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League tournament finals preview: The second meeting

7 March, 2007

by

The first time Holy Cross and Bucknell met up this year, the Crusaders won 65-60 on Jan. 12. The second time, in Lewisburg, the Bison pulled out a 48-45 victory. The stars of the combined two games were Keith Simmons, who scored 37 points in the two contests, and Justin Castleberry, who scored 26 points coming off the bench in both games.

In the second face-off between the teams on Feb. 9, Bucknell was short-handed, without the use of Donald Brown. However, after losing the rebounding battle 31-22 when they had the use of Brown, the league’s leading rebounder, the Bison outrebounded Holy Cross 29-24 when they played without him. Additionally, in the second affair Chris McNaughton scored 10 points, after being held to 4 the first time. The reason? It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why, but it seemed to help that Darren Mastropaolo was under the basket alongside McNaughton. While Simmons could keep up with Brown, who’s only an inch taller than Simmons and plays a versatile, movement-based game that Simmons can keep up with, Mastropaolo is able to abuse his size advantage, meaning Holy Cross had to play Simmons on one of the wing players and trust its frontcourt against Bucknell’s. Mastopaolo had 7 points and 5 rebounds in the second game, and went to the free throw line 6 times, suggesting that it was a winning matchup for the Bison.

In addition, Holy Cross’ frontcourt had trouble on offense against Mastropaolo. Tim Clifford, Alex Vander Baan, Eric Meister and Greg McCarthy, who combined for 80 minutes, scored just 11 points on 4-of-14 shooting. It would seem a full reversal of the first meeting between these two teams: In Worcester, Bucknell’s guards had to shoot repeatedly because they couldn’t find entry against Holy Cross’ defense. But in Lewisburg, it was the Crusaders who were stuck chucking shots late in the shot clock. Torey Thomas struggled to 3-of-12 shooting, largely a function of him being asked to find shots as the clock was close to expiration.

Much like the first meeting between the teams, Holy Cross staked a big early lead, going up 12-2 on a Simmons three-ball just 3:22 into the game. The Crusaders led by at least two possessions for the rest of the first half, but Bucknell made its move in the late minutes of the first period. The Bison scored the last 4 points of the first stanza, and the first 6 of the second stanza to claim a 1-point lead. Bucknell opened a 6-point lead in the final minute, but nearly let the Crusaders back into the game. The Bison were 0-for-3 from the free throw line in the final 20 seconds, including the front end of a one-and-one. As a result, Holy Cross had a last-ditch shot to send it to overtime, which missed.

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