Second half collapse eliminates Lions

by Beacon Staff • February 21, 2007

Emerson 75

It was a long time before Emerson's men's basketball team emerged from its locker room.

First there was reflection, then thank yous to be given and goodbyes to be said.

Not much time had passed since they'd sat in the same place, a 13-point lead in hand, 20 minutes of play separating them from advancing to the next round of the playoffs.,Suffolk 80

Emerson 75

It was a long time before Emerson's men's basketball team emerged from its locker room.

First there was reflection, then thank yous to be given and goodbyes to be said.

Not much time had passed since they'd sat in the same place, a 13-point lead in hand, 20 minutes of play separating them from advancing to the next round of the playoffs.

But in those 20 minutes, the Lions collapsed, along with any dream of winning the Great Northeast Athletic Conference championship.

From the start, the first playoff game in the history of the Piano Row gymnasium seemed more like a coronation than a contest.

In front of a boisterous crowd, the Lions scored 19 of the game's first 21 points. Suffolk University, a team that had gone 9-17 on their season, a team that had lost to the second-seed Lions just a few days before, looked to be no match.

There was no question that Emerson would win. It was just a matter of by how much.

Even when Suffolk rallied, cutting the Lions' lead to 13 at the half, there was very little sense of concern.

The Lions had played an almost flawless half, despite the absence of star freshman center Bryan Rouse, who was out with mononucleosis.

The team had shot almost 60 percent from the field. They were cruising.

And for the first 10 minutes of the second half, they continued to cruise. The lead would grow to 17, then dwindle back down to 12.

Neither team made much headway, and trading baskets seemed to suit the Lions just fine. But never did Emerson put Suffolk away. Instead of burying them, the Lions let them hang around, and it would come back to haunt them.

About midway through the half, the Lions went ice cold, while Suffolk warmed up. Led by the sharp-shooting duo of Brad Schoonmaker and John Murphy, Suffolk closed the lead to single digits.

And then, with just over four minutes remaining, Suffolk took its first lead of the game.

"We all kind of fed off [Shoonmaker's] intensity," said Murphy, who led Suffolk with 20 points. "We just dug down deep."

It all happened so quickly.

The lead had simply vanished, and the Lions, suddenly trailing, could not buy a shot. Perhaps the most telling stat was the discrepancy in free-throws.

Emerson managed to shoot just 50 percent from the line, failing to capitalize on any bonus situations down the stretch. Suffolk, in contrast, finished a perfect 13 for 13 as a team. It turned out to be the difference in the game.

The Lions, shell-shocked, did put up some fight, but the game's momentum had already shifted for good.

A three-pointer from Alfredo Tovar cut Suffolk's lead to three in the last seconds, and when the Lions stole the inbounds pass, they had a chance to tie the game. But junior Co-Captain Will Dawkins' effort bounced harmlessly off the front rim, and the Lions' season was over.

For Suffolk, it was the first playoff win for any of the players, including the seniors, and the team hooted and hollered joyously into the visitor's locker room, their small contingent of fans giving hugs and high-fives.

On the other side of the court, the players walked slowly and silently into their locker room to a smattering of applause from a group of fans that looked like they'd received a collective kick in the stomach.

For everyone, it seemed like a waste of one of the more promising seasons the Lions have had in recent memory.

And for the team's three seniors, Alfredo Tovar, Will Sagar and Scott McGowan, it marked the end of their collegiate careers.

All three addressed the team after the game.

"I talked about how it's been a good three years for me here," said Tovar. "I remember coming here on the plane [from Los Angeles] not knowing what I was getting into. This is definitely one of the best, if not the best, decisions of my life. It's been hard but it's been worth it."

"This year we were a great team," said Sagar. "We've been through a lot, and I'll be there for them in the future."

Emotions were very much on display after the game, some of the players emerging with eyes still red from tears.

Head Coach Hank Smith said he told his team to keep their heads up after the loss.

"I told them how much we appreciated everything they gave us," Smith said. "Obviously, it's very devastating because, for the seniors, it's their last time."

But beyond all the tears, the question still remained: how had the Lions let it get away?

Smith pointed to a departure from the basics for his team's loss.

"We lost our discipline and what we're used to doing," Smith said. "And they were completely on fire. You can't blame anything on that."

Tovar admitted his team may have thought the win was in the bag.

"The first half we came out and played the best we've ever played and we figured the game was over," he said. "It's not like they wanted it more than us. We just lost some of the desperation we had."

Dawkins, who led the Lions with 21 points and eight rebounds, appeared the most outwardly affected by the loss.

"For me, personally, this is my biggest disappointment," Dawkins said. "We had a big enough lead to where we should have been able to put it away. I should have been able to lead my team to victory and I couldn't. It's just so sad."