By Peter McClelland
(Willimantic CT) The good news? Five. The bad news? Five. Huh, how does that work? Let me explain.
Last night the Gordon College Fighting Scots defeated Eastern Connecticut State University 68 – 63 in nonconference action in Connecticut.
The Gordon victory snapped an 0-for-December and gave the Scots their 5th win of the season versus 4 losses.
If you’re paying attention “five” has shown up twice so far.
What about the other five? Well, because of the length of the trip I decided to travel with the team. You know, sit back, relax, stop for food etc……..but that was on the way down. The trip back? Did I need to spend five hours (10:30 PM – 3:30 AM) near the Sturbridge Tolls on Route 84 while a blown tire was being dealt with?
I went to report a basketball game but I can also enlarge my report to inform you that the team handled the delay beautifully. And for those of you who have watched Coach Mike Schauer on the sidelines of a basketball game won’t be surprised that he paced the bus aisle. No, he didn’t run and holler!
Anyway, back to the reason for going to Willimantic.
The Scots and Warriors both needed this one desperately. Those four-game losing streaks will do that to teams. The defense was intense and man-to-man throughout. Those thinking basketball is a non-contact sport weren’t watching the screens and rebounding happening in this one. Open shots were few.
“You have to fatigue yourself in defense to win,” reported Coach Schauer afterwards. “We were trying to deny every pass.” And trust me, Eastern was playing it the same way.
This kind of defensive approach rescued Eastern in the first half but ultimately turned the game for Gordon late in the second half.
And it was a good thing Eastern had that defense going because as Coach Bill Geitner put it, “Offensively we set the game of basketball back 100 years in the first 11 minutes.” Strong statement? How do two points sound? Yet Gordon over that same stretch had only eight points. “I was concerned but Gordon wasn’t that far in front,” said Coach Geitner recalling the first half.
Mark Beebe (freshman-Clive IA) delivered a three to give Gordon a 10-point spread (16-6) and a lay-up by Jon Marstaller (Freshman-Naples ME) maintained that edge (20-10) with six minutes left. The rest of the half the Warrior defense began to turn up points and Gordon found they trailed 27-25 at halftime.
At the start of the second half Eastern jacked that lead up to 35-27 thanks to a Mike Bartunek trey after three minutes. You knew that Gordon wouldn’t quit but you wondered if they had enough left to make a game of it. Well, they did. Doing things the hard way, Jon Marstaller made a three the old-fashioned way followed by a Justin Kaufman (Freshman- Redding CT) trey from the top of the key. These plays knotted things at 50 with 6:45 on the clock.
But the Warriors big man (Jeroy Smith – 6’4” 260 pounds) cashed in twice inside to show that they weren’t done either. With 3 ½ to go the Warriors were still on top, 59-56.
However, at this juncture, quite unexpectedly everything began to go right for Gordon. The Scots put together the biggest run (9 points) of the game and secured a 6-point lead (65-59) that they took to the bank.
Mike Herr (sophomore – Lampeter PA) started it with a lay-up in heavy traffic. Justin Kaufman followed with the defensive play of the game. Crowding the wing he jumped in front of a pass and was off for a lay-up + one down the other end. Then after an in-and-outer by Matt Albon from the corner it was Mike Herr’s turn and he didn’t miss from the left corner.
“I was pleased that defense played such a big part in this win,” said Coach Schauer. “Justin’s steal was huge.
“They were unlucky when their three went in-and-out and Mikey’s three sealed it.”
The loss was very frustrating for Warrior Coach Bill Geitner. “We (now 3-6) have had trouble closing games out. This is typical of what has been happening. We executed poorly down the stretch and it cost us.
“Credit Gordon. They’re a good team and they kept scrapping. They picked up the intensity and pressured our wings a little more than they had earlier. We should have been coming to meet the ball but we didn’t.
Star of the Game – I’m going with the Gordon defense. No names needed just hard working from beginning to end. Eastern had a force inside in Jeroy Smith. As it was he had 22 points and 10 rebounds. But when the game was on the line the Gordon defense frustrated Warrior attempts to get him the ball and Eastern had to settle for higher-risk long ones.
Coming Out Party – Aaron Vogelzang (Junior – Jericho VT) had his best game at Gordon. He poured in 14 points – including two treys and he was a big part of the defensive effort in 25 minutes of action. “Aaron’s contributions were important, in fact, we don’t win without what he gave us tonight,” added Coach Schauer.
There When You Need Him – Mike Herr and his 18 points-per-game average had an unlikely 1-for-7, two-point showing in the first half. You knew that couldn’t last. Back he came in the second half with 14 points including the game-on-the-line three in the last minute-and-a-half.
A Tie Is Like Kissing Your Sister – I know it’s the wrong context but Assistant Coach Jeremy Martin’s tie….even some of the Eastern crowd from across the court wondered about pink stripes!
“It was nice to get our 5th non-conference win (against one loss) and it’s especially important to be able to play well on the road,” said Coach Schauer.
Ahead for Gordon is nationally ranked Wheaton (Ill) on Thursday evening (7PM) at the Bennett Center. If there was ever a game that the Scots could use some fan support this would be it.