The players lost last year's Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) championship game, 69-60. This year, in the same gymnasium against the same university, the Lions again lost to the Cadets by a nine-point margin, 85-76.,The Emerson men's basketball team went to Norwich University looking for revenge.
The players lost last year's Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) championship game, 69-60. This year, in the same gymnasium against the same university, the Lions again lost to the Cadets by a nine-point margin, 85-76.
Looking back, sophomore guard Will Dawkins said that trailing in the beginning of the contest is what brought the Lions down, both this year and last year.
"It's comparable to the fact that we put ourselves in the same situation," Dawkins said. "We got down early and fought to get back."
Norwich held Emerson scoreless in the beginning and end of the first half. The Cadets started the game with a 6-0 run and finished the half on a 14-0 run. At halftime the Lions squad was down 43-25.
Norwich senior guard and tournament MVP Geoff Hensley said the Cadets were able to drive to the basket, which resulted in the early lead.
"The reason we were able to get up by so much was because we were able to take [the ball] straight to the hoop."
Dawkins said his squad lacked passion at the beginning of the game.
"We came out real lackadaisical," he said. "We didn't score in the last 5 minutes and 37 seconds of the [first half], and that really killed us."
Emerson College Head Coach Hank Smith said his team was fatigued during the match.
"I think we looked like we were tired," Smith said. "I think that being [in Vermont] overnight [on] a long trip might have had something to do with it. We played a real tough game [last] Thursday night. I think they tried but were tired."
Steve Georgoulis, however, felt there were other reasons for the loss. He said he thought the team played with low intensity.
"I wouldn't say it's tired. They hit us hard and we didn't respond," Georgoulis said. "Maybe some people were nervous."
In the first half, Georgoulis was heavily guarded and scored only six points as the Cadets focused their attention on the senior. Norwich Head Coach Paul Booth said he wanted to contain Georgoulis.
"Well, the big thing we had to do was to limit Steve Georgoulis' touches. I thought our big three guys did a good job."
Towering 6'8'' junior Scott DuPont, freshman Michael Filipek and sophomore Brian Dumond were the three players assigned to guard Georgoulis. Smith said many teams put defensive pressure on his starting center, who is also the Lions leading scorer with 19.8 points per game.
"A lot of teams take him away," Smith said. "I don't think in the first half we did a good job. But I think that's all part of being tired."
Georgoulis finished the game with 16 points.
Another problem for the team was that its leader in scoring, assists and steals was also in early foul trouble.
Dawkins, who scored 21 points, had six assists and five steals in the game, only played 14 minutes in the first half.
He scored 8 points in a row for the Lions and was able to get the game tied at 17-17 with 11:39 remaining in the half but soon after he tied the game, Dawkins was sent to the bench.
"He was in foul trouble," Smith said. "We had to take him out with two fouls. I didn't want him to have three fouls [heading] in[to] the second half."
"I didn't play as smart as I would have liked," Dawkins said.
The Cadets' offensive onslaught was also a reason for the Lions' struggles in the first half. Norwich shot 50 percent from behind the arc, going 5-10 from three-point range. The squad had a 54.5 field goal percentage at the end of the first half.
Emerson shot 37 percent in the first half and managed only 23.1 percent from downtown.
"Emerson is a real good defensive team," Booth said. "We shot the ball very well [last Saturday] and I think that might be the difference in the game."
Dawkins said the player he was guarding, Jerrold Williams, beat him.
"I feel that I didn't bring it in the defensive end," Dawkins said. "My player who I guarded [Williams] out-played me . He was a major part of the first half that killed us, [scoring] 15 points."
Despite being down 18 at the half, Emerson came out strong in the second. Smith told his team at halftime they had to take it to Norwich.
"The effort wasn't acceptable in the first half," Smith said. "I told them that we had to be the aggressor. Last time we were there, we outscored them in the second half, and to the kids credit, I think they did that."
Smith said the squad's new approach in the second half involved making Norwich run and stopping the Cadets.
"We started pressing. If we didn't get the game to go quicker, we couldn't get back in. When you're down, you have to make stops. We had to stop them almost every time. We missed a lot of opportunities."
One missed chance in the second half, according to Smith, came when an official called the ball out on Emerson with 11:37 left in the game and the Lions trailing by eight points.
"I thought it was a big point in the game," Smith said. "I thought the ball was off them. I turned away and stomped my foot."
For his reaction, Smith was called for a technical foul, which resulted in two made free throws and an additional bucket for Norwich. Giving the Cadets a double-figure lead.
"I felt I should get a warning . [The official] said, 'I stomped my foot and was demonstrative when I walked away," Smith said.
Regardless, Smith thought the officiating "was very good. The officials didn't cost us the game. [Norwich] outplayed us."
Emerson was able to pull within eight points of Norwich's lead with 6:19 left after going on a 21-9 run. But that was as close as the Lions would get, as Norwich was able to win its second straight GNAC title in front of a home crowd of 800 people. The Lions never had a lead in the game.
Hensley said Norwich had to use its size as an advantage.
"We knew we had to rebound. If we could control the offensive and defensive boards, [we knew] the team that can rebound and make free throws will win in the end, and that was our plan."
The Cadets backed up this plan by out-rebounding the Lions 47 to 35.
The Lions also struggled at the free throw line, shooting 45 percent to the Cadets' 55.6 percent. Dawkins said another comparison between both championship games is that, "Our free throws killed us last game and this game."
Georgoulis couldn't find any comparisons between this year's and last year's losses.
"[Norwich] just wanted it more."