HC tames 'Pards, Zoo Crew

Originally posted 9:59 p.m. Friday

Special to The Telegram&Gazette

EASTON, Pa. – Lafayette’s Kirby Sports Center has not always been a friendly place for the Holy Cross Crusaders. In six of the past seven seasons, Kirby has had the best attendance in the Patriot League, with the yellow clad Zoo Crew student section leading a loud, hostile crowd.

Not surprisingly, the Crusaders had lost at Lafayette in six of those seven annual visits, with just a 76-70 victory in 2003 on the W side of the ledger since the 1998 season.

Last night, though, it was all Holy Cross. The Crusaders sprinted to a 13-2 lead early, taking the crowd of 2,407 out of the equation en route to a workman-like 74-57 win. It was the Crusaders’ sixth win in a row, their eighth in the last nine games. More important, coupled with American’s 68-59 win over Bucknell, the only league team to beat HC thus far, it gave the Crusaders (14-5, 5-1 Patriot League) a share of first place in the Patriot League with the Bison.

The Crusaders led by as many as 15 points in the first half, and probably should have held a bigger lead than the 31-18 margin it took to the locker rooms at the half. Holy Cross held big edges in shooting and rebounding through the first 20 minutes, hitting 13-of-27 shots (48 percent) and grabbing 20 rebounds, 7 more than Lafayette (5-14, 1-5), which made only 5 first-half field goals (on 22 tries).

But Holy Cross matched Lafayette turnover for turnover in the half, each team giving the ball away 12 times. Lafayette’s turnovers were understandable, given the pressure defense Holy Cross was playing. The Crusaders’ turnovers, though, were more self-induced than they were the result of Lafayette’s 2-3 zone.

“I had a feeling this might happen to us,” said HC coach Ralph Willard. “It was (freshman point guard) Pat Doherty’s first road game as a starter and I had a feeling we might be a little disjointed.”

To be fair to Doherty, only two of the 12 were his. The blame was actually fairly evenly spread, with Keith Simmons to only Crusaders who didn’t turn it over in the half.

Lafayette’s turnovers were the result of Holy Cross’ seven steals and generally poor passing. The Leopards passed the ball to the scorers’ table, threw it to the sausage stand behind the basket at the open end, hit Holy Cross defenders in the hands and their own teammates in the feet.

Many of Holy Cross’ giveaways, on the other hand, came when open guys shuffled their feet before putting the ball on the floor, or simply lost the handle.

It really didn’t matter. The Crusaders cut down on their turnovers in the second half, finishing with just 19, and shot the ball even better after the break, knocking down 65-percent (15-23) of their tries. Much of the second half shooting improvement was the result of getting the ball into Nate Lufkin in the paint. The 6-11 senior scored all of his 11 points after the intermission. In the first half he didn’t take a shot.

“I was making myself available, being more aggressive,” said Lufkin. “The first half I was too passive.”

Lufkin’s emergence also opened things up for Holy Cross on the perimeter. After making 2-of-10 three-point tries in the first half, the Crusaders drained 4-of-7 in the second, led by Kevin Hamilton, who hit both the treys he tried in the second half, finishing with a game-high 22 points. Keith Simmons, who hit the other two HC triples in the second half, finished with 18 points.

With that kind of shooting, the usually boisterous Kirby crowd never was a factor. The student section was reduced to a Petting Zoo Crew, as docile as the pink t-shirts they are wearing these days. For almost the entire second half, the crowd noise resembled a mall or a busy airport, not library quiet, but certainly not fanatical loud. It was as if the crowd was engaged in a thousand or so private conversations, which they interrupted occasionally for polite applause when Lafayette made a bucket.

“In the past, it has definitely been a harder environment to play in,” Lufkin said. “Getting that early lead took the crowd out of it.”

The only time the Zoo Crew got rowdy was when the local cable TV crew pointed a camera their way during a timeout. The loudest, most sustained cheering of the night came with about a minute to play, when seldom-used Lafayette reserve Leo Stinson checked in, bringing a foot-stomping, hand-clapping Leo-Leo chant from about a dozen fans perched high behind the Leopards bench.

Even when Lafayette briefly cut Holy Cross’ lead from 20 down to 12 with a barrage of three-pointers, the crowd never caught a spark. More than likely that was because after two of those threes, Holy Cross got the ball to Lufkin, who finished with a driving layup the first time and an authoritative slam the second.

Maybe the Lafayette fans were just waiting for the home team to make a run. But that never happened.

“We shot the ball pretty well,” Willard said. “It’s tough to make a run at a team that is shooting 65 percent.”

Jamaal Douglas was the only Lafayette player in double figures, finishing with 14 points.

The Crusaders will look to complete a sweep on this weekend swing to Pennsylvania on Sunday, when they travel a few miles down I-78 to visit the defending league champion Mountain Hawks of Lehigh.

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