If you could not make it to Worcester, Mass., for the Patriot League game between Lafayette and Holy Cross, if, say, you were in the hospital about to have your gall bladder removed, as was true for my usual companion in at the Hart Center, my father, you might call yourself lucky -- especially if you were a Holy Cross fan.
But when Holy Cross's guards controlled the opening six minutes of the game, including a quick trey by freshman Justin Burrell and several driving baskets by R.J. Evans and Devin Brown, my ten-year old son Ian and I felt fortunate to have made it out on a weeknight to represent the family in Section 8. We texted scores to my father in his hospital room across the city at St. Vincent's.
We should have sensed something was wrong. The game was not moving at the frenetic pace at which Holy Cross plays best. Even the H.C. pep band, a bare-bones outfit without the usual student conductor, seemed to drag through their familiar arrangements. And Lafayette was getting plenty of good shots that they simply could not make. The Leopards' Ryan Willen and Jim Mower, usually so reliable from the field, shot as if the rims they had been practicing on in Easton, Pennsylvania were nine feet high instead of 10. Both coaches shuffled their personnel, the Crusaders' Milan Brown looking to spark his team's effort, the Leopards' Fran O'Hanlon rifling his bench for someone who could hit the broad side of a bus.
H.C. led 24-14 at halftime.
What kept us from going back to the Will-Call window to seek a rain check was the halftime game between two teams of seventh- and eighth-graders from the Nativity School in Worcester. Ian watched closely and kept score in his head (the Hart Center's scoreboard kept showing that halftime tally of what now appeared to be the undercard) as the purple team beat the white team 11-9. The kids were fast and jazzy and exciting to watch. We hoped this game within the game foretold a more explosive second half.
But when O'Hanlon's Leopards turn it on, they don't explode. No, they do what they've been doing all along - setting screens and anticipating each other's cuts. They simply start to make shots. Lafayette's roster looks interchangeable. In fact, the playersm if lined up in a rowm might all appear to be from the same small town. (This is of course not the case. O'Hanlon has recruited a group with home addresses from California to Australia.) And to start the second half, they heated up identically: Willen made a half hook and then a three. Holy Cross's Evans changed assignments to cover Willen, leaving Mower uncovered to make a three. Joey Ptasinski drove for a right-handed reverse layup. Three minutes into the second half, Lafayette was within four.
The Leopards sagged into a zone. When Evans or Brown muscled the ball into the lane, the Leopards gave ground, and the H.C. guards could not finish. A three-pointer by Rob Delaney, Lafayette's sixth made field goal in a row to start the second half, gave Lafayette a 28-26 lead which stretched, even after Milan Brown subbed out his entire starting five, to 31-26 at the under-16 timeout.
I texted over to the hospital: "Coach Brown can't find an offensive combo."
But Holy Cross wasn't done. With their newly appointed president Fr. Boroughs seated at the end of our row leading the chants for defense, Mike Cavataio tipped a ball in, dove on the baseline to complete a steal, and hit a jump shot while fellow reserve Dee Goens hit two 15-footers. HC led 36-33.
It wouldn't last. Lafayette created messiness on defense and precision on offense, enforcing order on both ends of the floor. Levi Giese, the Leopards 6-foot-9 junior, even went so far as to straighten Holy Cross's net before an inbounds play with a fastidious tug of his hand. Three pointers from Tony Johnson and Mower sent Lafayette off on a decisive 11-2 run. The Lafayette net never needed adjusting.
With four minutes to go, the Hart Center began to empty out -- it wasn't nearly full to start. A fan sitting behind us stomped past Fr. Boroughs and headed out into the snow. Ian and I stood during the final possessions, not knowing the exact moment to leave. The final was 54-43. Why did we stay? It was a school night, after all, and we'd need to be up early to make it over to the hospital.
LAFAYETTE 54, at HOLY CROSS 43 01/19/2012
LAFAYETTE 8-11 (3-1) -- R. Delaney 1-5 0-0 3; R. Willen 3-11 4-4 11; J. Mower 3-6 0-0 9; T. Johnson 4-5 2-2 11; D. Trist 5-14 1-2 11; S. Hinrichs 0-2 2-2 2; L. Giese 1-4 0-0 2; J. Ptasinski 1-5 0-0 3; N. Petkovich 1-4 0-0 2; L. Smith 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 19-56 9-10 54. HOLY CROSS 8-10 (2-2) -- M. Cavataio 3-6 2-2 8; J. Stevens 2-8 1-2 5; J. Burrell 2-7 0-0 5; R. Evans 1-7 0-0 2; D. Brown 3-9 2-2 8; P. Beans 3-6 1-3 7; D. Dudzinski 0-2 0-0 0; E. Obeysekere 1-3 0-0 2; D. Goens 3-4 0-0 6; T. Abt 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 18-54 6-9 43.
Three-point goals: LAF 7-23 (T. Johnson 1-1; R. Delaney 1-3; J. Mower 3-5; N. Petkovich 0-3; R. Willen 1-4; L. Giese 0-2; J. Ptasinski 1-4; S. Hinrichs 0-1), HC 1-14 (M. Cavataio 0-3; D. Brown 0-3; R. Evans 0-1; D. Goens 0-1; J. Stevens 0-2; E. Obeysekere 0-1; D. Dudzinski 0-1; J. Burrell 1-2); Rebounds: LAF 28 (R. Delaney 7), HC 38 (E. Obeysekere 9); Assists: LAF 13 (J. Mower 5), HC 8 (M. Cavataio 2); Total Fouls -- LAF 15, HC 15; Fouled Out: LAF-None; HC-None.