Norwich bounces Emerson out of GNAC tourney

by Evan Sporer / Beacon Staff • February 23, 2011

Emerson’s and Norwich’s men’s basketball teams are very familiar with one another.

Tuesday’s Great Northeast Athletic Conference quarterfinal matchup was the third meeting in nine days between the two teams. The last meeting resulted in a 67-49 Norwich loss in Boston.

Crowding the middle of the floor on defense, Norwich left Emerson’s usually reliable three-point shooters open, allowing them to take uncontested shots, according to Emerson players.

This time, however, the players said the Cadets used what they saw against Emerson a mere two days prior, and put it to use.

The Lions said they had many open looks, but their normally potent long-distance scoring game fizzled — as did their season.

In a game in which Emerson shot a mere 4-for-30 from the three-point line, the Lions fell to Norwich, 62-44, ending their season.

“If someone plays us [the way Norwich did], nine out of 10 times, they’re going to lose,” said interim head coach Lynn Ramage. “It was a carbon copy of [last] Saturday’s game. Only Norwich hit the shots. We didn’t.”

Ramage stressed that especially in the playoffs and on the road, the ability to make shots is the key to winning the game.

“Shots weren’t falling,” said junior forward Carlos Negrete in a phone interview with the Beacon. “The rims weren’t kind to us today.”

Negrete shot 34 percent from three this season, averaging the fourth most three-pointers per game in the GNAC. However, the junior was unable to convert any of his long-range attempts in the quarterfinal matchup, finishing the game 0-for-7.

Much of the Lions’ offense this season has been based on their ability to knock down long-range shots and stretch opposing defenses with their shooting threats.

But when it mattered most, in Tuesday’s single-elimination playoff game, the Lions simply could not put the ball in the basket.

The game started out slowly with neither team finding any offensive rhythm, said sophomore guard Bilali Mack.

“No one was able to establish any presence offensively at the start,” Mack said in a phone interview. “[Norwich] hit a couple of threes in the middle of the first half, but our defense kept us in it.”

In the first half, the Lions shot 33 percent from the field, but only trailed by two points.

Mack said the Cadets began to push the ball on the fast break, and extended their lead by scoring quick buckets.

“They started to build a lead,” Mack said. “It was six points. Then eight points. We just started reeling.”

And while the Cadets began to find their offensive stride, the Lions were unable to muster any rhythm.

“The offense wasn’t really flowing, we weren’t really able to move the ball around,” Mack said.

As Norwich continued to pull away, Emerson’s normally lethal three-point attack was abysmal. In the second half, the Lions shot 1-17 from three.

“I tried to drive the ball to the rack a couple of times [in the second half] to find my rhthym,” said Negrete. “It just never worked.”

No solution seemed to work as the Cadets continued to widen the gap.

“I always think that my shooters are going to hit shots,” Ramage said. “They clogged the middle and dared us to shoot, we just didn’t hit shots.”

Late in the game, as a by-product of attempting to mount a comeback, Mack found himself on the bench with three fouls.

Also in foul trouble were Kabir Moss and Nathan Firn. Firn scored a team-high 15 points, but both players fouled out and were forced to watch the final moments from the bench. Firn shot 7-for-12 from the field while his teammates managed a combined 10-for-48.

Fresh off a victory over the Cadets just two days before in its senior game, Emerson had 48 hours to plan for its quarterfinal matchup. The team wasn’t able to execute most of what it worked on in practice.

“We started switching [defensively] on the bottom on the big man to deny him the ball in the post,” Mack said.“We also put in an isolation play in for myself and for Kabir on the big man. It worked a couple of times for Kabir, but we just didn’t execute offensively.”

Despite the outcome, the Lions said they were pleased with their effort.

“Everyone played really hard, so there’s no reason to be disappointed,” said Negrete, who will get another shot to make a run at a GNAC championship next year as a senior. “Moving forward there’s going to be a lot of seniors next year, which helps. But that’s so far in the future. Everybody is taking it one day at a time right now.”