Sports

Men’s Basketball Drops to Last Place in the Patriot League

Billy Fitzpatrick ’20

Chief Sports Editor

Despite a week in which the Holy Cross Men’s Basketball team picked up perhaps its most important win of the season, a nailbiter over Patriot League-leading Bucknell, the Crusaders (14-14 overall, 5-10 Patriot League) fell to the cellar of the conference with home losses to Colgate and Boston University. While HC could theoretically still earn a top-six seed for the Patriot League Tournament and the accompanying first-round bye, its chances are growing increasingly slim with just three regular season games remaining for the Crusaders.

Holy Cross hosted Colgate (17-10 overall, 9-5 PL) last Wednesday, February 13, for the teams’ first meeting of the season. The Raiders used a second-half push to escape Worcester with a 74-70 victory. Sophomore point guard Caleb Green led the Crusaders with an efficient 19 points (eight-of-nine from the field, three-of-four from three-point range), while first-year guard Tucker Richardson paced the balanced Colgate attack with 20 points and six assists.

Colgate established a 26-21 lead midway through the opening period, but Holy Cross used a 17-5 run to take control of the game and went on to hold a 39-37 advantage at the intermission after a back-and-forth first half of basketball. Later on, the Raiders held a six-point lead in the second half, but HC used another explosive run, this time an 11-0 spurt, to take a 57-52 lead. After Colgate tied the game at 62 apiece inside five minutes, a bucket by Green and a three-pointer from sophomore wing Jacob Grandison put the Crusaders back ahead by five.

Yet, with Holy Cross on the brink of an all-important victory over the third-best team in the conference, Colgate proved its mettle by going on a 9-1 run, taking the lead on a three-pointer by junior forward Rapolas Ivanauskus, one of the conference’s top scorers. The Raiders used clutch free throw shooting in the final moments to seal the road victory.

Grandison chipped in 13 points, five rebounds, and two assists, while sophomore guard posted a well-rounded statline of 12 points, five boards, four assists, and three steals. One key team statistic: Colgate went 13-for-19 from the free throw line, while HC only got to the line just seven times, making four of its attempts.

The Crusaders rebounded from the Colgate loss well with a statement 72-71 win over Bucknell (17-9 overall, 11-3 PL), the class of the league, last Saturday, February 16 at the Hart Center. The win snapped a two-game losing streak and came on the heels of a five-game stretch in which HC went 1-4, while also proving that Holy Cross can compete with anyone in the Patriot League when at its best. Senior center Jehyve Floyd led the Crusaders with 19 points (several of those coming from emphatic dunks), eight rebounds, three assists, and two blocks in one of his best games of the season. The win ended Bucknell’s five-game winning streak and was Holy Cross’ first win over the Bison since the 2016 Patriot League Tournament Quarterfinal round.

Bucknell led by three at halftime after connecting on six three-pointers in the opening period, but the Crusaders came out of the gates hot in the second half to take the lead with an 11-3 run. However, Floyd picked up his fourth foul three minutes into the second period and was resigned to the bench for several minutes, which coincided with a 12-2 spurt from Bucknell to re-take the lead, a six point advantage.

Holy Cross head coach Bill Carmody gambled by re-inserting Floyd into the game with 11:21 remaining, and the veteran center rewarded his coach’s faith by scoring 15 of his game-high 19 points in the final ten minutes, including seven in a row at one point. Floyd’s put-back, and-one, momentum-swinging dunk gave HC a five-point lead with two-and-a-half minutes to go.

Yet, the final few minutes felt like a recurring nightmare to some HC fans as Bucknell clawed back. The Crusaders blew a late lead against Colgate earlier in the week, the team’s fifth conference loss by five points or less. So when senior guard Kimbal Mackenzie drilled a go-ahead three-pointer with 15 seconds left to put Bucknell up by two, it felt all too familiar for Holy Cross.

Yet, an unlikely hero stepped up on the ensuing possession to reverse the Crusaders’ fortunes. Sophomore forward Matt Faw, who had missed his only three shot attempts of the game prior to this moment, used a pump fake to get some space and then hit on a three-pointer with six seconds left to put HC back up by one. Floyd then drew a charge on the next possession to cap his dominant second half and seal the win for Holy Cross in front of a euphoric crowd at the Hart Center.

Grandison augmented Floyd’s big game with 17 points, Green chipped in 14 and five assists, and Butler contributed 11 points of his own. Senior center Nate Sestina, one of the conference’s premier players, led Bucknell with 17 points and 15 rebounds. Yet, Sestina, Mackenzie, and sophomore guard Jimmy Sotos eached coughed up five turnovers, contributing 15 of Bucknell’s 23 total giveaways, the most Holy Cross has forced in any game this season. The Crusaders did not shoot well from the field, but got to the foul line 26 times, converting 19 of those, a difference-maker that also put many of Bucknell’s best players in foul trouble in the second half.

Holy Cross could not ride the momentum of Saturday’s signature victory into Monday’s tilt against visiting BU, a dispiriting 70-60 loss that sent HC to the bottom of the Patriot League standings. BU (12-16 overall, 5-10 PL) owns the tie-breaker over the Crusaders after sweeping the season series. Despite another big night from Floyd (18 points, 12 rebounds, five blocks), the Terriers hot shooting and rebounding advantage proved too much for the Crusaders.

BU got out to 23-16 lead midway through the first half  before HC used an 11-3 run to take a one-point lead with six minutes left in the opening period. However, the Terriers answered with a run of their own to take a 37-29 lead heading into the break.

While Holy Cross hung around for the first few minutes of the second half, BU went on a 15-2 run to lead 56-38 with ten minutes remaining. The Crusaders showed signs of life late to cut the lead to nine with 2:36 to go, but BU pulled away for the ten-point victory that could go a long way in determining seeding for the Patriot League Tournament. Butler was the only other Crusader in double-digits, scoring 17. First-year guard Jonas Harper led BU with 22 points, while junior forward Max Mahoney chipped in 11 points and 12 rebounds.

The Crusaders travel to Bethlehem, Penn., this Sunday to take on Lehigh. The two teams last faced on January 9 at the Hart Center in Worcester. The Mountain Hawks took that contest in a 99-94 overtime victory, one of many close defeats for the Crusaders in conference play this season. Holy Cross put up 59 points in the first half of that contest, but could not hold off Lehigh (17-8 overall, 10-4 PL). Green led HC with a career-high 25 points, while senior guard Lance Tejada scored 36, going 10-14 from three-point range, to lead the Lehigh comeback. The Mountain Hawks currently sit in second place in the Patriot League standings, so a good performance for the Crusaders will give them further confidence that they can compete with anyone in the league come conference tournament time.

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