The number four ranked Emerson College Lions were able to execute an 86-69 Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) Tournament victory over the number five seed Johnson Wales University Wildcats, in what Head Coach Hank Smith deemed the Lions' "best [performance] of the year."
"You saw [our game plan] tonight," Smith said. "We just gotta go attack them defensively, spread the floor offensively and try to utilize speed so they can't try to double or triple down. If they do, we'll just move the ball out of the post."
The Lions were able to click on all cylinders in the playoff win.
"We really stepped it up," said sophomore guard Will Dawkins who dropped 19 points. "Me, Steve [Georgoulis] and Fredo [Tovar] had great all around games and now is the time to do it."
Junior guard Alfredo Tovar, who had a big game against the Wildcats scoring 20 points, mentioned Smith's coaching technique.
"We were told before the game the only way we would win a championship is if we played defense," Tovar said.
The team defense for Emerson shut down the Wildcats and boosted the Lions' scoring.
"[The offensive effort] was solid. You have to understand the defense gave us the points. We were getting steals and [the Wildcats] started getting a little frustrated out there," Smith said. "We hit our shots; it's simple."
The team did not shy away from its regular-season offensive game plan, which focused on getting the ball under the basket to senior forward Steve Georgoulis as he led the way for the Lions with 27 points.
"We shut [the Wildcats] down," Gerogoulis said. "The last couple of games they were able to dribble penetrate on us. I think defense led the way. Once we shut them down, we were able to do what we wanted."
In the Wildcats first two victories over the Lions, Brian Fernandes and Brian Bannister combined for 82 points and twenty rebounds.
"Fernandes and Bannister killed us [last time we played them]," Dawkins said. "We knew that if we were able to stop them, we could stop their team."
Following that mantra, Emerson shut down the pair of guards and had a 35 to 30 lead at the end of the first half.
The close game slipped away from the Wildcats as the Lions roared with a 22 to 10 run to start the second half. From then on, the home team was in control.
"We have a motto that we don't lose three times to a team," Dawkins said.
The squad may be able to follow through on its slogan as they move on to number-one ranked Emmanuel College, a squad that defeated Emerson twice already this season.
In order for the Lions to win, Georgoulis said the team will have to stick with its philosophy.
"We want to do the same thing defensively," he said. "We lost to [Emmanuel] twice as well, and the reason why is because we couldn't play defense against them. They were able to dribble penetrate and out-rebound us too. We beat up Johnson Wales, and we'll try to do the same thing [against Emmanuel]."
If the Lions have a shot at winning the GNAC title, it will come from keeping their opponents from scoring.
"As everyone knows," Tovar said, "championships are won on the defensive end."