As the last few minutes ticked off the scoreboard, the Lions' bench was eerily silent. At this point in the game, the looming end result was hard to ignore. Players consoled each other, tears in their eyes. The second-seeded Lions had come so far in the regular season, ending with a 17-8 overall record. Unfortunately, their postseason hopes came to an abrupt halt in the first round, at the hands of seventh-seed Albertus Magnus.
The Lions played Albertus Magnus twice before, winning 78-74 at home on Jan. 27, but then losing on the road 91-85 on Feb. 5.
In this game, however, Albertus Magnus seized control of the game straight from the tip-off, jumping on Emerson by double digits early in the first half. But in front of their home crowd, the Lions fought back, and brought the deficit back to within five midway through the first. Unfortunately, that was as close as they would get for the rest of the game, eventually falling to Albertus Magnus by 28 points at the final whistle.
"They outplayed us," said Head Coach Hank Smith. "We had to keep our discipline that we had all year long, and step up. They were winning all the hustle points on us. We had to step up and be the aggressor, and that was what put us in the hole."
The fatal issue for the Lions proved to be their inability to work the ball inside to junior center Brian Rouse, forcing them to rely almost entirely on their outside shot. Rouse, the team's leading scorer all season, played all game with a noticeable limp thanks to deep bone bruise he suffered in a Jan. 21 game against Lasell. Since the injury, Rouse has recorded only 11 total points in his last three games, including last night when he finished with only six.
"I mean, it's frustrating," said the marketing communication major. "During the season when they needed me, I'd score 20 a game, and then now when they need it the most, I just couldn't get shit done."
This forced the Lions to heave outside shot after outside shot and three after three, translating into an unimpressive 28.6 percent shooting on the night, and an eventual loss. With Rouse neutralized, Magnus then continued to put more and more pressure on the outside shooters, making the game that much more difficult for players like sophomore guard Tom Messinger, who make their money from beyond the arc.
"It's obviously tough, we rely on [Rouse] for a lot," the marketing communication major said. "[Rouse is] such a presence on offense, the way he opens it up for everyone else, the way he finishes, gets to the free throw line, I mean, he's impossible to guard when he's healthy. We rely on him so much that taking him basically out of the equation, it was hard for us to adjust."
In a season with so much promise, where the Lions had proven themselves, they again came up short-this time without even making it past the first round. Still, the Lions are well aware that what they accomplished in 2009 was no small feat.
"The season was fantastic," said Smith. "To lose the amount of players that we lost this year, and to be going into the final week of the season playing for first place-I got to take my hat off to every one of the kids on the team. Their effort was fantastic."
Despite the tough loss, the Lions at least retain the majority of their roster for next season, losing only the two seniors Anthony Remias and Sam Newman-Beck. Still, that pair of names will be sorely missed in the white and purple come next season.
"We're obviously going to miss Anthony and Sammy a lot," Messinger said. "They brought so much leadership and they really gave 100 percent every single day. What they did really doesn't show up on the stat sheet, but we'll miss them.
Rouse said he will miss his teammates, not only for what they did for the team on the court, but for their leadership off the court as well.
"I love them," said Rouse, who had played three years with both men. "They're great players, great teammates, great guys. It definitely doesn't end here for all of us."
Despite the unfortunate ending to this season, the team is already looking forward to next season.
"Obviously, I wish we could have gone further," said Messinger. "Especially for guys like Anthony and Sam, it was their last chance-but next year we'll be back and try to get that GNAC Championship."