Matt Klinewski’s hair wasn’t the only thing that could be described as fiery and red on Saturday afternoon.
A stocky 6-foot-8-inch, 232-pound freshman forward for Lafayette college, Klinewski was a ball of energy, breaking his nose in the process, while helping to energize the Leopards to a last-second 63-62 road win at Boston University. Klinewski’s stats on the day – two points and two rebounds in 10 minutes on 1-of-5 shooting – are easy to ignore on the stat sheet, but according to head coach Fran O’Hanlon, the freshman’s energy and effort were some of the deciding factors in the Lafayette’s victory over a Terriers squad that had been the only remaining undefeated team Patriot League play.
“I went with my energy guys,” said O’Hanlon, who sent Klinewski into the game with his team floundering in the second half. “I put in Matt Klinewski and Zach Rufer, and Bryce Scott, they really bring so much energy, they really care, and I think that’s a big part of us getting that big second half surge.”
Throughout the season, Klinewski has experienced the growing pains typical of most freshmen, seen his playing time fluctuate wildly.
“As a freshman I was hoping to get on the floor, hopefully make an impact,” said Klinewski about his pre-season intentions upon joining the Leopards. “Just trying to do whatever I can to help the team win.”
His best performance came at the end of December during two winning efforts against Sacred Heart, when he scored 11 points, and grabbed four rebounds and then a week later against D-III Susquehanna University, when he nearly recorded his first career double double, grabbing 11 rebounds and scoring nine points.
Since those two games, Klinewski has not had any eye-popping stat lines, scoring two points in six straight games, while pulling down a couple of boards per game.
Fast-forward to the second half of Saturday’s contest against BU, head coach Fran O’Hanlon needed something to spark his team as they struggled to get over the hump; the Leopards had continued to hang around, but had not held the lead for a single second.
With nearly 14 minutes left to play, Klinewski dove into the middle of a scrum for a loose ball at half court. In the middle of the pig pile of BU and Lafayette players, Klinewski found himself battling for the ball with BU’s junior forward, Nathan Dieudonne. While fighting for the ball, Klinewski was flipped over and hit the hardwood with his face, evoking a reaction out of the crowd of 700 that only rivaled the eruption when free t-shirts were being tossed out.
“What I do is, I get on the floor for everything,” said Klinewski.
The end result: jump ball was called, BU gained possession, and Klinewski found himself going to the sideline with a broken nose.
“Matt has probably broken his nose a lot more than I have blown my nose,” said O’Hanlon. “He’s going to get on the floor. He’s somebody you need in the trenches with you.”
Klinewski’s play never showed up on the stat sheet, but it ignited the Leopards who steadily cut down BU’s lead, with Rufer’s driving shot with 2.1 seconds left sealing the win.
“Those loose balls, we look back at it in a one-point game, I know people talk about the shots, but those loose balls and those extra possessions, he does a great job of it,” said O’Hanlon.
Klinewski knows he’s carved out a niche as an energy and intangibles guy, but he wants to be a mainstay in O’Hanlon’s system and he knows exactly what he needs to do to get there.
“Just getting quicker, stronger,” said Klinewski. “My jump shot needs to improve but I think it’s going well so far.”
“He’s a little undersized,” said O’Hanlon, “but his heart is huge.”