Bucknell had beaten Colgate eight straight games coming into the Patriot League semifinal game at Cotterell Court on Sunday, March 9 between the two teams. Even worse, in the last three years, Bucknell came to Hamilton and came back from double-digit deficits each time to win three regular season games. While Bucknell traveled up Route 12B with the pretension of extending its win streak to nine, Colgate had a different idea and clamped down on defense to beat the Bison, 54-40 and advance to the Patriot League finals against American.
The largest and most vocal crowd (1,301) of the season was on hand to “Blizzard out the Bison”. The first 500 students received white T-Shirts commemorating the day and the new slogan in hopes of intimidating the opponent. According to the Colgate coach, the crowd support helped the team tremendously.
“The students were witty, they were creative, they were boisterous,” Head Coach Emmett Davis said. “It was a great atmosphere. I think it really helped our players.”
In the first half, Colgate played some of the best defense ever witnessed at Cotterell Court. The Raiders held Bucknell to just 10 points on 23.1% shooting. They also forced 14 turnovers. Colgate’s offense wasn’t spectacular itself, but it was good enough to propel Colgate to a 27-10 lead.
However, Colgate couldn’t do anything on offense in the second half and Bucknell’s offense started to get it together and cut into the lead. At the 3:25 mark of the second half, a John Griffin free throw cut the lead to 39-35. Colgate upped the lead back to five on a free throw by senior Kendall Chones. This point was a serendipitous one, for Chones got fouled after rebounding a Daniel Waddy three-pointer that was let go well after the shot clock expired. Luckily, the refs did not notice. Bucknell got it right down to four again when Darren Mastropaolo went one-for-two from the charity stripe. But junior Kyle Roemer nailed a tough fadeaway jumper with a defender right in his face to extend the lead back to six. Raider defense came up huge again, as Waddy got a steal on the next possession, got fouled and knocked down two free throws. On the next Colgate possession, Waddy knocked down another foul shot to up the lead to nine. With 1:17 left Roemer laid the ball in to the basket to put the Raiders up 11. Bucknell never got the lead down to single digits again, and Colgate earned a hard-fought 54-40 victory.
The key to Colgate’s strong defensive effort was its ability to contain Bucknell star and senior guard John Griffin.
“We really keyed on Griffin,” Davis said. “He really hurt us earlier this year in the game we lost at our place in overtime.”
The game he was talking about was Bucknell’s 91-85 win on Cotterell Court on February 6th. In that game Griffin had 31 points and was simply unstoppable from beyond the arc. In the playoff game here, he had just 3 points, all from the charity stripe. He also missed five field goals on the day.
On offense, Roemer once agin led the way with 25 points, while Chones added 11 points and 6 boards.
Colgate’s then traveled to American on Friday, March 14th, with the Patriot League title and a trip to the NCAA tournament at stake. Colgate had never beaten American at Bender Arena in D.C., losing eight games in that daunting place. Although Colgate kept things close until the final minute, the Raiders couldn’t execute down the stretch and lost 52-46.
Both teams had trouble on the offensive end in the first half, with American clinging to a 27-24 lead after the first 20 minutes. An 8-0 run, led by Roemer and Chones (both had four points during the run), turned a four-point deficit into a 38-34 advantage at the 9:22 mark of the second half. However, star American guard Garrison Carr hit a momentum-changing three pointer to cut the lead back down to one on the next American
Junior Alex Woodhouse came right back with a shot to up the lead back to three. Then after two offensive boards, Cornelio Guibunda hit a lay-up to cut the lead back to one. On American’s next possession, Brian Gilmore hit two foul shots to put the Eagles back on top 41-40. On Colgate’s next possession, the Raiders retook the lead when Waddy rebounded a miss by junior Willie Morse and laid it in for a slim one-point lead. But Jordan Nichols came right back to lay the ball in and regain the lead for American. Waddy tied the game back up with a one-for-two performance from the charity stripe. Then Carr got two from the line to put American up by a couple. Captain Clutch, Kyle Roemer, hit a huge three to give Colgate a 46-45 lead with 2:24 in the game, but Nichols got an all-too-easy lay-up on the other end to put American back up one.
On the next possession, Waddy had a lay-up attempt blocked, but Derrick Mercer missed two foul shots on the next American possession, so the lead stayed at one. Colgate took a timeout, but it didn’t look like it was aware of the shot clock on the next possession as they passed it around well behind the three-point arc as the clock was running down. Waddy had to settle for a near-impossible running shot that clanked iron. American grabbed the board, and Gilmore was fouled again. He knocked both shots down to give American a 49-46 lead. Only down three Colgate still had a chance. However, Alex Woodhouse, who for some reason was handling the ball behind the three-point arc, turned it over. Colgate fouled Mercer, but this time he hit both shots to but American up 51-46 with 19 seconds left to seal the victory. Gilmore would add another foul shot down the stretch to give American a 52-46 win and a trip to the NCAA tournament.
Roemer was strong in defeat with 17 points; he had a whopping 74 points over the course of the Patriot League tournament. Kendall Chones added 13 points while Alex Woodhouse had an outstanding 16 boards, one short of the Patriot League championship record. He also chipped in eight points and four blocks to round out his gutsy and excellent effort on the afternoon. Carr had 17 points en route to being named the tournament MVP. Turnovers were the difference, as Colgate committed 16 while American only turned it over five times.
“If we hadn’t committed 16 turnovers, we probably would have played in the NCAA tournament,” Coach Davis said.
Despite the tough loss there is reason to be optimistic. Colgate tied a program record with 18 wins, and Davis took over the lead in career victories at Colgate with the win over Bucknell. Furthermore, Colgate returns its leading scorer (Roemer), and leading rebounder (Woodhouse). Don’t be surprised to see Colgate right back in the title game next season.