Centre wins holiday tourney, looks ahead to league play

December 31, 2003|MIKE MARSEE

Centre College usually has one eye on the future during its holiday tournament, but the Colonels had more than one reason to look ahead this time around.

They were trying to get ready for the start of conference play, and they were trying to gain the upper hand in the first game in a series against their only Division III rival in Kentucky.

At the same time, they successfully defended their championship in the Papa John's/Country Hearth Inn Tournament, taking the title with an 87-83 victory over Thomas More in the title game Tuesday night at Alumni Gymnasium.

It wasn't easy, as Centre (7-2) shot 61.5 percent from the field but needed nearly every basket as Thomas More (3-7) trimmed a 16-point deficit to four in the second half.


"We couldn't stop them, but we picked a good day to shoot the ball well," Centre coach Greg Mason said.

The tournament always provides Centre with a transition between a three-week break and the start of Southern Collegiate Athletic Conference play.

And since the Colonels are expecting to be a factor in the conference race this season, it's all the more important that they shake off the rust in time for their league opener Friday at Sewanee.

"We're not playing at the level we were the first week of December," Mason said. "We need to get back to that level quickly if we're going to do what we want to do."

Senior guard James Booker, who was named the tournament's most valuable player after scoring 36 points in two games, said it shouldn't take the Colonels long to get back to that form.

"It's pretty typical," Booker said. "It's hard to stay on top of everything when you have so much time off. We definitely have to get in better shape after the break."

They'll also have to be on guard against a Thomas More team that they'll face two more times before the season ends. The next meeting comes in Centre's next home game Jan. 6, and Mason said the Saints will come back to town with confidence after their second-half comeback Tuesday.

"I'd say they'll have a lot of confidence," he said.

Mason said Centre's failure to rebound well kept this game close. The Colonels were outrebounded 36-26 and gave up 17 offensive boards.

"It kept them in the game," Mason said. "We're a program that relies on defense and rebounding every single night, and our pursuit of rebounds was very poor."

It allowed Thomas More to take 11 more shots from the field than Centre. But while the Saints shot a respectable 49.2 percent, they were still well off the pace set by Centre, which went 17-for-25 in the first half and 15-for-27 in the second.

"I thought our guys did a good job of attacking and not settling for the first open 3(-pointer)," Mason said.

The top shooter in the early going was Rob King, who returned to the starting lineup after sitting out the Colonels' first-round game Monday with an ankle injury. King scored Centre's first eight points and went on to lead the team with 20 points and eight rebounds.

Booker had 19 points, going 3-for-5 from 3-point range and 7-for-9 overall from the field, and as usual he was one of Centre's top defenders, though Mason said it was a typically understated performance.

"You almost don't know he's on the floor," Mason said.

Thomas More proved tough to defend in the second half, when the Saints spent nine minutes trimming their deficit to single digits after Centre took its largest lead at 54-38 with 15:07 left.

Marcus Johnson scored 12 points and R.K. Thurman scored 10 in the second half and led the Saints with 21 and 16, respectively.

The Colonels missed five of 10 free throws in the final two minutes, and Thomas More sliced the margin to five points before Booker put the game away with two free throws with 3.8 seconds left.

"The margin for error at this level is so slim," Mason said. "It's a best-of-three series. I think what we'll see the next two games, whether it's here or there, it's going to be down to the last minute."

Four Colonels scored in double figures, with Jason Atwell scoring 17 points and John Ortega getting 14 off the bench.

Now the Colonels have two practices to prepare for their SCAC opener. Booker said they are pleased with their start, but the team's veterans know the conference games are what matter most.

"All these games are not going to get us to the tournament," Booker said. "Conference play is what's really important to us."

Central Kentucky News Articles