March 11, 2003
It's the re-match that many Patriot League men's basketball fans, especially those associated with American University, have been hoping to get for the last 12 months.
Holy Cross won the 2002 League championship, and the NCAA Tournament bid, with a 58-54 hard-fought battle at American's sold-out Bender Arena. The Crusaders were second-seeded in the PL Tournament and became just the second team in PL men's basketball history to win the title on the top-seed's home court.
American is the No. 2 seed in this year's League post-season tournament and get the opportunity for revenge Friday at the Hart Center in Worcester, Mass. ESPN will broadcast the 2003 Men's Championship Game (4:30 p.m.) between the Eagles (16-13) and the top-seeded Crusaders (25-4), who are trying to clinch their third-straight crown and earn the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
The winner of the PL Championship Game earns an automatic bid to the 2003 NCAA Tournament. Pairings for the national championship tournament will be announced Sunday, March 16.
Holy Cross has already announced a sellout for Friday's PL Men's Basketball Championship Game at the Hart Center.
Ralph Willard's Holy Cross squad is trying to become the first men's basketball team in the 13-year history of the PL to win the championship three-straight years. HC, Colgate (1995-96), Lafayette (1999-2000), Navy (1997-98) and former Patriot League member Fordham (1991-92) have all won consecutive titles.
Friday's game at the Hart Center will be nationally-televised by ESPN as part of its "Championships Week" programming. Dave Revsine is slated to serve as the play-by-play announcer while Doris Burke, who was part of the team that broadcast the first Patriot League Championship game in the early 1990s, will contribute as the analyst.
Holy Cross is the top seed in this year's PL Championship Tournament, and earned the right to host the Championship game, by compiling a 13-1 record in League play and cruising past eighth-seeded Army (58-40) and fifth-seeded Bucknell (75-50) at the League Tournament at The Show Place Arena in Upper Marlboro, Md.
American tied Colgate for second place in the regular-season, each with 9-5 records, but the Eagles gained the No. 2 seed in the Tournament by virtue of a 72-49 victory over Holy Cross on Jan. 26. In the League Tournament, AU advanced with victories against seventh-seeded Navy (72-57) and sixth-seeded Lafayette (74-55).
In the second meeting of the regular-season, Holy Cross evened the season series with a 68-66 triumph in front of a sold-out Hart Center and a national television audience (DIRECTV) on Feb. 21. That gives the Crusaders a 5-1 advantage in the all-time series against American, including a 4-1 mark since AU joined the Patriot League prior to the 2001-02 campaign.
Last year, HC swingman Tim Szatko (Naperville, Ill.) scored 16 points and was named 2002 Tournament MVP while guard Brian Wilson (Plainfield, N.J) added 15 points in leading HC past the Eagles in the PL title game. Former AU center Patrick Doctor, the 2002 PL Player of the Year, led all scorers with 18 points.
This year, American's success has been led by senior guards Steven Miles (Alexandria, Va.), Glenn Stokes (Silver Spring, Md.) and Andres Rodriguez (San Juan, Puerto Rico).
Miles, a first-team All-League choice this year, and Stokes, a two-time second-team all-star, each scored 18 points while Rodriguez had 10 assists in AU's 23-point victory over HC this season. Stokes (19 pts.) and Miles (15 pts.) were also the scoring leaders in the second meeting of the season. In both games, junior forward Jernavius Draughn (Triangle, Va.) also scored in double figures.
Miles is battling Lafayette junior Justin DeBerry for the League scoring title this season, each with 16.3 scoring averages, while Stokes is fourth in the PL scoring race with a 15.4 average. The AU guards are tied atop the League for three-point goals, each with 83. Miles, who is also 10th in the League in rebounding (5.6), has also contributed 68 assists and 20 steals this season. Stokes, who is fourth in field goal percentage (.419) and fifth in steals (44), has dished out 62 helpers and grabbed 2.9 boards per game this season. In just two Patriot League seasons, Miles moved into 19th place (139) and Stokes is 26th (124) on the PL career three-point goals list.
Rodriguez, the catalyst of the offense, is second in the PL in assists (4.97), leads AU with 46 steals and contributes 4.0 points and 3.0 caroms per outing. Draughn is fourth on the team in scoring (8.2) and second in rebounding (5.0). Forwards Matej Cresnik (Velenje, Slovania) and Raimondas Petrauskas (Mazeikiai, Lithuania), a member of the 2003 PL All-Rookie squad, have each drilled 29 three-point goals and are averaging 7.8 points and 5.8 points, respectively.
The Crusaders counter with three 2003 All-League selections, including Player of the Year Patrick Whearty (Poughkeepsie, N.Y.). The 6-9 senior center leads four HC players into double figures in the scoring column with a 12.1 average and grabs a team-best 6.6 rebounds per game. He also leads HC and is third among the PL leaders in field goal percentage (.560) and blocked shots (42). Whearty enters the PL title game ranked 37th on the PL career scoring list (1,035), eighth in rebounding (674) and eighth in blocked shots (131).
Wilson, Szatko and junior point guard Jave Meade (Long Island City, N.Y.) are also averaging in double figures this season.
Wilson, a second-team All-League pick by the PL coaches this season, contributes 11.8 points per outing and tops the Crusaders in three-point goals (49) and free throw percentage (.907). He enters Friday's matchup 33rd on the League's career scoring list (1,056) and 21st on the career three-point goals list (134).
Szatko, the 2001 PL Player of the Year and two-time first-team all-star, ranks third on the team in scoring (11.1) and rebounding (6.4). He enters the PL Championship ranked 15th on the League's all-time scoring list (1,433) and is fourth on the rebounding list (770). Szatko also needs one long-range shot to reach the century mark for three-point goals in his career.
Meade, a first-team 2003 PL all-star, averages 10.8 points and 3.9 rebounds per game while leading the League in assists (175) and steals (59). In just three seasons, he has already moved into sixth place on both the PL career assists (426) and steals (180) charts.
Points may be sparse in the championship game as both Holy Cross and American rank among the NCAA leaders in scoring defense. The Crusaders are second nationally for allowing just 58.1 points per game while AU surrenders just 61.6 points per outing, which ranks 21st. Offensively, the Crusaders are the only team in the League scoring more than 70 points per game (70.3). American averages 66.4 points at the offensive end.
Rebounding could key the outcome of the game as the Crusaders lead the PL in rebounds (36.7) and rebounding margin (+7.9) while American cleans the glass an average of 33.4 times per game.