Much like the 2007 New York Football Giants, it is imperative that the men’s basketball team becomes “Road Warriors” before the start of the Patriot League ledger, as Colgate will play nine of its 13 pre-conference games away from the cozy confines of Cotterell Court. The Raiders most certainly knew this fact heading into Hard Hittin’ New Britain, Connecticut for their season opener against the Central Connecticut State University Blue Devils, and thanks to a Mike Venezia buzzer-beater, they started the 2008-09 season on the right foot with a gritty 58-57 road win.
“The guys did a great job listening, staying poised, and making the right decisions,” Head Coach Emmett Davis said.
The starting unit fared well in the opening minutes, jumping out to a quick 10-2 lead. However, CCSU didn’t let the deficit move to double digits much in part to a whopping nine offensive rebounds in the first half. The rebounding differential (40-33 in favor of CCSU) was one of the reasons why Colgate could not establish a large lead on this night.
“We’ve got to do a better job blocking out,” Davis said. “We had a number of [problems] on defensive rotations and we had some floor balance issues.”
On the other end of the court, rookie point guard Anthony Hill knocked down two long-range jumpers, while senior guard Willie Morse showed why he has one of the sweetest strokes in the Patriot League by making three three-pointers and adding an and-one. Colgate led 33-28 at the break.
The second half started ominously for the Raiders, as CCSU kept controlling the paint. The Blue Devils went on a quick 8-0 run thanks to three lay-ups and two free throws, and on the other end, Colgate couldn’t hit the backside of the barn. After Davis called a 30-second timeout to regroup the troops, Woodhouse scored a lay-up, accrued a steal and then outletted the ball to senior point guard Tre Vinson for another lay-up to give Colgate the lead. However, the Vinson bucket began a five-minute scoring drought for the Raiders. CCSU didn’t take full advantage of this boon though and only scored six points in this span. Colgate junior forward Ben Jonson’s lay-up ended the scoring rut and cut the lead to three points. From there, the two teams traded points until the final few minutes of play, when things started to get interesting. Vinson, who had a solid all-round game, tossed in a clutch three-pointer as the shot clock buzzer sounded to bring Colgate within one point with 2:52 left.
“Tre Vinson was outstanding,” Davis said. “He controlled the tempo of the game and got us into the offense. He played like a veteran.”
However, a foul on the other end sent CCSU’s Joe Seymore to the line for a one-and-one. Seymore made the first free throw, but he missed the second. Unfortunately, the ball bounced into the waiting hands of CCSU forward Marcus Palmer, and after some passing, CCSU guard Aaron Hall scored a huge lay-up to give the Blue Devils a four-point lead with two minutes left. Woodhouse and Hall traded baskets again, but Venezia made a free-throw line jumper co cut the lead to two points. After a CCSU miss, Jonson was fouled and sent to the line for a one-and-one. The Dallas native calmly sank the first free throw but missed the second, and CCSU went to the line, but Hall missed the front end of a one-and-one. Woodhouse got the rebound and passed it to Vinson, who handed it off to Venezia. The shooting guard reversed the ball to Jonson and got the ball back off a screen from Woodhouse. Then Venezia put up a shot fake, dribbled right and sank a buzzer-beating jumper just inside the three-point line for the win! Believe it or not, this hand-off play was not random, as Colgate has used it in the past.
“Coach Davis designed (this version of the hand-off) right beforehand, so it was good execution by all five of us,” Venezia said. “It’s a play we run a lot. It’s a misdirection that we run in transition when the defense isn’t set. It’s one of our more effective plays.”
For Colgate, Morse led all scorers with 12, and Venezia accrued 10. Woodhouse had his typical all-around game, filling up the stat sheet with eight points, 10 boards, four steals, three blocks and five turnovers. For CCSU, Horton had 18 points and 10 boards to lead CCSU. However, the most notable CCSU statistic was its absymal free throw performance (12-for-22).
Overall, it was a great start to the season for Colgate.
“It was a total team win,” Coach Davis said. “That’s how we’re going to win this year.”
Colgate will now play at Dartmouth on Saturday at 7 p.m.