Centre to play Saints for title

December 30, 2003|MARTY WARREN

It wasn't supposed to be that difficult.

Centre College had to battle just to stay even while visiting Alfred University shot the lights out in the first half, but the Colonels put the game away with a 15-1 scoring run midway through the second half to defeat the Saxons 85-68 in the opening round of the Papa John's-Country Hearth Inn Classic Monday at Alumni Gymnasium.

The Colonels (6-2) will meet Thomas More, a 70-68 winner over Berea College in the opener, today at 7 p.m. in the championship game. Berea and Alfred will meet in the consolation game at 5 p.m.

Alfred (1-8), led by the play of 6-4 freshman Dillon Stein, pounded the ball inside in the first half against the Colonels, who played without Rob King (ankle) and Chris Smith (illness). The Saxons nailed 16 of 26 attempts from the field for a 62 percent mark


"We just couldn't guard (Stein) in the first half and it was huge when he picked up his second foul," Centre coach Greg Mason said. "We really missed Rob tonight mostly for his rebounding and his defense."

Still, the Colonels battled back on the strength of their defense to gain a 39-37 halftime advantage. The Colonels forced 12 turnovers in the period and converted many into lay-ups.

"I thought both teams struggled defensively early in the game," the Centre coach said. "But we played better near the end of the half to get some easy buckets and were able to get a lead.

"We only were able to practice three times and they have been able to practice only twice since Christmas, so both teams looked at times like they were playing their first game of the year.

"We did end up forcing 18 turnovers and received better post defense in the second half. I thought the difference in the game, though, was the first five minutes of the second half. Our juniors and seniors stepped up their play against their freshmen and sophomores."

The Colonels hit five of their first seven shots to start the second half, while Alfred missed three shots and turned the ball over five times in the first three minutes of the period as Centre grabbed a 51-41 advantage. The Saxons trimmed the lead to seven at 61-54 with nine minutes to play, but the Colonels went on a 15-1 scoring run - eight in 30 seconds after a pair of technical fouls on and ejection of guard Bruce Nober - to grab their largest lead at 76-55 and never looked back.

Tonight Centre and Thomas More will battle in the first of three meetings on the season - they play a home-and-home series beginning Jan. 6th at Centre - and the Colonels could be catching the Saints at the right time. They may have suffered jet lag after a trip to Hawaii to play two of the top 25 teams in Division III and barely escaped with a win over Berea Monday night.

"They may not have the best record of anyone we have played (3-6), but they played two of the best teams in the nation tough in Hawaii," Mason said. "They led (defending Division III runner-up) Gustavus Adolphus at the half in one of the games and played Whitworth tough in the other.

"They have three solid players in (Will) Adams, (Chad) Wachs and (R.J.) Thurman. They do much of the same things that Alfred did in that they like to pound the ball inside at every opportunity. Wachs is their best player and we will definitely have our hands full trying to guard the post against them. It will be a challenge and hopefully we will be back at full strength."

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