(Wenham MA) “This is why you coach and play; to be part of games like this,” said Nichols coach Brandon Linton post-game.
Those at the Bennett Center saw history made and got a full-game dose of close, hard-fought action.
There was a playoff atmosphere plus the bonus of being in the building as senior Eric Demers took over the top spot as Gordon’s all-time scoring leader.
The last two times the teams faced each other was in the Commonwealth Coast Conference championship game in February at the Hart Center in Worcester on the campus of Holy Cross.
Gordon didn’t fare so well in that one, getting down early and not having the firepower to rally back.
Nichols went from there into the D3 tournament and reached the Elite Eight. The Bison closed with a 28-3 record.
Good team this year, as well, with two CCC All-Stars (DeAnte Bruton & Matt Morrow) returning.
But Gordon has Eric Demers back and that was almost enough to defeat Nichols.
Along the way tonight Eric became Gordon’s all-time leading scorer…..and it didn’t take long!
Eric needed eleven points to pass Garrisson Duviver for the top spot. With Eric’s ability and willingness to shoot, you knew that this was the game the milestone would be reached.
Four shots in he had twelve points and the record! And Gordon had an 18-4 lead.
But you knew that the Bison (7-1) weren’t going away. This is a team that is 97-11 in the CCC over the last 6+ seasons.
“We’re used to fighting adversity,” said DeAnte Bruton afterwards. “We just had to pull through.”
The team from Dudley did catch up but the Scots (5-3) refused to fold up and go away.
“Our success this season will depend on how we handle adversity,” said Eric Demers afterwards. “Against Emerson (home opener in November) we rolled over when things got tough. Tonight, even though we lost, we showed some fight.”
Actually, plenty of fight. Eric led the way with twenty-five points in the second half, finding openings against a defense that was keyed to limit him.
Some of the breathing room Eric found in the second half was the result of foul trouble for defensive ace Nate Tenaglia that forced him to the bench and away from Eric.
Eric without Nate hounding him was like most of us at Christmas if the filled cookie jar has us in the kitchen with it and no one watching! Party time!
Nate returned later in the second half and it was his defense that turned this game Nichols’ way in overtime.
The game could have ended in regulation with Gordon winning, but not on this night.
Freshman Justin Yu made a gutsy three to push GC in front, 71-68, with twenty-six seconds left. Get a defensive stop and win the game.
But DeAnte Bruton (25 points) had other plans. The Bison rushed downcourt without using a timeout and DeAnte was able to get a good look at a three for NC. Tie game but with time left (nine seconds) for a Gordon answer.
You knew who would take the last shot for the Scots, or so you thought you did. Eric, as it turned out, took the next-to-the-last shot and the rebound came back to freshman Garrett Sattazahn at the foul line. Garrett’s quick put back rimmed out and we moved into overtime.
The five-minute overtime will never be part of any Gordon basketball highlight viewing. Nichols wasn’t all that great either. They only scored five points while Gordon had just two points.
The worst of it for the Scots in the disastrous OT was the final fifty-five seconds. The Scots had the ball four different times and turned it over without a shot on each possession. That’s a tough ending!
Nate Tenaglia (5-9) was the engine that drove the Bison in the OT. He opened the scoring with a jump shot and later had two free throws in front of the enthusiastic GC student section. He also had two steals.
“Nate was terrific,” said Coach Linton. “He’s a dog and we love him.”
“Nate’s one of the toughest defenders I face all year,” said Eric. “He’s good at what he does. That’s how he gets his minutes. His steals in the end were huge.”
Gordon coach Tod Murphy lamented the end of regulation: “I did a poor job of game management late. After Justin made that shot, I should have called a time-out immediately to get us set defensively. We had a three-point lead. Instead, we gave up kind of an uncontested three that tied the game.”
Eric ended up with forty-nine points and ten rebounds. Easily the best game I’ve seen him play.
“I know that Eric would much rather have a game like this that ended up as a win,” said Coach Murphy.
The GC coach wants more from the rest of the Scots: “We got really stagnant offensively in the second half. Too many times we were standing around waiting for Eric to do something. We have to continue to move.”
“This was two great players, Demers and DeAnte, going at it,” said Coach Linton post-game.
Let me respectfully disagree with the first-year coach. To leave 6-8 junior Matt Morrow out of the “great player” conversation for this game is a serious oversight. Matt didn’t have the splash-and-dash of Eric and DeAnte, but he did have twenty points and twenty-one rebounds. He made it look easy in close, especially when 6-11 Parker Omslaer wasn’t in the game.
In my interviews with Coach Linton and DeAnte Bruton I referenced the zone defense that the Scots have played the last two seasons.
“It definitely threw us off,” said DeAnte. “We knew they would be using it and we tried to beat them in transition and get some easy shots.”
“The zone slowed us down” said Coach Linton. “Their zone is tough. It’s long and they’ve got a bunch of smart guys playing it. We had our hands full.”
The Scots beat Nichols last January at Nichols and Coach Murphy thought that they should have done it again tonight. “We had our chances. We were on our home court. We had a great crowd. We just made too many mental mistakes. We’re inexperienced and it showed late.”
DeAnte regarding Nate Tenaglia: “He was big in the overtime. Guarding Eric Demers meant fighting through five screens on most possessions. He’ll need an ice pack tomorrow.”
I did my homework on Eric’s first points. They came in the home opener against Lesley in November of 2015. “I absolutely remember that first basket (a three),” said Eric as he pointed to the visitor’s end. “It was a three in the first half from the top of the key and Jaren Yang had the assist.”
Jim Petty (1991-94) was in the house. He was Gordon’s All-Time top scorer until Garrisson Duvivier and Eric came along. Eric went past Jim last game against Curry. Garrisson had gotten the top spot last season in the CCC semifinal game against Roger Williams.
Jim told me before the game that he was amazed that he had stayed at the top for so long. “It surprises me,” he said, “that no one has scored two thousand points here yet.” It is safe to say that Eric has an excellent chance to reach that level with 17+ games left.
Eric on the season: “I think last year we were playing more for the record, hoping to get ranked and get an at-large bid. We threw that out the window in the summer this year. We’re young and we’ve got to get better every single day and prepare to play three games late in February.”
Best player in the gym? Probably Marcos Echevarria. Fortunately, for opponents, the former Bison and all-time CCC top scorer has graduated and now is an assistant coach at Nichols.
DeAnte Bruton had 32 points against Gordon in the CCC championship game.
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