By Peter McClelland
(Wenham) – Beat a talented, veteran team like Colby-Sawyer three times in one season? Only an optimist could expect that to happen and it didn’t.
The Colby-Sawyer Chargers (now 17-9 and on a seven-game winning streak) overwhelmed Gordon from start to finish and won with surprising ease, 67-51, at the Bennett Center before a crowd that can be accurately described as “awesome.” That crowd never let up and even stuck around afterwards to respond to the farewell salute the players gave them after the Gordon players congratulated Colby-Sawyer for their victory.
For 18 straight wins we’ve been treated to a whole lot of great basketball by the Scots. What we saw in this one probably had some of the first-time attendees wondering what all the excitement was about. Missing was the defense that had held opponents to a nationally ranked 57.6 points per game. Also absent was an inkling of shooting accuracy especially from long-range where the Scots could manage just 5 of 24 including missing their last eight attempts when visions of a Nichols-like comeback were dancing in some of our heads.
But the visitors showed a two-dimensional game that was not seen in the two earlier meetings in which Gordon prevailed. “The difference in this game was that we made shots in the first half which we haven’t done consistently,” explained C/S Coach Bill Foti afterwards. “When we made shots on the outside they weren’t able to sag in solely on the All-American (Andrew St.Clair – 6’6” senior) inside.”
What made this game tough to watch was that the Chargers executed down both ends the way the Scots have been executing during the lengthy win streak. Their offense was patient and they were able to pass and cut their way into nice offensive opportunities. On defense they refused to give up the inside to post moves and allowed very few open drives to the basket.
“They played harder than we did,” said Gordon Coach Mike Schauer after the game. “I was disappointed that we didn’t respond better. We looked youthful for the first time in a long time.”
Some games are decided late – recall Nichols Tuesday night. In this one the cows left the barn in the first half. Tyler Fournier (6’ junior), Nate Truncellito (6’2” junior) and James Thorpe (6’5” senior) put an eight-point run together over a two-minute stretch and the Charger lead jumped from, 9-8, to, 17-8. Later in the half it was Pat Kenny (6’ junior) and Andrew St.Clair (6’6” senior) joining Mr. Thorpe in a 2 ½ minute spurt of ten unanswered points and the Charger lead shot from, 19-13, to, 29-13, with 4 ½ minutes left in the half.
There was still a lot of time left but unfortunately Gordon was playing a team with plenty of seniors. Those Charger seniors were 10 for 14 in the first half. A major comeback was a lot more likely against a roster of underclassmen like Nichols had. Gordon trailed, 34-18, at the half.
“I told the team at halftime that I was convinced that Gordon was going to come back and that they would make shots,” said Coach Foti. “We just had to counter-punch.”
Colby-Sawyer got the lead all the way up to, 40-20, after three minutes before the Scots made their move. Believe me, it didn’t happen all at once but if you were sitting there you wondered if a comeback of the proportions of the Nichols one (down 14 points in the second half) could happen again.
The Scots cut the Charger lead to eight (54-46) on a Mike Herr (6’5” junior – Lampeter PA) three and a little bit later were down nine (56-47) on a Justin Kaufman (5’11” sophomore – Redding CT) free throw with 5 ½ minutes left. Twice the Scots got the ball back and missed 3’s (make those two and it’s a 3-point game!) before Scott Butterworth (senior – Hamilton MA) restored C/S’s double-digit lead (58-47) with a back-breaking jumper with four minutes left. Gordon couldn’t get inside 10 points the rest of the way.
James Thorpe had a monster game for Colby-Sawyer knocking down four 3’s on his way to 19 points including 11 in the first half when this game was decided.
Andrew St.Clair was the MVP in the CCC last year and will be again this year. He was the top scorer in the league this year with 20.8 points per game. He was “held” to 14 points in this game but his presence down low created all sorts of Charger shots outside as defenders sagged to help Jon Marstaller (6’5” sophomore – Naples ME) out. He got his 2000th point in this game and was given the ball and a nice ovation by the crowd. Don’t forget the 13 rebounds and 5 assists he had in this one, as well.
Collin Bray (5’10” senior) is a senior version of Gordon’s Justin Kaufman. He has the ball a lot and did impact the outcome. In this one he had seven assists including five in the first half when the Chargers got off to the great start. He also was eight-for-eight from the foul line in the second half when the Scots were forced to foul.
Colby-Sawyer will play for the championship on Saturday night against Endicott at Endicott. They met twice this season with Endicott winning a close one at home and the Chargers winning big at New London. This will be a game that a real fan of basketball wouldn’t miss even though our Scots won’t be in it.
Is the Gordon season really over? Let me quote Coach Schauer: “Our chances for an at-large bid aren’t zero. Even with this loss the quality-of-wins index still has us among the top 25 teams in the country. We need a few things to go our way. If there are upsets in some tournaments we’re in a little bit of trouble. We need WPI to win their league and either Tufts or Amherst to win theirs.” The teams in the NCAAs will be listed, I’m told, on D3Hoops at 10PM on Sunday night.
Here’s Coach Bill Foti’s take on the NCAA’s: “It’s my hope that Gordon gets an at-large bid. You can not ignore a win streak (18) like they had. If it happens it will be the first time that our conference (Commonwealth Coast) has had two teams make it.”
Coach Foti enjoyed the crowd. “They were loud and having fun. They were respectful and all that and didn’t get mean and nasty. They fired us up as well.” He might have added that the Endicott crowd his team will face tomorrow night will probably display none of those good-behavior traits!
The most optimistic thing I took from this game came from a comment Coach Schauer made to me in our interview after the game. He said, “I think we’re going to be here again.” I took that to mean playing home games in the CCC tournament next year. This team has a lot of good players coming back and if they can find ways to replace seniors; Pete Hassler, Aaron Vogelzang, and John Beebe it could happen. I sure hope to be watching!
That sign for “JLo” had me looking for…never mind, my wife might read this…………………..Gordon finished with a 23-4 record if there is no at-large bid. Truly extraordinary!…………….Over the previous 14 games Colby-Sawyer was 12-2 with both losses coming against Gordon. You think they might have had a score to settle?………………There was a Homecoming atmosphere to the crowd with so many former players and graduates on hand. The last game some of those folks had seen at Gordon was at Rhodes Gymnasium in back of the library. I wonder how they liked parking nearly ½ mile from the current gym? I wonder what the first-timers thought of the MUSIC?………………..One Colby-Sawyer fan got lost and didn’t arrive until close to half-time. I heard him explain afterwards that he thought the team was losing because of the crowd noise………………..Jerry Logan (6’ junior – Marietta GA) had an unusual game – no field goals and seven rebounds………….I’ve learned since the last game that Aaron Vogelzang (6’3” senior – Jericho VT) played a large role in the Nichols win. He deflected the ball away from Casey Butler that ended up in Jon Marstaller’s hands for the winning basket. He also defended Ron Powers when he missed the last shot of the game down the other end…………………….The Chargers had several shots that were air balls but ended up being scoring chances for other Chargers…………………….Andrew St.Clair drove nearly the length of the court to put in a runner at halftime…………….Nate Truncellito hit a couple of 3’s from NBA distance. He gave the crowd a heavy stare after draining one of them because they had been taunting him for an air ball……………..I want to thank the home stat crew for taking care of me this home season, especially Nikita.