Seven nights after the city of Worcester put together a fantastic fireworks display from the roof of the downtown parking garage, the Holy Cross basketball team put on an explosive show of their own at the Hart Center, downing the Lehigh Mountain Hawks 84-78 in each team's Patriot League opener.
Like any good fireworks show, it started off with a solid foundational bang. The Crusaders (7-8, 1-0) did this in the form of opening up a double-digit lead in the first six minutes. On the strength of three baskets apiece from starters R.J. Evans and Dave Dudzinski, Holy Cross pulled ahead 20-10.
The biggest story of the day for Holy Cross was the biggest man on the court. Dudzinski, the Sader's 6-foot-9 center had a career day pouring in 23 points on 9-of-11 shooting to go with eight rebounds and five blocked shots.
Fireworks shows are the best when the individual blooms are unique. That is what the Crusaders continued to show, mixing Evans' slashing with timely treys and the bruising interior play of Dudzinski. Lehigh (12-5, 0-1) simply had no answer for the offensive exhibition being put on.
The first-half fireworks display finished with quite the finale. In a flurry of marksmanship, Devin Brown and Jordan Stevens drained threes in rapid succession, piling onto the lead. The home team went into the intermission with a comfortable cushion of 14 points, up 47-33.
The cushion would prove to be necessary in the second half as there are rules in the Patriot League, such as you cannot stop Lehigh's C.J. McCollum. The only hope teams have is to shut down his supporting cast and limit the touches of the Patriot League preseason player of the year.
That was the lesson Crusader coach Milan Brown preached to his team in practice and in the first half, his players did him proud. McCollum was held to just eight first-half points and seemed to be totally uninvolved on the offensive side of the ball. Part of this was impacted by the play of Holy Cross senior Mike Cavataio. After missing 13 games with an injury, the 6-foot-4 guard used his size and defensive intensity to disrupt the Hawk star in his first game back in uniform.
However rules are rules, and McCollum finally got going after the break finishing with 27 points. He was responsible for cutting into the Crusaders' sizable lead, and when his jumper found the bottom of the basket at the 6:40 mark of the second half, the Hawk deficit was cut to single digits for good.
There are other rules in the Patriot League as well. Such as, when you play Holy Cross, you do not let Stevens and Brown get hot from the three-point arc. The two, who entered Saturday shooting 52 percent and 40 percent from that distance, respectively, continually suppressed the Lehigh charge, combining for 37 points.
McCollum's last-gasp effort, a bomb that he may have launched from I-290, cut the Crusader lead to five at 76-71, before time ran out on the Lehigh comeback and Holy Cross improved to 5-1 at the Hart Center.
The Patriot League schedule continues for the Holy Cross on Wednesday when they host the Naval Academy. We will see what rules are followed and broken in that matchup as the Crusaders try to sink the Midshipmen in Worcester.
at HOLY CROSS 84, LEHIGH 78 01/07/2012
LEHIGH 12-5 (0-1) -- C. McCollum 10-25 4-4 27; M. McKnight 2-12 0-0 5; H. Greiner 5-11 2-2 14; G. Knutson 4-10 4-5 12; C. Schaefer 3-4 1-1 7; J. Hamilton 0-3 1-2 1; J. Adams 2-4 0-0 4; J. Maneri 3-4 0-0 6; A. D'Orazio 0-2 0-0 0; C. Baltimore 1-2 0-0 2; S. Cvrkalj 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 30-77 12-14 78. HOLY CROSS 7-8 (1-0) -- R. Evans 4-11 0-0 8; D. Brown 5-12 8-9 20; D. Dudzinski 9-11 4-5 23; J. Burrell 2-6 3-3 8; J. Stevens 7-10 0-1 17; P. Beans 0-3 0-0 0; M. Cavataio 2-4 2-2 6; D. Goens 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 30-58 17-20 84.
Three-point goals: LEH 6-25 (J. Hamilton 0-3; H. Greiner 2-6; C. McCollum 3-8; A. D'orazio 0-1; M. McKnight 1-6; C. Schaefer 0-1), HC 7-19 (M. Cavataio 0-1; D. Brown 2-5; J. Stevens 3-5; P. Beans 0-3; D. Dudzinski 1-2; J. Burrell 1-3); Rebounds: LEH 34 (G. Knutson 8), HC 38 (R. Evans 8); Assists: LEH 11 (M. McKnight 5), HC 22 (R. Evans 7); Total Fouls -- LEH 15, HC 12; Fouled Out: LEH-None; HC-None.