The Lasell Lasers proved once again they are still the team to beat in the GNAC this year with a convincing 88-77 victory over the Emerson men's basketball team on the Piano Row hardwood. It was a battle for first place in the GNAC and home court advantage proved meaningless for the Lions (6-2 GNAC; 10-5 overall) as they were unable to find any sort of redemption in a rematch of last year's conference championship game.
The loss drops the team down to two full games behind Lasell (8-0 GNAC; 11-4 overall) with 10 games left to play.
"[The game] was huge, we really wanted to win cause they beat us last year and took our NCAA bid away from us," said junior center Bryan Rouse, a marketing communication major. "Going into this game we were both tied for first place in our league, it was the biggest game of the year."
The game featured the top three scorers in the GNAC. The Lions' Bryan Rouse and Jeremy Shannon have a season average of 23.4 and 21.6 points per game respectively. The Emerson stars squared off against Lasell's 6'10" senior center Jose Guitian, who, on top of leading the league in blocks and rebounds, averages of 21.9 points per game.
Each player has been a GNAC Player or Co-Player of the Week at least once this season.
The Lions came out firing on all cylinders as Rouse, Emerson's tallest player at 6'5", scored the first two baskets of the game, the second a tip-in after a Shannon miss, to put the Lions up 4-0.
This would be their only lead for the rest of the afternoon however, and it proved to be short lived as Lasell grabbed two offensive rebounds on the next possession before scoring their first points. The scene was a common theme throughout the game as the Lasers grabbed 43 rebounds compared to the Lions' 28.
With less than four minutes played and the game tied at 4, Lasell's shooting guard Junior Sainval knocked down three-points to put the Lasers ahead for good.
In a game filled with emotion, intensity and heart, Lasell's biggest lead of the first half came after a free throw off a Rouse technical put the team ahead, 32-21. The Lions bounced back and shrank the the gap to 46-40 at halftime. Guintain was held to just four points in the first half but was limited to only about eight minutes due to foul trouble.
"We were right in the game, we had to make a few adjustments," said Head Coach Hank Smith. "We had a very good chance to win the game."
The Lions continued to fight and started the second half the same way they ended the first as Shannon, also a marketing communication major, made a left-handed lay-up in the lane for an easy lay-up to begin the team's 14-8 run.
With just under 14 minutes remaining in the second half, sophomore Tom Messinger drained a three-pointer to tie the game at 54. However, Rouse and Shannon found themselves in foul trouble throughout the second half and had to check out, which was key to the Lasers' final run to pull away for the rest of the game.
Lasell played fundamental basketball by making good passes and scoring off multiple backdoor cuts, taking advantage of free throws and keeping up the defensive pressure throughout the game. By keeping up the defensive intensity they were able to hold Shannon below his average scoring margin, finishing with only 14 points on just 5-13 shooting.
"I really wanted to take over the game by getting to the basket and scoring," said Shannon. "They did a really good job being physical with me. I got tired towards the end and I couldn't finish. If I finish half of my shots, we win that game."
Guintain would also not be so easily contained in the second half of the game. He was finally able to log some minutes and take advantage of the obvious height mismatch against multiple defenders; he finished with 20 points and 13 rebounds.
Even though Emerson may not have played their best basketball on Saturday, Smith said he could only take positives from the game.
"I feel good mentally about the team, I don't think we're down," he said. "I think we're young and we're learning how to get to the next level."