I am a Holy Cross graduate and a Worcester native. I have skipped all of my reunions. But I have attended games in the Hart Center since it opened in 1975 when I was seven. I come back for the solace of the building and because my father is waiting with an extra ticket.
I had not seen the Crusaders in the second half of this season's conference play, and I hadn't seen my father since he'd emerged from three uncertain days at St. Vincent's Hospital across town from the Hart. We planned to talk after the game.
The Crusaders, at 4-5 in the Patriot League trying to struggle their way back to relevance, faced American, at 7-2 the team with the best chance of upsetting the Pennsylvania dominance this season of Bucknell and Lehigh.
Stuck in the crowds by the concession stands, we missed the tip. I can't remember us ever missing the tip. My father moved well on the stairs up to Section 8, and he lowered himself into a chairback seat without a hitch or a wince as American's Charles Hinkle hit a three-pointer to give the Eagles an early five point lead.
Both teams played man-to-man, and both teams attacked that defense by getting the ball inside and then pitching it outside to their jump shooters. Hinkle, a lefthander and the Eagles' leading scorer, is an asset in this kind of game because he is bigger than the Patriot League's perimeter players. Holy Cross sent different defenders at him all game - taller forwards, quicker guards. Hinkle would score only 14 points, five below his average.
My father and I did not talk much in the early stages of the game. In our years of watching basketball I have learned from him that you must watch, you must let events develop fully to see their design.
Besides, there was plenty of chatter from the faithful around us. They knew the high school players Holy Cross had signed for next year. They were of the opinion that HC's freshman guard Justin Burrell had played too many minutes and was tiring in the season's climax. They cheered for the players by first name. "Jesus, Taylor! Squeeze the basketball!"
Holy Cross led 28-20 at half time.
The pace of the game increased in the second half. The Crusader's Dave Dudzinski made three inside baskets ("Great hands!" said the faithful), the first consistent low post offense of the game for either team.
Hinkle missed a three-pointer, the ball sitting on the rim for an extra rotation before popping out, and Holy Cross turned that into three points on the other end when Mike Cavataio fed Jordan Stevens. Holy Cross led 46-31.
The separation was short lived. American scored the next seven points, including a three-pointer from Mike Bersch and a deuce from Troy Brewer, to stay in it.
The Holy Cross roster is built to outrun teams, not outfox them. But the Crusaders have managed to score only 64 points a game. For sixty-four to be a winning total in Division I college basketball, you must play like a fox down the stretch. This is the Holy Cross conundrum. As the second half moved along and American stayed in the game despite poor shooting, we knew smarts would play a role at the end.
Dudzinski picked up his fourth foul chasing a rebound after yet another possession during which Holy Cross counted down to the end of the shot clock and came up with nothing but a long, out-of-rhythm jump shot. No smarts. Holy Cross led only 53-47.
My father turned to me. "First one to 60 wins?"
With 2:00 minutes left American coach Jeff Jones started the endgame by directing his players to hack R.J. Evans, Holy Cross's weakest free thrower. Evans missed three foul shots. But the strategy ultimately failed. Crusader coach Milan Brown was able to keep Evans in enough on defense - Evans corralled a key rebound - and out enough on offense that the Eagles had to foul Devin Brown, H.C.'s leading scorer, who made four free throws to seal the win. Holy Cross was just foxy enough.
No one made sixty. The final was 59-52.
After the game I sat across from my father in a restaurant off campus while he related the details of his stay at St. Vincent's. He patted his abdomen and said the doctors had cleared him of everything. Before we paid the tab, we reviewed the game. As usual, my father had seen it more depth than I had. He'd understood how the matchups on Hinkle had played out. He'd divined the coaches' strategies.
Now that Holy Cross was back at .500 in the league, on a modest run of three wins in four games, I was tempted to look at the next games - rematches with Lafayette and Bucknell. But my father would not indulge. He seemed plenty satisfied with even terms.
at HOLY CROSS 59, AMERICAN 52 02/11/2012
AMERICAN 16-9 (7-3) -- C. Hinkle 4-18 4-4 14; T. Brewer 3-8 0-0 9; D. Munoz 0-7 0-0 0; S. McCormack 4-6 0-0 8; B. Jolivette 0-3 0-0 0; T. Wroblicky 2-3 0-0 4; R. Grafft 0-0 0-0 0; M. Bersch 2-8 0-0 6; W. Simon II 2-2 0-0 5; J. Schoof 1-2 1-2 4; D. Fisher 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 19-59 5-6 52. HOLY CROSS 11-13 (5-5) -- D. Brown 4-13 4-6 14; R. Evans 2-5 2-8 6; J. Burrell 3-8 1-2 8; E. Obeysekere 3-6 0-0 6; M. Cavataio 1-3 0-0 2; T. Abt 2-3 0-0 5; J. Stevens 2-3 0-0 5; D. Dudzinski 4-8 2-3 10; M. Miller 1-2 0-0 3; P. Kerrigan 0-0 0-0 0; C. Mills 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 22-51 9-19 59.
Three-point goals: AMER 9-25 (T. Brewer 3-7; C. Hinkle 2-8; M. Bersch 2-5; D. Fisher 0-1; W. Simon 1-1; D. Munoz 0-1; J. Schoof 1-2), HC 6-16 (D. Brown 2-9; R. Evans 0-1; J. Stevens 1-2; J. Burrell 1-1; M. Miller 1-1; T. Abt 1-2); Rebounds: AMER 30 (C. Hinkle 8), HC 40 (R. Evans 8); Assists: AMER 12 (S. McCormack 4), HC 13 (M. Cavataio 3); Total Fouls -- AMER 20, HC 11; Fouled Out: AMER-S. McCormack; HC-None.