HC tunes up with win over Dartmouth

Make no mistake about it. This was exactly what Ralph Willard hoped it would be: a tune-up for Saturday's conference opener at Bucknell.

Dartmouth, picked to finish last in the Ivy League, put up a little opposition. Down by 10 at the half, the Big Green managed to cut the deficit to 3 twice in the second half. But the team picked to finish last in the Ivy League was ultimately no match for the team expected to contend for the Patriot League.

From the Worcester Telegram:
Holy Cross found its double-digit lead sliced to 43-40 as the Big Green came out strong to start the second half. But the visitors turned the ball over seven times in the next 10 minutes while being held to two field goals as the Crusaders extended their advantage to 65-46.
The defensive effort gave HC enough of a cushion to allow Willard to play all 12 guys on the roster, saving the starters legs for Saturday. Only Kevin Hamilton-- who was all over the box score with a game high 16 points, 8 rebounds (also game high), 4 assists, 4 steals and a block-- played more than 30 minutes.

“I think in order for this team to be successful, I need to be more than a one-dimensional player,” Hamilton told the Telegram. “I can’t just be a shooter."

After a pair of uncharacteristic shootout-type wins in late December, where HC binged on offense like New Year's dieters on Girl Scout cookies, the Crusaders are back to their lunch pail defensive style, much to Willard's delight.

You can almost see him cracking a slight smile when he told Mark Cofman of the Boston Herald:
I thought we defended very well. At one point in the second half, we had 13 straight (defensive) stops.
You might recall, the last time HC played an Ivy (Dec. 21 at Brown), they scored 84 points but gave up 71, allowing Brown to shoot 49 percent from the field, much to Willard's chagrin.

Four games later, it is obvious they are back to drinking the Kool Aid. In those four games, three of which were wins, nobody has shot better than 43 percent against Holy Cross. The only loss in that stretch, a 64-59 setback at the hands of a pretty good Vermont club, came at the free throw line, not the defensive end, where the Crusaders held UVM to 41 percent shooting.

In other words, they appear to be playing the type of basketball Willard would like to see heading into conference play. Especially heading into a game that has rare early season significance. With Bucknell and Holy Cross each expected to contend for the Patriot title, the winner Saturday gets an mental edge that might be worth even more than the one game it counts for in the standings.

We'll preview that game in more depth tomorrow.

Meanwhile, back to the Herald story:
"We do our best work when we're digging in defensively,'' said (Nate) Lufkin, a 6-foot-11 senior center. "Dartmouth made it close for a while, but we were finally able to put them away because we turned up our defense a notch. That's our trademark."
It has been Bucknell's trademark, too.

Let the games begin.

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