saint Peter’s, Hartford, St. John’s and Canisius. The Purple Eagles have played a challenging schedule, with four games against KenPom top 100 teams and none against sub-200 squads.

The win over Albany could be just what the doctor ordered for the team’s confidence entering conference play.

11. Marist (1-11, 0-2)

Previous: 11

Results: L 69-64 at Elon

This week: Friday vs. Rider; Sunday at Saint Peter’s

Poor Marist. Still no Khallid Hart, and Chavaughn Lewis — and, okay, Phillip Lawrence — needed some help against Elon. Lewis had 30, including 17 in the second half, but the Red Foxes couldn’t overcome a 16-point halftime deficit.

Player of the Week

David Laury, Sr., F, Iona

Laury had another solid week for Iona, which won two of its three games. The senior averaged 21.3 points, 9.7 rebounds, three assists and a block and shot 51.1 percent from the floor.

Sure, Iona could have used more from him down the stretch against UMass, but that doesn’t take away from what was a very nice week.

Rookie of the Week

Schadrac Casimir, G, Iona

Casimir shot just 37.1 percent from the field in Iona’s three games, but he averaged 14.7 points, four rebounds, three assists and a steal.

Fab Five

A.J. English, Jr., G, Iona

David Laury, Sr., F, Iona

Ousmane Drame, Sr., C, Quinnipiac

Zaid Hearst, Sr., G, Quinnipiac

Emmy Andujar, Sr., F, Manhattan

Frosh Five

Schadrac Casimir, G, Iona

Tyler Nelson, G, Fairfield

Karonn Davis, G, Niagara

K.J. Lee, G, Marist

Jermaine Crumpton, F, Canisius

Ari Kramer is a New York-based writer who covers the MAAC for One-Bid Wonders. Follow him on Twitter at @Ari_Kramer.

Towson coach Pat Skerry: Lack of ‘mental toughness’ costs Tigers again

Special to One-Bid Wonders from So Much Sports Baltimore.

By Ryan Winner

Four McGlynn poured in 27 points, but it wasn't enough to help the Tigers avoid a fifth-straight loss. Courtesy photo / Corey John
Four McGlynn poured in 27 points, but it wasn’t enough to help the Tigers avoid a fifth-straight loss. Courtesy photo / Corey John

At one time Towson was 7-1 and looked like a legitimate contender to win the CAA and make the NCAA tournament. Five-straight losses later, the Tigers have nothing but questions to hang on to.

Despite having the size, depth and athletic advantage against Fairleigh Dickinson one thing the Tigers didn’t have was “mental toughness,” according to head coach Pat Skerry and it led to the team dropping a 14-point halftime lead and losing in overtime, 85-84.

“We just aren’t a mentally tough team,” Skerry said. “Our guys are hard worked but when the game is on the line they don’t have the mental toughness.”

In the first half, Towson was firing on all cylinders, shooting 20-for-30 from the field while dominating on the boards and used a staggering 24-8 advantage on the glass to go into the half up 46-32. In the first stanza, the Knights only managed to grab one defensive rebounds and Towson had 11 offensive.

Towson’s star guard Four McGlynn was on fire from beyond the arc early, hitting three 3-pointers in the first seven minutes of the game. He finished the first half with 14 points and went 4-for-4 from behind the arc. He ended the night with 27 points on 7-for-9 shooting and a 5-for-6 effort from distance while making all eight of his free throw attempts.

But not even McGlynn’s effort could overcome the rest of the team’s inability in the second half.

Towson was able pound the ball inside early and often in the first half, awere led by Timajh Parker-Rivera, who has a couple early lay-ins and dunks, opening the floor up for McGlynn. Parker-Rivera scored eight of his 15 points before the intermission Hover, the second half proved to be far harder going in the paint.

Fairleigh Dickinson came out of halftime fired up and smothered Towson’s ball handlers, forcing 17 turnovers in the second half along. Taking the ball away and ending possession that often.

“If you turn it over like this you can’t win at this level,” Skerry said. “We just wasted so many opportunities and played without poise.”

Towson lost the turnover battle 25-3 and despite shooting 57-percent from the field could not take enough shots to give themselves a chance to prevent FDU’s comeback.

The Knights’ second half run was led by guard Darius Anderson and Mustafaa Jones, with 23 and 17 points respectively. Towson had no answer for their shooting as they dominated the Tigers with their quickness. Anderson was 4-for-4 from 3-point range and Jones went 5-for-9.

Thanks to their halftime cushion, Towson was able to keep ahead of Farleigh Dickinson for most of the second half, but with just over two minutes remaining Marques Townes tied things up with a layup and Darius Stokes followed it up with another to give FDU the lead.

Parker-Rivera got the lead back with an old-fashion three and two separate three throws made by Townes gave FDU a 77-76 lead.

With only one seconds remaining in the game Eddie Keith III was fouled while taking what could have been the game-winning shot, but split the freebies, clanging the first attempt and finding the bottom of the net on the bottom to send the game into overtime.

Scoring was hard to come by in the extra period, but Towson was able to get inside and get to the line. But 3-pointers by Stephan Jiggetts and Townes and more missed free throws by Towson kept the Knights alive and with five seconds remaining in the game Townes got in the paint for the game-winning layup.

Four McGlynn attempted a last second half-court shot and his attempt hit the rim but rattled out.

Vermont’s Kurt Steidl is a tough SOB

Vermont sophomore Kurt Steidl has made an impact far larger than his numbers. Courtesy photo / Vermont Athletics
Vermont sophomore Kurt Steidl has made an impact far larger than his numbers. Courtesy photo / Vermont Athletics

Don’t let Kurt Steidl’s looks fool you. According to Vermont head coach John Becker, the rail-thin 6’6” sophomore who looks like he would struggle to grow a few strands of peach fuzz is a baby faced assassin and a tough SOB.

“Kurt is a tough [expletive],” Becker raved during a recent interview, his enthusiasm permeating from the other end of the cell phone. “Despite his boy band looks he’s a tough kid and he’s a winner.”

And according to Becker, Steidl is also something else.

“He’s really been arguably out best player this year,” said the coach frankly.

Becker’s assessment of the Ridgefield, Connecticut, native’s standing in the Catamounts’ hierarchy might come as a surprise to even the most ardent Vermont fans considering that Steidl’s 7.8 points and 4.1 rebounds per game – solid but seemingly unspectacular numbers — each rank fourth on the team. Steidl’s 40.9 percent from the floor and 38.8 percent from behind the arc are also both down from his freshman averages of 44 and 48.8 percent, respectively.

But according to Becker, Steidl’s game has grown by leaps and bounds in several other areas, and has made the lives of dynamic freshman point guard Trae Bell-Haynes, defensive star Dre Wills, and front court stalwarts Ethan O’Day and Hector Harold a great deal easier.

“From the start of practice until now he’s been really dependable. Defensively he’s gotten a lot better. Last year he was physically overmatched on the defensive end, now he’s able now to guard 3-men, and he’s able to guard them well,” said Becker. “We’ve had a terrific perimeter defense, and Dre [Wills] and Trae [Bell-Haynes] have obviously spearheaded that, but Kurt has played a huge role as well, those two guys couldn’t do it alone without Kurt.”

According to Becker, Steidl has also given the Catamounts offense a new dimension, going from a spot up shooter last year, to a player who isn’t afraid to put the ball on the deck and go right at the rim.

“He’s been able to go off the bounce, his one-dribble pull up, against Harvard he hits a big shot late in the game, same thing against Yale,” said Becker.

“In AAU and High School he was a playmaker, he was a point forward. He was never a catch and shoot, spot up shooter type of guy, and that became his role last year on the team because of what we had, but he’s really more comfortable on putting it on the floor and making things happen and creating for others.”

According to Becker, Steidl’s biggest impact may be on the glass.

“He’s really getting after it and mixing it up and giving us much more of a presence on the glass, and we need that, because it allows a guy like Hector [Harold] to step out at the four and for us to not lose anything rebounding the ball.”

Becker also said he isn’t worried about Steidl’s 3-point percentage being down from last year’s whopping final mark, attributing it to Steidl demanding much more defensive pressure, and to the natural ebb-and-flow of long-range shooting.

“Shooters go through streaks, it’s just the nature of the game, his stroke is still as pure as ever,” said Becker. “You almost feel like you’re disappointed in the way he’s shooting only because every time he rises up and shoots it you assume it’s going to go in, and when it doesn’t, you feel let down, and that’s a credit to his talent.“

But what makes Becker the proudest of Steidl has nothing to do with his raw numbers or even his impact on the court; it’s the way the wing has carried himself every single day since stepping foot on campus, and responding to every challenge the no-nonsense coach has thrown his way.

“He really is a special kid in the sense that he wants to be great, he’s completely bought into what we’re doing, and I’ve been as hard on him as anyone I’ve ever coached here in the program and he responds. He doesn’t shy away from it, he understands that he has to be a complete basketball player, and that’s what he’s becoming.”

Then there’s the toughness that would likely take most outsiders by surprise.

“Kurt Steidl played the last month and a half of the season with a fracture in his knee that was thought to be a bone bruise, so he was really limited the last month and a half of the season because of an injury and never let on to it and it really wasn’t discovered until after the season,” said Becker.

“It’s one of those things that you’re kind of pissed at the kid, because you need to know when you’re guys are hurt and you need to look out for his long term health. But at the same time, how can you not respect the hell out of that kind of toughness and desire to be on the court?” said Becker.

And according to Becker, any success that the Catamounts have over the next three years will likely be in large part due to the role of the soft-spoken, mop-topped kid from Ridgefield.

“He might look like he’s 12, but when he’s on the court he’s a grown man out there and he is a huge part of every aspect of our program.”

Boston University shows promise, remains work in progress

Boston University center Blaise Mbargorba goes to the rack against Harvard center Steve Moundou-Missi. Mbargorba gave the Terriers a spark off the bench, scoring 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting to go with two blocks. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Boston University center Blaise Mbargorba goes to the rack against Harvard center Steve Moundou-Missi. Mbargorba gave the Terriers a spark off the bench, scoring 13 points on 6-of-8 shooting to go with two blocks. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

Now two months into the season, the Boston University Terriers are showing some promise but remain a work in progress.

“I don’t think we’re that young, I think we’re very inexperienced,” said BU head coach Joe Jones, noting a difference between the two.

After struggling to distance themselves from Division III Wentworth in the first half Monday night, before eventually pulling away for a 69-46 win, Jones remains positive about where his team is headed.

“Right now, I think we have a good idea about what we need to do to improve,” said Jones. “I did feel like we’ve made some strides, even though we lost two of the last three [Division I games].”

Unfortunately, it is not just one aspect of the game that needs work for the Terriers. On top of getting inexperienced guys comfortable with playing more game minutes, the team as a whole needs work on both sides of the floor.

“Our biggest issue is our defense, and we need to figure it out,” said Jones. “We’re playing zone now, we’re trying to mix it up on people, but that’s really going to be our ticket to getting better.”

The Terriers are still trying to find themselves on offense as well. Unlike last year, when dynamic guard D.J. Irving and Maurice Watson Jr., could create something out of nothing and get to the rim off the dribble, or throw the ball inside to power forward Dom Morris, the team has become stagnant, relying far too much on volume shooting from behind the arc.

“We’ve become way too perimeter oriented, we need to do a better job of diversifying our offense,” said Jones.

One bright spot for the Terriers as of late has been the emergence of center Blaise Mbargorba, whose role is starting to grow and become more defined. The 6-foot-11 sophomore is playing in the first college basketball of his career after missing his entire true freshman season at SMU after a shoulder injury, before sitting out last season as a transfer. After playing 23 minutes and scoring six points in the season opener against Northeastern, Mbargorba spent most of the next six games stapled to the bench, registering a pair of “DNPs.” But in back-to-back games against the vaunted front lines of Harvard and Quinnipiac, the New Jersey native scored a combined 21 points on 9-of-13 shooting, and Jones feels that he could be integral part of diversifying the offense.

“We have to use [Blaise] more, we have to get the ball to the paint more,” said Jones. “If he gives us more minutes like he’s had, it helps everybody. Going forward I’m hoping we can continue to use him in a bigger role.”

If the Terriers can utilizing their size and athleticism in the post with Mbargorba, Justin Alston and Nate Dieudonne, the Terriers should be able to collapse the defense and open up better looks from behind the arc and in the mid-range for scoring guards Cedrick Hankerson and John Papale.

Joe Jones knows his team is in a transitional period at the moment, how they come out of it during league play, remains to be seen but this Terriers team does show some promise.

“I can see the team starting to come together, we’re not there yet, by any stretch, but we’re starting to come together,” said Jones. “We just got to keep battling and keep fighting, I think the biggest thing for us is to maintain a positive attitude through this rough patch that we’ve had, and that’s what we’ve been trying to do, just keep working.”

Holy Cross coach Milan Brown: ‘[We got caught] looking at the prize at the end of the rainbow’

Holy Cross head coach Milan Brown pointed to the the growth of sophomore forward Malachi Alexander as a key for the Crusaders. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins
Holy Cross head coach Milan Brown pointed to the the growth of sophomore forward Malachi Alexander as a key for the Crusaders. OBW Photo / Sam Perkins

On Nov. 16, the Holy Cross Crusaders trod out onto the hallowed hardwood of Boston’s TD Garden, stared down then 25th ranked Harvard, and punched the Crimson right in the mouth en route to a 58-57 upset.

The Crusaders would go on to win four of their first five games, trouncing strong mid-majors Brown and Albany by 17 and 17 points apiece, with their lone loss coming on the road against a strong Syracuse team at the Carrier Dome.

Since that Friday night in Syracuse, Holy Cross has lost to four of the last five, falling to Sacred Heart, Hartford, Canisius, and Pittsburgh, with a lone win on Dec. 12 on NJIT sandwiched between a pair of two-game losing streaks.

Entering their New Year’s Eve tip-off against Boston University to start their conference slate, the Crusaders sport a 5-5 record, with questions about their ability to rebound the ball and establish a presence in the low post at both ends of the floor. But despite how shaky his team has been, head coach Milan Brown remains upbeat.

“I like where we are right now,” said head coach Milan Brown . “I didn’t like how we played against Sacred Heart and Hartford… Not because we lost the games, but because of how we lost them; the lack of intensity that we played with in those two games was definitely different than what had happened in the games leading up to that.”

Brown believes the Crusaders’ strong start to the season had an effect on the team’s effort during their losing streak. After beating Harvard and racing out to a 4-1 start, Brown feels that his players may have focused too much on the end result rather than the journey there.

“I think if you get caught looking at the prize at the end of the rainbow, that’s when you get clipped, that’s when you lose some games,” said Brown. “And we experienced that this year, so that was something that led to us losing two games in a row and three and four. We started to think about as a group, ‘wouldn’t it be nice to get to 8-1 when we play Pittsburgh.’ We had only played five games.”

To try and keep his team from veering into the realm of over confidence, Brown and his coaching staff have focusing on the intensity and effort needed to win every game, not just the big games.

“Everybody has a really heightened understanding of how hard it’s going be to not only win the conference, but win games, period,” said Brown. “We talk a lot about that, and it’s big, we embrace it that it’s going to be hard to win, and that’ll let us enjoy our wins a little bit more, because your guts get pulled out when you lose, so you better celebrate when you win.”

With senior players like forward Malcolm Miller and guard Justin Burrell carrying the team for the first few games, Brown feels like younger players are coming around just in time for league play to round out the team.

“We’re starting to see Malachi Alexander start to come around,” said Brown of the 6’7” 217 pound sophomore who is currently leading the team in rebounding at 4.3 boards per game. “He’s starting to give us some production off the bench, he and Cullen Hamilton alike. We’re gonna’ need both of those guys if we’re going to be successful.”

Hamilton, who began last season as a starter, but missed 16 games due to injury and has now found himself coming off the bench, has been a great compliment to guards Burrell and Anthony Thompson as a strong, scoring guard, averaging 6.6 points, and 2.0 rebounds per game.

In order for the Crusaders to be successful the way Brown wants them to be, the energy level that was on the court against Harvard will need to be on display night in and night out.

Holy Cross’ strength is their athleticism, and using it to make opponents uncomfortable, which will lead to bad shots or turnovers, allowing their speedy offense to get in transition and score some easy baskets.

“If we can get everyone playing at their maximum energy level, the ability is going to be there and we’re going to be in a great place,” said Brown.

Fairfield making strides, but effort and execution still lacking

Fairfield head coach Sydney Johnson (front) has seen progress from his squad, but wants to see more. OBW Photo / Chris Dela Rosa
Fairfield head coach Sydney Johnson (front) has seen progress from his squad, but wants to see more. OBW Photo / Chris Dela Rosa

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – It has been almost a year since the Fairfield men’s basketball team finished with a 7-25 record, going 4-16 in MAAC play, and in that time, the Stags have made plenty of strides.

But there is still a lot more work to be done.

“Layups, free throws, wide-open shots,” said Fairfield head coach Sydney Johnson before making his way out of the Brooklyn Nets press conference room at Barclays Center after his team’s 61-59 overtime loss to Loyola Maryland.

Both teams entered the game with records below .500 — the Greyhounds at 3-7 and the Stags 4-7, respectively.

Despite having similar records, the Stags entered the game more than confident that they were going to corral the Greyhounds and enter conference play with another notch in the win column.

“Disappointed about the final result, but to play in this type of arena and have this type of exposure is pretty special, so it’s bittersweet,” said Johnson. “A great opportunity, but obviously one we felt slipped away in terms of the final result.”

The nature in which the Stags fell may have added a little bit of extra sting, as Loyola-Maryland guard Tyler Hubbard continued his stellar afternoon by making an acrobatic play along the baseline, saving the ball for an offensive rebound and tossing it to his forward Franz Rassman under the hoop for a layup that would fall with 0.9 seconds left in overtime.

The Stags held the lead for 23 minutes and 43 seconds to be exact, versus the 12:55 Loyola led and 8:22 the game was tied. During the small Loyola-Maryland runs that created such a tight game, the Stags could have imploded and let the Greyhounds run away with the game, forcing Johnson to call for better leadership from older players.

“There were a couple of times where I had to remind them how to stay together, and quite frankly I shouldn’t be doing that,” said Johnson. “Our experienced guys need to take the lead on that, and I think they will, moving forward.”

Following the game, Johnson harped on the effort put in by his team, which has now seen four of its 12 games go into overtime.

“Last two out of three games, we’ve struggled, so I can’t tell you about the overtime, I have no idea what the future holds, but I want to see my team compete this way every time we take the floor,” said Johnson when asked about the number of overtime games played.

But for all his team’s struggles with effort, Johnson’s team also struggled with execution as the stat sheet told the story of the game: Fairfield shot 34.5 percent from the field, making 19-of-55 field goals. They shot only 23.5 percent (4-17) from beyond the arc and 63 percent (17-27) from the stripe.

According to Johnson, the Stags need to go back to basics and work their way up from there.

“We’ll be able to reward ourselves, but that’s not easy, we have to work at it, we have to be mentally strong, and that’s where the regrouping part will come,” said Johnson, adding, “We have talent. We have some cohesion. We got to make sure that shows up in tough moments and that test will be next time we take the floor, against Siena.”

Loyola’s Andre Walker makes triumphant return to New York City

Loyola freshman Andre Walker scored 14 points, pulled down nine rebounds, swiped five steals and dished out two assists in the Greyhounds 61-59 overtime win against Fairfield. OBW Photo / Chris Dela Rosa
Loyola freshman Andre Walker scored 14 points, pulled down nine rebounds, swiped five steals and dished out two assists in the Greyhounds 61-59 overtime win against Fairfield. OBW Photo / Chris Dela Rosa

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – The Barclays Center may have been practically empty when he stepped on the court, but for Loyola-Maryland freshman Andre Walker, none of that mattered; he was back home.

The Greyhounds starting point guard played his high school ball just 20 minutes away at Christ the King High School, which he led to a second straight New York State Federation Tournament of Champions title, earning the tournament’s Most Valuable Player award.

Fast forward to present day. Sunday’s big 61-59 overtime win against Fairfield wasn’t Walker’s first time back in the “Big Apple” while donning a Greyhounds jersey: just a few weeks before, he found himself on the Upper West Side at Levien Gymnasium. Both times he’s returned “home” Walker has played a big role in helping the Greyhounds score a dramatic win.

“Every team wants to protect their home court,” said Walker. “And I feel like it’s my home court whenever I’m in New York, so I just see it as that way. It’s my house.”

In his seventh collegiate game, facing off against the Lions, Walker dropped 14 points, grabbed five rebounds and dished out two assists. On Sunday night against the Stags, Walker was even bigger, scoring 14 points, grabbing nine rebounds, swiping five steals and dishing out a pair of assists.

“Andre’s great,” said Loyola head coach G.G. Smith. “He’s a kid from right around this area. He has that New York swag.”

Smith does not joke around when he talks about Walker’s “swag.” Though he grew up right outside of the city in Long Island’s Nassau County, Walker went to school in NYC, and listening to him talk is nearly identical to famous New York City rapper Mase.

“[I] had a lot of fans there cheering me on, so I wanted to make them happy,” said Walker.

Walker’s passion showed on the court on Sunday afternoon against his team’s former MAAC foe, Fairfield.

“I looked to attack. I knew their bigs were in foul trouble so I wanted to try and get them out of the game, but they didn’t foul,” said Walker.

However, at times, Walker and his attack mentality led to him being a bit overzealous, which resulted in six turnovers. Despite the turnovers, Walker did not keep his head down, and tried to rectify the lost possessions on the defensive end.

“I just tried to cause mayhem, create turnovers,” said Walker. “During the first half, they were too in rhythm, they were settling and had time to run their plays, so I had to force them to turn the ball over.”

It is still early in Walker’s career, but Smith feels like his tough New Yorker is going to be a mainstay for the Greyhounds.

“He plays extremely hard, he’s a typical New York kid,” said Smith. “Once he gets control, gets a feel, and has confidence in running the show, he’ll be a great player for us in the future.”

For his part, Walker knows he is just starting his career, and although he already has a large role for a freshman, he looks to keep working at getting better and grow into an even larger role.

“Being patient, growing as a leader, and taking my time,” said Walker when asked what he needs to work on. “Sometimes I rush a lot; when you’re rushing it’s a bad thing in college, as I’m learning now. Being patient is a big key for me. Once I become patient, I’ll be at the next level.”

Eleven games into the season, Andre Walker has shown flashes that could very well land him on the Patriot League All-Rookie team in March, and that this new era of Loyola-Maryland basketball has a bright future.

Walker and the Greyhounds will kickoff league play on the road at Navy on Wednesday afternoon.

UMBC basketball fights valiantly but falls to Lehigh

Special to One-Bid Wonders from So Much Sports Baltimore.

By Allan Blanks

Wayne Sparrow
Wayne Sparrow scored 24 points for UMBC, but the Retrievers fell 58-55 to Lehigh. Courtesy photo / Corey Johns

A massively undermanned and extremely inexperienced UMBC squad fought the great fight Sunday evening, giving a strong Lehigh squad everything it could handle, but untimely turnovers cost the Retrievers a third-straight win, 58-55.

Trailing by four points with 35 seconds left in regulation UMBC senior guard Wayne Sparrow knocked down his fourth 3-pointer of the night to narrow the score to 56-55. Ahead by one, Lehigh’s senior guard Corey Schaefer missed a critical free throw and provided an opportunity for the Retrievers to seize a lead inside the final 20 seconds.

Sparrow, who torched the Mountain Hawks defense with 24 points, committed one of his four turnovers in the game as he attempted to beat Schaefer off the dribble but was instantly tied up for a jump ball, giving possession back to Lehigh.

On the ensuing possession, UMBC freshman guard Jourdan Grant continued his menacing ways by disrupting an inbound pass, which led to another forced turnover. As five seconds remained, the Retrievers dished the inbound pass to freshman guard Malcolm Brent, who immediately stepped out of bounds, giving the ball back to the Mountain Hawks.

After a great deal of UMBC pressure, Lehigh successfully completed an inbound pass to freshman guard Kahron Ross, forcing a quick foul by UMBC and Ross converted both free throws, giving Lehigh a three-point cushion and only four seconds on the clock for the Retrievers to potentially tie or win the contest.

But Retriever senior forward Devarick Houston struggled to maintain possession of the inbound pass that resulted in a game-ending steal by Lehigh’s Austin Price.

“Tonight is a tough lesson,” said UMBC head coach Aki Thomas, whose squad began the game with just eight players in uniform (among them a walk-on) and finished with just seven. “I wish we could have gotten this one, but we didn’t play well enough at times we needed to.

“The biggest challenge is playing consistently night in and night out.”

Consistency is a continued point of emphasis for the 2-10 Retrievers. In the first half, UMBC committed six turnovers and generated five steals. In the second half, the Retrievers turned the ball over nine times and garnered two steals.

UMBC opened the contest with a feverish pace and sought to demolish the interior defense of the Mountain Hawks. This offensive onslaught started directly after tip-off as Sparrow recovered the tip and slashed his way to the basket for a layup.

Sparrow scored UMBC’s first four points and finished the first half with 11. Brent contributed six points and sophomore forward Will Darley provided five before leaving the game with a knee injury that occurred in his attempt to crash on the boards.

“Somebody landed on his knee,” Thomas said. “Hopefully it’s not too serious but we’ll see what the doctors say.”

Darley needed to be helped from the game and appeared to be in a great deal of agony and distress as he left the court.

On the defensive end, UMBC junior forward Cody Joyce continue to fluster opponents by contesting shots, monopolizing rebounds and protecting the paint by generating charges from the opposition. Joyce also had the responsibility of matching up with Lehigh sophomore center Tim Kempton. Kempton, Lehigh’s leading scorer, was limited to just four points. To further agitate the Mountain Hawk offense, Grant and Houston closed the first half with a combined four steals and two blocks.

Houston entered the second half knocking down a 3-pointer that provided UMBC with a 34-32 advantage. Sparrow continued to penetrate the Lehigh defense and the Retrievers sustained their attack from beyond the arc. Coming off the bench UMBC sophomore Ben Grace made back-to-back 3-pointers, one of which gave the Retrievers a 39-37 edge early in the second half.

But as UMBC heated up, so did the Mountain Hawks. Kempton scored eight second-half points, Ross nailed two pivotal free throws and Lehigh junior guard Justin Goldsborough finished the contest with 14 points and 11 rebounds.

“UMBC shot the ball well from the 3-point line but also from the free throw line,” Lehigh Head Coach Brett Reed said. “But for a key stretch, they went dry and we were able to close out the possessions in an effective way.”

Although turnovers defined the final moments, the Retrievers struggled to score from the field and shot a pedestrian 29-percent. Behind Sparrow’s 24-points, Houston scored 10 points and posted nine rebounds.