Bill Carmody waited two years, and now he has his third head-coaching gig. Holy Cross announced its hire of the former Princeton and Northwestern coach Thursday.
“I am excited about the opportunity to become the head coach at Holy Cross, and I look forward to bringing the program back to the top of the Patriot League,” Carmody said, according to a release by the school. “I would like to thank Rev. Philip Boroughs, S.J., and Nathan Pine for their confidence in me and for allowing me the opportunity to lead this storied program. I cannot wait to start working with our impressive student-athletes, who represent the College with pride and honor both on and off the court.”
Carmody parlayed a four-year stint at Princeton that included two NCAA Tournament berths into the head job at Northwestern, where he coached from 2000-2013. Carmody went 192-220 at Northwestern, but he took the Wildcats to four consecutive NITs from 2009-2012.
Carmody replaces Milan Brown, who led Holy Cross to two winning seasons in five years. The Crusaders went 14-16 in 2014-15 after winning 20 games in 2013-14.
One day after their season came to an end in a 90-83 overtime loss to top-seed Bucknell in the quarterfinals of the Patriot League Tournament, Holy Cross announced that it has parted ways with head coach Milan Brown.
“I am disappointed we must make this change,” said Holy Cross director of athletics Nate Pine in a released statement, “but the success of our men’s basketball program has not been commensurate with our competitive expectations under Coach Brown’s leadership. I thank Coach Brown for all his efforts at Holy Cross and his many contributions to the college community, especially his care and concern for our student-athletes.”
The Crusaders went 69-83 during Brown’s five years in Worcester, and 42-43 in Patriot League play. The program, which had gone to four NCAA Tournaments during former head coach Ralph Willard’s tenure from 1999-2009, nearly pulling off upsets in 2001, 2002 and 2003, experienced just two winning seasons under Brown, with last year’s 20-14 record and CIT berth coming as the high water mark.
“A personnel decision like this is always difficult and affects a great many people,” Pine added. “We are fortunate to have very talented student-athletes who are committed to working hard in our men’s basketball program, and I am optimistic for our future.”
The Crusaders began the year with a bang, knocking off then-25th ranked Harvard 59-58 in their tip-off at the TD Garden in Boston, and raced out to a 4-1 record on the year. But injuries to sophomore point guard Anthony Thompson, a lack of a low-post presence, and defensive struggles, hampered them throughout the year, as they limped to a 14-16 record.
Still, Brown, who was tremendously well-liked in basketball circles, found a way to motivate his players when it mattered the most, as Holy Cross downed Loyola (Maryland) 62-45 in the Patriot League opening round, before giving Bucknell everything it could handle in the quarterfinals.
Holy Cross will reportedly begin a national coaching search immediately.
Life is all about taking advantage when an opportunity presents itself. It’s taken Holy Cross senior De’Vaughn Reid until the end of his career to finally get an opportunity make an impact on the court, and he’s seized every moment of it.
“It feels good having this opportunity. This is a big opportunity,” said Reid, a 6-foot senior walk-on from West Orange, New Jersey, who has become a regular member of the Crusaders rotation, bringing energy and defensive intensity off the bench, during the final month of his career.
“He’s been solid and taking care of his opportunity,” said Holy Cross head coach Milan Brown.
That opportunity came on Feb. 8. when sophomore point guard Anthony Thompson was shut down after fighting through a torn labrum all season long. Up until that point, Holy Cross was dead in the water, occupying a spot in the Patriot League basement at 4-8 in league play and 8-13 overall.
During that stretch, Reid had been a glorified spectator on most game nights, registering 14 “DNPs” through the Crusaders’ first 21 games. He had logged seven minutes in a 30-point win against Division III Nichols, his most action of the season. Before that, Reid had played in just 23 games in his entire previous three seasons on the Holy Cross roster.
But Reid never stopped showing up to practice and pushing his teammates.
“He’s a tremendously hard worker, always has been,” said senior star Justin Burrell.
“It’s been pretty much up and down,” said Reid of his career. “Sometimes you play, sometimes you don’t. It’s definitely been a great experience.”
Entering his senior season, with a stacked backcourt of athletic, scholarship players — among them Burrell, Thompson, Eric Green and Cullen Hamilton — Reid knew his minutes would be slim to none, and embraced his role running the scout team to pushing the starters in practice and keeping spirits up on the bench and in the locker room.
“Mainly that we have a great team and when we gel and are locked in we’re a pretty good team and I felt we could go a long way,” said Reid about his approach to the season. “I’m definitely the kind that tries to keep everybody loose.”
But as the losses mounted, and the pain Thompson was playing through became unbearable, Brown began to look down the bench for a spark to save the season, and eventual found it in Reid. Brown and Reid spoke, and the message was clear.
“Pretty much, just be ready to go,” Reid said. “They all have faith in me. [Brown] told me I’m a pretty good player, and just play your game and you’ll be fine.”
“It’s the next man up mentality,” said Brown, “and it helps that he’s a senior though because in basketball terms he’s a grown-man, so we think he can definitely provide a spark for us.”
Reid’s most recent effort, a 10-minute contribution of all-out defensive energy, helped Holy Cross beat Loyola Md., 62-45, Tuesday in a Patriot League Tournament first round game.
Including Tuesday night, Reid has played in all seven games since Thompson was shelved for the season, starting Feb. 11, and the Crusaders have gone 5-2 during that stretch.
“My team and my coaches feel like I’m ready for it,” he said, “and I feel ready for it, so we’re just trying to keep this thing going.”
Reid has only scored 10 points during that stretch. He logged a season-high 17 minutes, to go with two points, two assists and two rebounds in the Crusaders’ 77-70 road victory over Boston University in the regular season finale. But according to Brown, the impact the senior has made in intangibles and sheer desire on the court are far larger than any statistics he produces.
“He did [make a big impact] tonight, and he absolutely did it the last time we played, at BU,” said Brown following Tuesday’s win.
Despite his increased role on the court, Reid’s role as a leader in the locker room has never changed.
“Everybody is so serious, especially now in the playoffs,” he said. “I’m the funny guy every now and then but also when we get on the court being a point guard, you have to be the enforcer, so a little bit of both.”
Eight-seed Holy Cross will try to keep their season alive when they face off against Patriot League regular season champion Bucknell tonight, and in one way or another, Reid will play an integral role keeping Holy Cross’ long-shot title hopes alive.
“De’Vaughn has been big, he’s been ready to play,” said Brown, adding, “We have lots of confidence in De’Vaughn. He’s a walk-on for us, but he’s a Division-I scholarship player that we got lucky to have as a walk-on, to tell you the truth.”
A free throw and a 3-pointer, those are the shots Anthony Thompson took on Tuesday night as Holy Cross hosted Loyola-Maryland during the first round of the Patriot League tournament.
Thompson and the Crusaders would take an early lead and never look back, defeating the Greyhounds 62-45 and advance to the Patriot League tournament quarterfinals where they will face off against Bucknell on the road on Thursday night.
Thompson’s two attempts, which came an hour before Holy Cross tipped off, both rimmed out as he shot one-handed, and went unnoticed by most of the 526 fans in attendance. But for the 5-foot-10 sophomore guard, who has been sidelined since early February with a torn meniscus, they were the physical manifestation of just how badly he was itching to get back on the court.
Entering his final game, which came on Feb. 8 versus Bucknell, Thompson was a starter for Milan Brown’s squad, averaging roughly six points, two rebounds and two assists in nearly 24 minutes per game – numbers that were all greatly deflated from his freshman campaign due the injury, which he tried to gut through for most of the year.
Thompson had surgery on his shoulder in late February, and has been a sideline spectator ever since, a torturous prospect for the hyper-competitive Thompson, but one made a bit easier by the support of his teammates.
“They’ve been really supportive, they tell me just to keep rehabbing, when I get back it’ll be my time to lead the team to a championship in my next two years,” he said, talking about how the seniors have encouraged him.
Thompson suffered the injury originally before the start of the season, and could have preserved an entire year of eligibility by red-shirting, but he chose instead to try to gut it out all year long.
“I had to play through it, just for my teammates and for myself,” said Thompson. “It’s been more of a mental thing to have that injury the whole year, and come back from it each time.”
Playing through the pain wasn’t easy on Thompson, but spending the final month of the season sitting out has been even harder.
“It was the hardest when I wouldn’t have breaks in between games, going back to back days and having that injury nagging me,” said Thompson. “I just had to focus and not really think about it as much.
“I’ve never had an injury where I’ve had to have surgery, this is my first major injury,” he said.
Unable to make an impact on the court, Thompson has tried to follow the examples set in practices, the locker room and from the sidelines set by Malcolm Miller and Justin Burrell, seniors who are also two of the team’s most vocal leaders.
“I’ve just been trying to be really vocal and help my team out wherever I see fit,” he said. “If I see my energy level isn’t there, or I see something wrong, I’ll just step in and say something instead of watching and letting it go.
“You can really tell that it’s coming down to the end for them,” he said. “They’re really being vocal; you can tell they really want it. They’re giving off a good vibe to the younger guys, and for me watching it’s nice to see the older guys stepping up at the end of the season.”
To help the team even more, Thompson has been making sure that his replacement, senior walk-on De’Vaughn Reid is good to go in his stead.
“I just tell him to be confident, go out there and play his game,” said Thompson. “He’s a really good player when he’s playing his game, but when he’s tentative and not playing his game, it makes it hard for him and it hurts the team so I just tell him to be confident.”
And while Thompson may not be able to contribute to his team’s championship run on the stat sheet, his view from the bench leaves him thinking he and the Crusaders have a shot.
“Watching our energy level, when we come out for pregame and how focused we are,” he said. “You can tell how focused we are and how it translates to the game.”
For most of the season, Holy Cross men’s basketball has been slogging through a very dark, very long tunnel, but head coach Milan Brown has refused to stop believing that there is light at the end of it.
After opening the year by shocking then-25th ranked Harvard with a smothering, high pressure backcourt defense, Brown’s Crusaders had the look of a league champion. They did nothing to dispel it through their next four games, going 3-1 after the Harvard win, 74-57 stomping of eventual America East regular season champion Albany, with their lone loss coming on the road at Syracuse.
But then Holy Cross hit a wall, losing nine of their next 11, including five of their first six Patriot League contests, essentially burying the Crusaders in the conference standings before they had even reached the halfway mark in conference play. Even after righting the ship and finishing out the season going 7-5, the Crusaders still found themselves as the eighth seed in the conference tournament (thanks to a three-way tie for sixth-place and the subsequent tie-breakers) facing off against ninth-seed Loyola (Maryland) on Tuesday night.
But Brown is confident heading into what is essentially a play-in game, feeling his team is peaking at the right time after ending the season with back-to-back wins in the form of a 63-60 victory over Loyola and a 77-70 road win at BU.
“The way we break up our season, the non-conference is the first season, Patriot League is the second season, and we’re getting ready for the third,” said Brown about how his team approached their final regular season Patriot League contest. “We’ve been talking about getting some momentum for the last month so I think that was more of a focus.”
According to Brown, the win over BU, powered by senior forward Malcolm Miller’s 30-point explosion and a team-wide 9-of-10 second half shooting performance from downtown, was particularly encouraging, especially because the Terriers were still fighting for seeding while Holy Cross was already locked in to the eighth seed.
“Obviously we’re really excited to get the win,” said Brown about the victory. “Understanding that the playoff implications were already set, it was great to see the guys come out ready to play.”
Brown saw the Crusaders’ performance as a microcosm of their refusal to give up on the season despite disappointing losses and mounting obstacles.
“I think our culture is set enough now that we’ll always compete,” said Brown. “We could be in first or tenth but we’ll compete for sure.”
One of the Crusaders’ biggest obstacles was the loss of point guard Anthony Thompson to season-ending shoulder surgery in February, which gave way to one of the team’s biggest boosts in form of resurgent bench play.
“They’ve been coming along for sure,” said Brown of his bench, which has gotten a shot of energy from sophomore Robert Champion, senior walk-on guard De’Vaughn Reid and high-flying former starting wing Eric Green.
“De’Vaughn helping us out with Anthony being down, Rob stepping up, Eric Green, they’ve really embraced that,” said Brown of his bench. “What’s happening now is they’re not only playing hard like they’ve always done, we’re getting production that shows up in the stat sheet.”
Champion was especially big on Saturday, scoring 16 points on 6-of-7 shooting in 22 minutes off the bench.
Champion’s ability to stretch the floor has been especially big for the Crusaders, who had been one of the worst 3-point shooting team in the Patriot League. The 6’6” wing closed out the season drilling 10-of-14 shots from deep over his final four games, including a 16-point performance on 6-of-7 shooting, including 4-of-4 from deep, in the regular season finale.
But according to Brown, the Crusaders’ success doesn’t rest on their ability to knock down long-bombs, but rather having his entire team bring consistent, frenetic energy for every second they are on the court.
“I need everybody to play hard and compete, we do that,” said Brown. Later adding, “it’s great, in the way we play, we can’t [play] seven or eight people, and we have to play 10 or 11 because of the style we play.”
Eight-seed Holy Cross tips off against ninth seeded Loyola (Maryland) at 7 p.m. tonight at the Hart Center in Worcester.
For Justin Burrell and Anthony Thompson, playing as Lilliputians in a game dominated by giants was easy. It was when they came face-to-face with an equally diminutive opponent — each other — that things got tough.
“There were days when he came in, and he was young and his legs were fresh and he was a problem for me,” says Burrell, a senior captain and point guard at Holy Cross who is very generously listed at 5’9”, of the first time he and Thompson, two years his junior, set foot on the same court in the summer of 2013.
“It was tough, coming in as a freshman, he showed me he knew a lot more on the court than I did,” adds Thompson, Burrell’s equally diminutive teammate. “He definitely went right at me.”
“Those two went right at each other from the start,” remembers head coach Milan Brown, “and there were some times we had to kind of switch them off each other because we were worried about how much they were going at each other.”
At the time, Burrell was a rising junior, a starter since day one, just stepping across the threshold that separates supporting cast member — his job as a facilitator for the first two years of his career — from featured billing and a starring role. Only, before he played a single second in the spotlight, he turned around to find himself face-to-face with his heir-apparent and future replacement in Thompson.
It was a situation that could have gotten ugly quick.
“It’s always tough as a coach, because you have to always be building for the future because you only have guys for four years and the world doesn’t stop for them,” says Brown. “And you never know how they are going to take it when you recruit the next guy in line. And I think it’s even tougher with point guards, and the smaller point guards especially, because they usually have that chip on their shoulder mentally that drives them from being doubted their whole career.”
Such a scenario seemed as if it might play out during the first pick up game of that first summer when Burrell and Thompson “almost killed each other,” laughs former Holy Cross star Dave Dudzinski.
“I was worried they might come to blows,” echoes Brown with a laugh.
Except, instead of a fistfight, something else erupted following that first heated showdown: a brotherhood.
The opening battle
“I went right at him, and he’s this young kid, and not only did he keep his cool, but he came right back at me,” says Burrell of the first time the two squared off on the hardwood. “I had to respect him immensely.”
And that respect was mutual.
“He went at me every practice, but he was teaching me things I needed to learn,” says Thompson.
From that day on, according to both, Burrell and Thompson have been inseparable on and off the court, bonding over shared experiences as pint-sized playmakers from what’s known as the DMV — the hotbed of mid-Atlantic hoops that runs from Bowie, Maryland, through Upper Marlboro, Baltimore, Washington D.C., and Northern Virginia — and similar interests off the court.
“We hang out all the time,”says Thompson, who hails from Glenn Dale, an unincorporated, racially diverse community of almost 14,000 residents in southern Maryland. “We’re both from the DMV, so we have a lot of similarities in music and hang out in the same places. Once I got here we knew the same people.”
“Having him on the team was great, because we’re from the same area, we’ve got the same taste in music, same interests, it’s like having a little brother on the team,” says Burrell, who was born in Maryland but raised in Dumfries, a tiny town of less than 5,000 in northern Virginia.
Burrell, who played high school ball at Potomac High School before a prep year at Fishburne Military School, and Thompson, who spent his high school days suiting up for the Bullis School, didn’t know each other until they became teammates. But both shared the same mindset on the court, and experiences off it, crediting their families, especially their fathers, with their development as players and people.
“We both have that mentality,” say Thompson, “that we’ve been doubted our whole careers because of our size, and every time we’re on the court we’re out there to prove people wrong,.”
“It’s funny,” says Burrell, “because we know so many of the same people, I feel like we should have crossed paths before a million times but we never did.”
As for who is actually shorter between Burrell and Thompson, who is listed one inch taller than his mentor.
“I’ll give myself 5’8”,” laughs Burrell. “I think he’s listed a little bit taller than I am, but when we line up to see who’s taller, it’s actually like literally dead even.”
Going from a starring role in high school to coming off the bench to start his freshman year was a tough transition, but according to Thompson, it was Burrell, the player serving as his initial road block to seeing the court, who was his biggest mentor and supporter.
“It was hard getting adjusted to playing with the older guys, because I felt like I had to take a back seat, but the coaches kept telling me to be a better leader, and JB was pushing me to be a leader,” says Thompson, who eventually broke into the starting lineup beside Burrell halfway through his freshman year.
But according to Burrell, it was anything but a one-way street of support between the two.
“I’m not going to sit here and have it seem like it was a one-way street, I’m not going to hear that, because he made me better as well,” Burrell insists. “He came at me every day in practice and he never allowed me to get comfortable or complacent as an old vet,” he laughs.
According to Burrell, playing alongside his successor in Thompson has helped him in turn mature.
“You have to understand that it’s college basketball so they are going to recruit somebody because they have to continue what they’ve established in the past,” Burrell says. “I looked at it as they were confident in the style of play that I have, where they went and recruited another point who was similar to me in size and stature and style of play, so I was happy about that.”
And according to Brown, having Thompson and Burrell pushing each other in practice pushed the entire Crusaders roster.
“Whenever you have two guys competing with each other like that,” Brown said, “it definitely starts to rub off on people. When two guys are going that hard, you can’t take a day off.”
Stepping on the court side by side
Thompson spent the beginning of the 2013-2014 season as Burrell’s understudy off the bench, before stepping into the starting lineup when his mentor missed three games at the end of November and beginning of December with an injury. Upon his return, Burrell began seeing more court time beside Thompson, and the Crusaders began to click, pushing the ball in transition on offense and pressuring it on defense.
“When they made the change to play both of us at the same time, that relationship we built when we were competing against each other carried over,” he says. “I felt like we became a lot faster. I think that catered to our style of play. Defensively, I think it helped us out a lot.”
By the start of conference play, Brown had permanently moved Thompson into the lineup next to Burrell, and the Crusaders found a new gear, finishing the season 14-6 after a 6-7 start and advancing to the second round of the CIT Tournament.
“It’s fun playing together, getting to run with somebody who’s just as fast as me,” says Thompson. “We know we can get up on the court and play full court defense, and then when we get the ball just get out and go.”
On Nov. 16, Burrell and Thompson hit the hallowed hardwood at the TD Boston Garden like a hurricane, relentlessly attacking the vaunted backcourt of then 25th ranked Harvard and forcing star Crimson point guard Siyani Chambers into nine turnovers while holding him to a single point in a 58-57 upset.
And just like that, one game into the year, Holy Cross was the undisputed Patriot League favorite and a front-runner to reach the Big Dance for the first time since 2007.
Sadly, basketball rarely follows the feel good script.
After a hot start to the season, the Crusaders cooled off, struggling to generate consistent offense without the low-post presence of Dudzinski from the previous season. Thompson suffered a torn labrum and valiantly gutted it out for most of the season before finally being forced to shut it down after 11 minutes of action on Feb. 8, his season ending numbers of 5.9 points and 2.0 assists per game a shell of his freshman year performance (9.4 ppg and 2.5 apg).
Burrell has left his heart and soul on the court every time he has set foot on it, refusing to buy in to the Crusaders’ 12-15 record and seventh place in the standings or give up on his dreams of making the NCAAs.
“As a senior it’s realizing the reality in that this is my last year playing college basketball, my last chance to make the NCAA tournament, and I have to leave it all on the floor,” he says.
Burrell’s efforts have left a lasting impact on Thompson, one he will carry with him for the rest of his career when he returns to health.
“You can really see that this is his last chance, that he really wants it,” says Thompson. “Every day he’s out there working hard and I feel like I’m playing for him.”
And no matter how the season plays out, it’s apparent that the lasting imprint Burrell has left on Thompson, has been returned in kind.
“I’m really glad we got to play together,” says Burrell, “I’m a better player and a better person for it.”
With less than 24 hours left for fans to vote, Holy Cross senior Malcolm Miller is locked in a dead-heat with pint-sized Texas A & M Corpus Christi high-flyer John Jordan in the first round of the Dark Horse Dunker competition.
The competition, sponsored by Intersport, producers of the State Farm College Slam Dunk & 3-Point Championships, pits 16 “under-the-radar” dunking extraordinaires head-to-head in an bracket style, single elimination tournament where fan votes determine the winners of each round. The fan-vote winner of the entire tournament will participate in the College Slam Dunk Contest held during this year’s Final Four.
Miller, a 6-foot-7-inch 200-pound human-pogo stick, has been dropping jaws and rattling the Hart Center rafters with monster slam dunks for the past four years, as seen in the video below, produced by the Holy Cross Athletic Department.
Johnson, Miller’s opponent, may have the highest vertical leap of the entire field. With a 38-inch standing vertical leap and a reported 50-inch running vertical leap, the 5’10” guard (and that listing may be a bit generous) plays at eye-level with the rim.
Voting ends at 1 p.m. ET on Wednesday, and with less than 19 and a half hours remaining, Miller and Johnson remain tied, each holding 50 percent of the vote.
Fans can vote here, and with less than half a day remaining and Miller and Johnson still neck and neck, literally every fan vote counts.
For most of the season, November has felt so far away from windy Worcester, Mass. On Thursday night, it felt like it was just yesterday.
Roll back the clocks three months ago to opening night and Milan Brown’s Holy Cross men’s basketball team was taking it to a nationally ranked team at the TD Garden, downing then 25th ranked Harvard while looking like the cream of the Patriot League crop.
Fast-forward to New Years Eve and the Crusaders opened up league play by somehow finding a way to lose to an inconsistent Boston University squad despite forcing 20 turnovers while only giving the ball up two times themselves. At the time, the Boston University loss pushed a two-game skid to three – a losing streak that would reach five before final being snapped.
Entering Thursday evening’s game, Brown and his Crusaders found themselves at the bottom of the standings with a 8-12 overall record, a 3-7 record in league play, and staring down a Colgate team standing where Holy Cross was supposed to be: In first place.
“I may not have looked at the standings so much now because I knew where we were so I didn’t want to see my name where I knew it was,” said Brown.
Despite everything, it could have been much worse for Brown and company. Thanks to a topsy-turvy Patriot League slate where parity has reigned supreme, the Crusaders still sit just four games out of first place, something Brown made sure to use it and keep his team’s spirits high.
“We don’t talk about [the standings] a lot, but I just kept saying, we’re not out of the race and our goals have not been taken away from us,” said Brown. “The best thing that has happened to us so far is that we can still be in control of our own destiny, and as long as you are in control of your own destiny that should the most exciting thing going on, because you’d hate for somebody else to control it.”
As Thursday night’s the game neared the halfway point, it seemed as if fans would witness a rare thing in Patriot League basketball nowadays: a blowout. One that Holy Cross was on the losing end of. With 3:35 to go in the first half, the Crusaders faced a 14-point deficit and Colgate did not look as if they were going to stop pressuring.
Holy Cross was able to cut the Raider lead to 36-27 before the half. Holy Cross trailed 45-37 with 13:15 remaining, but then the Crusaders turned back the clock to the promise of opening night, ratcheting up the relentless defensive pressure their team was supposed to be built around as Brown cycled in five-man squads every few minutes, rattling off a 20-4 run over the next 8:26, pushing ahead before cruising to a 70-60.
“We talked as a group and we just wanted to get back to playing the way we said we were going to play earlier in the year when we were successful,” said Brown. “Which was 94 feet, trying to speed people up, utilizing our bench and hopefully trying to win games into the final eight minutes, if nothing else because we’re digging into team’s legs and I think that was something that happened for us tonight.”
A few weeks earlier, Holy Cross was able to pick up two big home wins against Lafayette and Navy, but then dropped two close ones on the road against Loyola-Maryland and at home against American. Brown commended his team after the game for not giving up, even though all signs pointed to the ball not rolling in favor of Holy Cross this season.
“I was extremely proud of the effort and the way our season has gone in league play, we have all the right to have the mindset where you could say it’s just not our year, and everybody can stop,” said Brown. “The guys I’m coaching aren’t like that and I didn’t think that they would so we’re excited to see what’s gonna happen in the next seven games.”
Senior guard Justin Burrell said he and his fellow seniors looked back to their past experiences with rough patches to try and keep the team focused right the ship. Burrell compared the stretch the team has had recently to one the Crusaders faced during the 2011-12 season when they lost five of the eight games they played spanning from the second week of January to the first week of February. After the rough patch, the team reeled off six wins in a row to finish conference play 9-5.
“We have some older guys in the lineup, their experience and the way they carry themselves rubs off on the rest of the team,” said Burrell. “Me in particular, my freshman year we had a really rough spot of the season and we continued to do what we were supposed to do and out of nowhere we ran off with five or six games in a row. So I continue to reiterate that to the rest of the team and as you can see, there’s no quit in us.”
With seven games left in the season and only two of them being home games, Holy Cross has their work cut out for them. If they want to be successful, it comes down to getting back to basics and doing what works for them, which is turning games into marathon’s and forcing opponents to rely on their conditioning. It worked against Harvard in November and worked against Colgate on Thursday night, if they can keep it up through February and March, remains to be seen.
We are now nearly halfway through the conference slate and how these teams will stack up in the Patriot League Tournament, and who will be cutting down championship game the nets and going dancing in March is as big a mystery as ever. The league lacks a truly dominant team – there are no Bucknells, Lehighs, or Holy Crosses of previous generations – but there is incredible parity, which means that every single night has made for incredibly entertaining basketball.
So here’s a look at how we see the teams stacking up right now in our latest OBW Patriot League Power Rankings. Don’t blink, our rankings will probably change on Wednesday.
1. Bucknell (11-10, 6-2 in PL)
Results: W 81-75 vs Army; W 75-61 at Loyola (MD); W 92-77 at Boston University.
This week: Wednesday vs Lehigh; Saturday vs Colgate
Don’t look now but Bucknell is picking up speed like a runaway freight train and has won four in a row. After struggling to survive a tough non-conference schedule, the young Bison seem to have found their footing and adjusted to their roles on the court. Oh, and, yeah, there’s that Chris Hass guy who has been absolutely lighting up from all over the floor. With home games against a suddenly resurgent Lehigh squad and a Colgate team that sits tied with them in the standings, if Bucknell can make it through this week unscathed they will be sitting squarely in the Patriot League driver’s seat.
2. Colgate (9-12, 6-2 in PL)
Results: W 65-53 at Navy; L 65-64 at Army; W 59-58 at Loyola (MD)
This week: Wednesday vs Lafayette; Saturday at Bucknell
Playing Navy and Army back-to-back on the road is about as hard a stretch as any Patriot League team can go through. Sure, there are better teams in the league year-in and year-out, but the service academies play so incredibly hard and so incredibly physical, it can be an experience akin to running back to back marathons, so the fact that the Raiders dropped the second game of that stretch isn’t a big cause for alarm. Damon Sherman-Newsome remains a dynamic scorer from the guard position, Austin Tillotson makes the offense go at the point, and several role players have been plugging the gaps.
3. Army (13-6, 4-4 in PL)
Results: L 81-75 vs Bucknell; W 65-64 vs Colgate; W 68-66 at American.
This Week: Thursday vs Boston University; Saturday vs Loyola (Md)
Don’t look now, but Army may be getting it’s second wind, knocking off Patriot League contenders Colgate and American by one and two points, respectively, in consecutive games. With teams selling out to stop star Kyle Wilson, Army has needed another reliable scorer and they appear to have gotten it in forward Tanner Plomb, who has scored 44 points in his last two games and 80 points in his last four games.
4. American (11-8, 4-4 in PL)
Results: W 62-59 vs Lehigh; W 78-76 at Lafayette; L 59-54 at Boston University; L 68-66 vs Army.
This week: Wednesday at Navy
The Eagles backcourt trio of seniors Jesse Reed, Pee Wee Gardner and John Schoof are leaving everything they have on the floor, ranking first, second, and third in the nation in minutes per game. That is astounding. And on most nights, that trio is good enough to carry the Eagles to a win. But to climb to the top of these rankings and become the Patriot League team to beat, American is going to need to at least get some consistency from the supporting cast, especially in the post.
5. Lehigh (7-8, 1-3 in PL) Results: W 69-64 vs Holy Cross; W 61-47 vs Navy; W 75-71 at Lafayette
This Week: Wednesday at Bucknell, Saturday vs Boston University
How in the world did we get here? Just yesterday the Mountain Hawks looked like they were dead in the water, unable to generate any offense outside of 6’11” center Tim Kempton. Well, Lehigh seems to have finally found another scorer in sophomore guard Austin Price, who has taken advantage of Kempton’s double-teams by scoring 40 points over the last three games – all wins.
6. Boston University (8-11, 4-4 in PL)
Results: W 73-64 vs Navy; L 63-62 vs Lafayette
This Week: Wednesday at Colgate; Sunday at Loyola.
The Terriers have lost four of their last five, and yet, they haven’t looked THAT bad – and, perhaps equally important, it’s hard to say that anyone below them in these rankings has looked better. Junior shooting guard John Papale seems to finally be hitting his stride after spending much of the season adjusting to a completely new niche as a creator and facilitator on offense in addition to his traditional role as a long-range marksman, and sophomore wing Cedric Hankerson has turned into a legitimate star. If BU could get consistent play from role players like forwards Nate Dieudonne, Justin Alston and Eric Fanning, they’d be in very good shape.
7. Holy Cross (8-10, 3-5 in PL)
Results: L 69-64 at Lehigh; W 74-73 vs Lafayette; W 76-65 vs Navy.
This week: Thursday at Loyola (MD);
Rewind a few weeks, and Holy Cross was completely dead in the water. Rewind a few months, and the Crusaders looked like world beaters and the Patriot League team to beat. Now, the truth seems to fall somewhere in between the two extremes. The Crusaders do not score the ball efficiently, and their offense relies on creating turnovers with energy and pressure on defense, resulting in transition offense and, plain and simply, taking more shots than their opponents.
8. Lafayette (10-5, 2-2 in PL)
Results: L 78-76 vs American; L 74-73 at Holy Cross; L 75-71 vs Lehigh
This Week: Wednesday at Colgate; Saturday at Navy
The Leopards have come up just short in three-straight close games, losing to a good American squad by two at home, a floundering Holy Cross squad by one on the road, and, toughest of all, bitter-rival Lehigh by four at home. The Leopards still boast arguably the Patriot League’s top offense, with inside, mid-range, and outside scoring options, but they are struggling mightily to come up with stops on defense.
9. Loyola-Maryland (7-12, 3-5 in PL) Results: W 91-86 (OT) vs Boston University; L 75-61 vs Bucknell; L 59-58 at Colgate.
This Week: Thursday vs Holy Cross; Saturday at Army.
The Greyhounds are incredibly young and incredibly inexperienced, but they are growing and learning and have played Patriot League frontrunners (at least for now) Colgate very tough on the road, and also beat a very solid BU squad in overtime. They aren’t ready to compete right now, but they are looking closer and closer to returning to relevance in the very near future.
10. Navy (7-13, 3-5 in PL)
Results: L 65-53 vs Colgate; L 61-47 at Lehigh; L 76-65 at Holy Cross.
This week: Wednesday vs American; Saturday vs Lafayette.
Worth Smith returned from injury as a man possessed, and Navy was suddenly playing inspired basketball. Then Smith went down with yet another in a laundry list of injuries and the Midshipmen sputtered. Smith has once again returned to the court, could another Navy resurgence be far off?
OBW Patriot League Player of the Week
Tanner Plomb, Jr., F, Army
Plomb scored 44 points and ripped down 14 rebounds in a pair wins over Colgate and American to help get the Black Knights back on track.
OBW Patriot League Rookie of the Week
Brandon Alston, G, Lehigh
Alston scored 24 points and dished out eight assists in a pair of big wins for the Mountain Hawks.
OBW Patriot League Fab Five
Cedric Hankerson Soph., G, Boston University
Nick Lidner, Soph. G, Lafayette
Damon Sherman-Newsome, Sr., G, Colgate
Dan Trist, Sr., F, Lafayette
Kyle Wilson, G, Jr., Army
OBW Patriot League Frosh Five
Cam Gregory, F, Loyola
Matt Klinewski, F, Lafayette
Nana Foulland, C, Bucknell
Kahron Ross, G, Lehigh
J.C. Show, G, Bucknell
Wednesday was one thrilling, chilling, and heart-palpitating rollercoaster ride for Patriot League men’s basketball, with four of the conference’s five games decided by four-points or less, including a come-from-behind overtime victory for Army, a buzzer-beating game-winning 3-pointer for American, and an exhilarating last-second comeback for Bucknell.
Here’s a quick look at the night’s action.
American 62 Lehigh 59
The Patriot League is truly a league where on any given night, anybody can play with anybody else in the conference, as evidenced by a downtrodden Lehigh squad giving defending conference champion American everything it could handle on the Eagles home court.
Six-foot-eleven sophomore center Tim Kempton was a monster for the Mountain Hawks, scoring 24 points on 10-of-17 shooting, to go with 13 rebounds in 37 minutes of action, helping Lehigh claim a 37-24 advantage on the glass.
But it wasn’t enough.
American senior shooting guard Jesse Reed scored 27 points on 10-of-14 shooting, including 4-of-7 from behind the arc, setting the stage for senior point guard Pee Wee Gardner’s heroics. Gardner scored just eight points on 3-of-8 shooting, but his final three made all the difference. With the game tied at 59 following Kempton’s short jumper with nine seconds remaining, the diminutive playmaker calmly pushed the ball the length of the floor, snuck around a screen from forward Charlie Jones at the top of the key and buried an NBA-range 3-pointer with 0.8 seconds left.
Gardner’s heroics followed up another clutch performance Saturday when he scored five points in the final 13 seconds of regulation in an eventual double-overtime win at Colgate.
American moves to 3-2 in league play while Lehigh drops to 1-4.
Army 72 Holy Cross 70 (OT)
In a battle between two teams that began the season looking like league frontrunners only to fall hard and fast over the past month, Army got a much-needed win while Holy Cross suffered a heart-breaking – and possibly devastating – defeat.
Dylan Cox’ lay-up with two seconds left in overtime pushed Army past Holy Cross on the Crusaders’ home court in Worcester, Massachusetts. Junior forward Tanner Plomb scored a season-high 28 points, including 25 in regulation, and junior guard Kyle Wilson added 22.
“This was a great win for our program,” Cox said. “We definitely responded today, I thought our defense was great at times, we got the stops when we needed to and were able to come away with the win.”
Freshman forward Mitchell Hahn scored 18 points in 26 minutes off the bench, hitting 5-of-8 shots and 3-of-5 from long-range, and junior guard Cullen Hamilton scored 14 points off the bench. While the Crusaders’ bench played great, their starters struggled, with Malachi Alexander the only starter to crack double figures, scoring 10 points on 2-of-6 shooting. None of Holy Cross’ starting five shot even 40 percent from the floor.
“Obviously it’s a tough way for the game to end for us. I was proud of the way we fought and got back into the game and took the lead. I thought both teams were being very aggressive,“ said Holy Cross head coach Milan Brown. “This is the third game for us in league play for us where we just come up one or two plays short. We’ve got to find a way to make one or two more winning plays – that’s the only way that winning is going to happen.”
Army led by 13 points with 14:38 remaining in the second half, but Holy Cross came roaring back to force overtime. Army led by four with just 34 seconds left in overtime, but big baskets from Hahn and Hamilton tied the game at 70 with 7 seconds remaining, setting the stage for Cox’ heroics.
Cox took the inbounds and pushed the ball the length of the floor – 94 feet – hitting a running lay-up with two seconds left for the win.
Army moves to 2-3 in league play, snapping a two-game conference losing streak, while Holy Cross falls to 1-4.
Bucknell 65 Navy 63
The Bison bounced back from an overtime loss against Holy Cross with a dramatic win over a Navy squad that had emerged as one of the surprises of the early conference slate.
Sophomore guard John Azzinaro scored 19 points in just 22 minutes, including a pair of late 3-pointers, shooting a blistering 6-of-7 from the field and an unconscious 5-of-5 from behind the arc. The diminutive point guard drilled a catch-and-shoot 3-pointer from the right wing with 1:17 left to tie the game at 61, and drilled another 3-pointer from the right corner with a little over 11 seconds left to grab the lead for good.
Navy won the rebounding battle 31-30, outshot the Bison from the floor (44.9 percent to 41.2 percent) and beat Bucknell at the free throw line (17-of-21 to 14-of-19), while also leading on the scoreboard for most of the game. But the Bison simply never quit.
“Navy out-played us for about 36-and-a-half minutes, but to our guys’ credit we didn’t panic,”said Bucknell head coach Dave Paulsen. “Obviously Johnny carried us down the stretch. We made a change in the starting lineup tonight, and he handled it like a champ.”
Freshman forward Nana Foulland had 12 points, seven rebounds and four blocks, and senior guard Steve Kaspar added six assists off the bench for Bucknell. Navy was led by senior forward Worth Smith, who scored 14 points, and also got 12 points from center Edward Alade and 11 from guard Kendall Knorr.
Both teams now sit at 3-2 in league play.
Lafayette 69 Loyola (MD) 65
After Loyola gave them everything they could handle for the first 20 minutes of action, the Leopards made just enough plays in the second half to escape with a hard-fought win at home.
Lafayette senior Seth Hinrichs hit five 3-pointers en route to 22 points, while senior forward Dan Trist and senior guard Joey Ptasinski added 13 points apiece. Lafayette hung on despite being out-rebounded 37-31, beaten at the line (Loyola hit 14-of-17 free throws to the Leopards’ 10-of-15) and played virtually even from the floor and behind the arc.
“My teammates did a great job of finding me,” said Hinrichs.
“Getting into league, it’s just so much different, everybody is well-prepared for you,” said Lafayette head coach Fran O’Hanlon after the game.
Tyler Hubbard scored 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting from the floor, going 5-of-9 from downtown, freshman guard Andre Walker scored 17 off the bench, guard Eric Lester added 13, and freshman forward Cam Gregory ripped down 12 rebounds.
Colgate 62 Boston University 53
That one must have felt good for the Raiders, who snapped a 20-game losing streak against Boston University, while simultaneously grabbing sole possession of first place in league play.
Boston University came out of the gates like gangbusters, jumping all over the Raiders, 20-8, to open the game, but the Raiders responded, outplaying the Terriers from there on out.
Colgate senior shooting guard Damon Sherman-Newsome led all scorers with 19 points on 6-of-11 shooting, including 5-of-9 from downtown, while also pulling down seven rebounds. Guard Luke Roh added 13 points and forward Matt McMullen pulled down a game-high 10 rebounds to help the Raiders score a 33-28 advantage on the glass.
Colgate held Boston University to 37.3 percent from the floor and 27.8 percent from behind the arc, while shooting 47.8 percent and 39.1 percent, respectively.
The Terriers were led by Eric Fanning’s 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting in 22 minutes off the bench, while freshman point guard Cheddi Mosely added 13 points and forward Nate Dieudonne added 10. Boston University’s leading scorer, Cedric Hankerson, who began the night averaging nearly 20 points per game, was held to just three on 1-of-8 shooting.