The Albertus Magnus men’s basketball team has been a model of consistency this season, leading the Great Northeast Athletic Conference wire to wire and becoming the first team in conference history to finish a perfect 18-0.
For the Emerson men’s basketball team, however, the year has been anything but consistent. The Lions struggled early on, going 1-9 in the first 10 games of the season, and at one point, losing 11 straight. Then, with the season two-thirds finished, Emerson got hot against GNAC rivals and rode a streaking offense into the playoffs.
After taking two very different roads into the postseason, the teams clashed once again in the GNAC quarterfinals. The eighth-seeded Lions were looking to pull off the huge upset, but when the final buzzer rang, their season had ended with a 82-58 loss.
For a while, it looked like Emerson had a chance — the Lions went to the locker room down only 38-31.
In the second half, however, Albertus Magnus showed why it was the top seed. The Falcons, lead by Darius Watson’s 15 second-half points, went on a scoring run that took the wind out of Emerson and put the game out of reach. Watson finished with 22 points to lead all scorers.
“Those guys were just a little bit too big for us. It wore us down,” said head coach Jim O’Brien. “Their point guard is bigger than most of our front court players.”
Albertus Magnus dominated Emerson down low, pulling down 14 offensive rebounds and getting to the foul line 32 times. The 6-foot-8 Jefferson Loras towered over the Lions’ forwards and made layup after layup inside.
O’Brien said he stressed staying out of foul trouble after the Falcons went to the line 35 times in a Jan 14. game at Emerson. This contest was no different, however. The fouls dismantled the Emerson’s starting lineup according to O’Brien, as Nathan Firn and Bilali Kilalou-Mack picked up two within the first seven minutes. Starting forward Patrick Lowndes picked up four throughout the first half and was limited to only eight seconds of playing time in the second frame.
“We just don’t have enough strength to think that we’re going to be able to play without those three guys for long stretches,” O’Brien said.
Firn picked up his fouls on illegal screens. In the second half, the Falcons took 17 free throws to the Lions’ eight.
“We tried to limit the fouls this game, but that didn’t really pan out,” said Firn, the team’s leading scorer on the season. “I continued to be aggressive because I found in the past, if you are tentative, you kind of put yourself in a bad situation. Unfortunately, it got me the fourth foul in the second half.”
Despite staying on pace with the Falcons for 20 minutes of basketball, Firn said he was still frustrated with the loss.
“I’’m disappointed with the outcome of the game,” he said. “I thought we definitely had a chance to win. We were with them in the first half.” The defeat was the last game for Emerson’s eight seniors.
Firn set career-highs in scoring this season, averaging 14.4 points per game, while overcoming a foot injury. The senior captain said the best part of the season was the closeness and work ethic of the players.
“Our record was unfortunate, but we dealt with the cards we had, and everybody had a great attitude,” Firn said. The Lions finished with a 7-19 record while going 6-12 in the GNAC.
While Firn and the seniors played in their last game, O’Brien said that after his first year with the team, he is looking forward to coaching at Emerson in the years to come.
“I really enjoyed this year. [It was] disappointing in a lot of ways, but for me personally, it was very rewarding. I’m very happy to be the basketball coach here,” said O’Brien. “The biggest regret I have is that I was not able to do more to have the seniors go out under a better circumstance. I’m very happy that I was able to coach them.”