Holy Cross 59, Colgate 46

(Originally posted: Saturday, 6:11 p.m.)

Special to The Telegram&Gazette

HAMILTON, N.Y. – There have been times this season when Holy Cross has been an offensive juggernaut. During one recent stretch the Crusaders shot over 50 percent in six straight games and since losing in the conference opener at Bucknell, Holy Cross has made more than half its shots in 8 of the past 12 games.

Saturday afternoon at Colgate, though, it was the Crusaders’ trademark defense that made the difference in a 59-46 win that all but clinched a homecourt advantage throughout the Patriot League Tournament for Holy Cross (20-5, 11-1 Patriot League).

It was anything but pretty offensively. Holy Cross made five of its first nine attempts from the field, jumping to an early 13-5 lead, then made only 12 of the next 43 shots it put up, finishing the game 17-for-54 (31.5 percent).

That is not the kind of shooting that normally gets a win on the road, but the way the Crusaders played defense, it was more than enough.

“By holding them to 46 points, we didn’t have to score too much,” said HC senior Nate Lufkin. “You’re going to win a lot of those games when you hold your opponent under 50 points.”

Indeed, this was the third time this season Holy Cross has accomplished that feat. Predictably the Crusaders are 3-0 in those games.

This one had the look of a blowout early. Although Colgate (11-14, 6-6) jumped to a quick 5-0 lead on a pair of buckets by Alvin Reed, then went scoreless the next 5:35 while the Crusaders went on a 13-0 run. Holy Cross went on to build its lead to 23-9 and seemed to be on the way to blowout when Colgate’s shots began to fall.

After missing 19 of its first 26 tries, including a number of layups and easy put-backs under the basket, Colgate his 5-of-7 in the last 6:25 of the half. During that same stretch, Holy Cross started cooling off, making just 2-of-12.

The predictable result was a 17-5 Colgate spurt that drew the Raiders to within 2, 28-26, at the intermission.

Colgate scored first in the second half, tying the game on a pair of Andrew Zidar free throws. But Holy Cross quickly regained the lead on a Greg Kinsey runner from the right side that made it 30-28.

From there the Holy Cross defense took over. Colgate didn’t score its first field goal of the second half until the 12:51 mark. The Raiders managed only 4 more buckets the rest of the game. Colgate’s 19 percent shooting in the second half was even colder than the noses on the season-high 1,200 fans who wandered in off the Hamilton tundra for the contest.

Colgate, which averages seven three-pointers a game and shoots nearly 40 percent as a team from the arc, had only 5 against Holy Cross (on 16 tries, 31.3 percent). Freshman Kyle Roemer, the league’s top three-point shooter was 0-for-3 from the arc, finishing with just a single point, well below his 10 per game average. Jon Simon, who averaged 13 points per game coming in and ranked fifth in the league in three-point shooting, did shoot 50 percent from the arc. But with Holy Cross defenders in his face every time he got the ball, he only tried a pair of treys. Simon finished with just 6 points.

“We really wanted to contest Roemer and Simon,” said Lufkin. “We did not want them to get any open looks.”

Only Alvin Reed, who scored 10 of his game high 16 in the first half, and Andrew Zidar, who finished with 15 points thanks to a 6-for-6 day at the foul line, reached double figures for Colgate, which had not been held below 60 points in 24 previous games.

“We shot 31 percent and won by 13 points. That says something about how good we defended,” said Holy Cross coach Ralph Willard. “You couldn’t ask for a better defensive effort.”

It also helped that the Crusaders managed to get to the foul line 30 times, making 20. That gave them an 11-point edge on Colgate, which was 9-for-13 at the stripe. Obviously that is a significant edge in a 13-point game.

“Free throws were huge,” said Lufkin, who was 4-for-5 from the line, finishing with 10 points. “We missed some, but we made them when we needed them.”

Kevin Hamilton also took advantage of his time at the stripe, going 4-for-4 en route to a 14-point night, sharing the team scoring honors with Greg Kinsey. Torey Thomas added 9 points, including 6-for-8 free throw shooting.

Last year Holy Cross lost nine times by 9 or less points. As Willard has pointed out on more than one occasion, the fact that they shot just 59 percent from the line as a team had a lot to do with losing those close games.

This season the Crusaders are shooting close to 65 percent from the line. That helps explain why they finished the road portion of their schedule with an 11-3 record away from Worcester, including a 6-1 road mark in the Patriot League.

That also helps explain why the Crusaders are now in position to clinch the regular season title with a win in one of their last two games, both of which will be in the Hart Center. Do that and they also have the potential to play all three rounds of the league tournament at home, where no Patriot League team has beaten them since Jan. 25 of last year.

The Crusaders will try to clinch the title and avenge their only conference loss when they host Bucknell Wednesday in the Hart Center.

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