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February 22, 2002
Vol. 43 No. 16

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Crusaders nearly upset Jays

The Susquehanna men's basketball team came tantalizingly close to upsetting fourth-ranked Elizabethtown in the Middle Atlantic Conference Commonwealth Conference semifinals Wednesday night, but lost 80-77 when sophomore guard Nick Griffiths' 3-pointer bounced off the rim as time expired.

Elizabethtown's Rocky Parise connected on a 3-pointer to give the Blue Jays a 79-77 lead with 41 seconds remaining, and they escaped after a pair of near-miss outside shots by Griffiths and sophomore captain guard Chris Zimmerman.

"I told our players to fight for 40 minutes," Head Coach Frank Marcinek said. "They did, and I'm proud of how hard they played."

Griffiths led the Crusaders (14-12) with 24 points on 10-of-16 shooting from the field, including 4-of-7 from beyond the arc, and Zimmerman added 19 points and seven assists. Despite facing the third-best shooting team in the nation, the Crusaders shot 53 percent from the field to Elizabethtown's 49 percent. The Crusaders outrebounded the Blue Jays 34-27 to win the advantage on the boards for the first time in three meetings this season.

"They played well, and we played well," junior forward Tim Hurd said. "It just came down to a couple of breaks here and there."

Bob Porambo made 11-of-19 shots from the field to lead the Blue Jays with 24 points, and Brian Loftus nailed 5-of-7 from 3-point range to finish with 19 points.

The Crusaders utilized their rarely-seen zone defense to hold the Blue Jays in check during the first half, and the visitors took a 39-37 lead into the intermission on the crest of a 13-2 run.

However, the Blue Jays opened the second half with a 15-2 run of their own to grab a 54-50 lead with just under 12:45 left in the game.

The lead changed hands several times in the final minutes, with the Crusaders pulling in front 69-68 on a 3-pointer by Griffiths with 5:10 remaining. The Crusaders increased the lead to 73-70 after a bucket by Zimmerman, but Porambo made two straight shots from the field moments later to give Elizabethtown a 76-75 lead.

On the next trip down the floor, junior center Zigmas Kaknevicius converted a layup to give the Crusaders their final lead at 77-76 with 1:17 on the clock.

On the ensuing possession, Parise nailed his first 3-point attempt of the game, after missing his first seven, to put the Blue Jays up 79-77. Zimmerman then attempted a 3-pointer to regain the lead for the Crusaders, but the ball bounced around on the cylinder at least three times before rolling off and into the hands of the Blue Jays.

"I had a good look at the basket," Zimmerman said. "I don't think I could have asked for a better shot or a more open shot."

Parise then hit 1-of-2 from the line to increase the advantage to 80-77 with 9.2 seconds left in the game. But his miss ensured that the Crusaders would have one more shot from the field.

Zimmerman found Griffiths open in the corner, but his high-arcing three caught the rim as time expired.

"We had two shots to win the game on their floor," Zimmerman said. "You couldn't ask for anything else."

The Crusaders were confident that they could pull off one of their most improbable victories in the past 10 years, and it showed in their strongest performance of the season, Marcinek said.

"I think we did about 90 percent of what we wanted to do tonight," he said. "I thought it was our night, and I think our players had a feeling it was our night. All we needed was one more shot."

Zimmerman said he is confident that this game will serve as a springboard for next year.

"We finally played up to our ability," he said. "This is how we should have played every game. We finally turned the corner."

At Widener last Saturday, Widener exploded to a 24-5 lead in the first nine minutes en route to an 89-71 win over Commonwealth Conference rival Susquehanna in the Crusaders' regular season finale.

Widener (18-7, 11-3 Commonwealth Conference) shot 51.4 percent from the field in the game to down the Crusaders for the sixth consecutive meeting. This win marked the most lopsided defeat for Susquehanna against Widener in their 25 all-time meetings.

"We started really slow," Hurd said. "They really just outplayed us. They killed us in every aspect in the game in the first couple of minutes, and then we started playing individually, and we never really got anything going after that. We collectively played bad as a team."

After the Pioneers took the 24-5 lead, the Crusaders pulled back to 30-19, but Widener used five first-half 3-pointers to take a 46-29 lead into the locker room at the break.

The Pioneers kept up their intensity in the second half, and pushed their lead to 80-47 before Susquehanna managed a late run to cut the deficit from 33 to 16 points over seven minutes.

Rathmell led the Crusaders with 24 points off the bench, shooting 10-of-15 from the field in 29 minutes of action. Griffiths added 11 points on 4-of-9 shooting; his lone 3-pointer put his season total at 60, giving him the fourth-highest single-season total in Crusader history. Sophomore guard Rob Okonak also chipped in seven points off the bench.

Zimmerman went without an assist in the game for the first time all season, and scored just eight points in 23 minutes of action.

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Crusaders nearly upset Jays

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