(Wenham) The expected nail-biter didn’t materialize as the Scots broke away from a tie game (18-18) with a 16-2 run and had enough good shooting the rest of the way to defeat Wentworth 73-61 in the first round of the Commonwealth Coast Conference playoffs on Tuesday evening at the Bennett Center.
Gordon (18-8) will now face 2nd seed Roger Williams in Bristol, Rhode Island on Thursday night (7PM) in the semifinals. The Scots lost down there 68-57 on January 23rd.
“We beat Wentworth tonight by making a ton of shots,” explained Gordon Coach Mike Schauer afterwards. “We got off to a quick start and gained confidence.”
The Scots drilled nine 3-pointers in the first half. That long-distance accuracy in the opening half really kicked in during the decisive 16-2 streak. The long-range marksmen during this segment were Jeff Derr (sophomore-6′8″-Barrington IL) (2), Aaron Trigg (sophomore-6′1″-Overland Park KS) (1) and Justin Kaufman (senior-5′11″-Redding CT) (1). Jeff’s second one hit just about every part of the rim before finally going in.
All that fine shooting put Gordon ahead 34-20 with 5:15 until halftime. However, Wentworth road hot-shooting Sherrad Prezzie-Blue and lessened their deficit to 42-34 at the half.
Prezzie-Blue’s first half show (21 points including the last ten Leopard points) was remarkable. “He was questionable about playing today,” Wentworth Coach Tom Devitt told me afterwards. “Last night he got a deep calf bruise near the end of practice. He didn’t sleep at all last night and was in the whirlpool for 1 ½ hours today.”
The Leopards closed to 45-38 a minute into the second half on a Todd Doyle jumper but that was the best they could do. “We couldn’t come all the way back and a lot of the credit goes to Gordon’s defense,” said Coach Devitt.
“We did a lot better job of defending the interior,” recalled Coach Schauer. “We knew that Prezzie-Blue would get more shots but we did better with the rest of their team.”
The Scots struck from close range in the second half to put together nine straight and stretched their margin to 58-40 with just under 15 minutes left. The inside points were scored by Mike Schnackenberg (senior-6′6″-South Portland ME) (5), Jeff (2) and Justin (2). Justin’s foul line jumper came after he sprinted up the court for the open look catching the Leopards by surprise.
For a game probably remembered for great shooting the next 13 Scot possessions were anything but that. Covering nearly 9 ½ minutes Gordon managed just three points – Mike Schnackenberg layup on an inbounds play and a Justin Kaufman free throw. If there was ever a window of opportunity for a comeback by the Leopards this Scot scoring drought was that opportunity. However, the visitors tallied just ten points including an impressive jam by Weonard Bynes following up a missed shot.
So despite the dry spell the Scots still had a 61-50 lead with a little over five minutes left. Then Aaron Trigg duplicated Prezzie-Blue’s first half ten-point run with one of his own. He dialed long distance twice and got the answers he wanted and also nailed a jumper and two free throws. This special individual effort put the Scots into the comfort zone (71-52) with two minutes left and they coasted in from there.
Aaron topped the Scots in points (22), rebounds (7), and assists (5). He had 32 points against Wentworth last time.
“We saw that Gordon struggled when their big men got into foul trouble against Bates, Husson, and ENC,” said Coach Devitt. “We got Jon Marstaller (senior-6′5″-Naples ME) into foul trouble but Schnackenberg and Derr stepped up.” Jeff was especially impressive getting a season-high 17 points in a season-high 23 minutes.
Coach Schauer has nothing but the highest of respect for Wentworth. “They are well coached and they have classy kids. It is an honor to have a kid like Sherrad Prezzie-Blue be the premier player in our league. He plays as hard as he can. He keeps his mouth shut. At least he had only 29 points tonight. Last year it was 30.”
Coach Devitt was not sure if his team’s season was over or not. “We may get into the ECACs. We’re 14-11 and Endicott got in with a record like that last year.”
If the Leopards don’t make the ECACs then Coach Devitt was savoring his recollections of Prezzie-Blue’s career at Wentworth. “He has been the single reason that this program has landed on any type of map. He’s nearly reached 1800 points and shot nearly 50% during his career. I can’t say enough about him. I will miss him greatly.”
Coach Devitt informed me that Sherrad wants to continue playing basketball. “Whether it’s in Ireland or England, I think he can. He’s young enough where he can play a year or two and see the world a little bit.”
He also told me about the relationship between Justin Kaufman and Sherrad Prezzie-Blue. “There’s a mutual respect between them. However they do it now, whether it’s IM or Face book, they communicate a lot. They’re both from the same part of Connecticut. I said “hello” to Justin before the game and congratulated him for being named to the CCC 2nd team. Justin said to me, “Coach, I can’t believe your colleagues didn’t vote Sherrad as player of the year.” I told him, “It’s all your fault.” Justin limited Sherrad to just three points the first time the two teams met in January.
So it is on to Roger Williams for the semifinals on Thursday night. The Scots will have to do a better job against the CCC Player-of-the-Year (6-11 Geoff Barranger) to have a chance in this one. No question that the kind of interior defense the Scots played against Wentworth would be sufficient if they can combine another strong shooting performance with it.
The crowd numbers were down a bit but the student section had its voice back. They made a difference. A win at RWU and a Curry loss brings the championship game to the Bennett Center on Saturday. Now wouldn’t that be fun!