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Wide right: Season ends 63-64 to F&M

Published: March 13, 2009
Section: Sports


LANCASTER, PA – The ball came to Steve DeLuca’s (GRAD) hand with 1.4 seconds left in the game. After nine minutes spent cutting a 20 point deficit down to one, this was the last chance to extend his last season in college hoops. All that was running through his mind was catching the ball and getting the shot off before time expired.

“I didn’t really know how much time there was,” DeLuca told the reporters gathered, “because the rebound came kind of far and I was turned away from the clock, so I just tried to set my feet and shoot it – turned out to be a really tough fade away.”

Unfortunately, he knew as soon as the shot was off that it was heading right. It was, and the furious charge to keep the season alive ended in a heart-breaking conclusion.

“To talk about the comeback, we have to talk about how we dug the hole,” Coach Brian Meehan stated after the game.

The game had all the makings of a rout for Franklin & Marshall as little seemed to go right for the Brandeis Judges. Led by the interior duo of James McNally, who had 13 points in the first half, and Mike Baker, the Diplomats converted 16-26 shots from the field. Their success also included going three of five in their three point attempts in the first half. Brandeis, on the other hand, missed their first four shots and wound up converting only 9-22 in the starting half.

Franklin & Marshall outscored Brandeis 30-18 in points in the paint including an 18-8 margin at the end of the first half. McNally would finish with 19 points while Baker had a double-double of 16 points, and 13 rebounds.

“We got away from what we do,” Meehan said, “and I thought we lost a little bit of trust in doing the things – we were getting the shots, we had a lot of shots in the first half go half way down and out and we uncharacteristically turned the ball over in the first half.”

“But again,” Coach Meehan continued, “that was when we broke off plays and just tried to do things on our own.”

Things only got worse in the second half as it started with a turnover and more struggles to get the basket. The challenges only mounted after Terrell Hollins ’10 and Christian Yemga ‘10 fouled out with 30 seconds of each other and little over half the game left. After a three pointer from Kevin Olson ’09 brought the Judges to within 8, Franklin & Marshall went on a 13-3 run over the next five minutes. With 9:23 left in the game, Brandeis found themselves down 57-37 on hostile territory and with a greatly reduced bench. What wouldn’t be known until later was that it would be the start of a dramatic turnaround.

“I think you all have to understand that I saw a couple of people leaving early,” Franklin & Marshall Head Coach Greg Robinson joked, “And we have a signal that we flash which is ‘miss free throws, let the other team back in it fast to pull in the crowd.’ And every guy got the signal and so we held the crowd and certainly made it an exciting finish.”

Coach Meehan summed up the situation facing his squad. “Going into the pressure we knew that we were probably only going to be able to go with six guys the rest of way, so we felt that if we were in trouble when it got to 10, that’s the point that we might have enough in the tank to go 10 minutes all out and we almost had enough.”

Switching to a full court press following a time out, Brandeis emerged a completely different unit; forcing turnovers and missed shots. The Diplomats could not crack that aggressive D, being held to 31 percent shooting in the second half. With turnovers and missed F&M free throws aiding the cause, the Judges came back from the edge with a 13-1 run. The Diplomats managed to push the lead back to 12 when Rich Magee’s ’10 lay up sparked another 13-1 run in the final three minutes. Following threes from Olson and Andre Roberson ’08, Steve DeLuca’s three pointer with 90 seconds left to go cut the lead to one and sent the Brandeis supporters (including former members of Amherst’s squad) into euphoria. For the first time all game, it looked like the Brandeis Judges were in it to win it.

However, Franklin & Marshall weren’t ready to wave the white flag. A missed jumper from DeLuca saw the Diplomats come down with the critical rebound, forcing Brandeis to commit the foul. After making the first shot, Brandeis could corral the rebound following the miss on the second shot. With Magee in the middle of a scrum, barely having possession of the ball, Brandeis was forced to burn their last timeout and gathered for one last run to the basket.

“We were just trying to set that high screen that became successful late in the game for us.” Coach Meehan explained the strategy, “Give Dre [Andre Roberson] the opportunity to turn the corner and get to the rim or we felt that they probably drop way off of him because he was turning the corner quite a bit and it would give him the jump shot or if he turned the corner and they came off trying to stop the penetration, we might be able to hit somebody for three out on the perimeter.”

The final possession was not a thing of beauty for the Judges. With nobody open, no lanes to exploit, and the clock bleeding fast, Roberson ended up firing the shot with about five seconds left.

“I thought I had a good look at it,” Roberson said, “I could have set my feet a little more but I knew I didn’t have that much time because the defender was only going to be gone so long so I kind of rushed it but the look I got, it was pretty decent.”

Coach Robinson of the Diplomats gave credit to the play of his guards. “With all that we went through at the end of that game, when we really needed it, they came up with two huge defensive stops against a team that just made three threes and were shooting the ball well and had some really quick guards who could penetrate. In the end, our guards basically won the game for us against this very strong Brandeis team.”

Steve DeLuca finished his career with a game high 21 points on 7-22 shooting and secured his place in school history as the fifth highest leading scorer with 1,595, knocking Jim Houston ’56 down to sixth. Kevin Olson finished with 13 points and the undisputed number one three point shooter. His 58.3 percent success rate was sixth best in DIII history, and his 84 three pointers are the second most in school history. Rich Magee fought valiantly, his aggressive play the center of the comeback as he finished with 7 points and a team high 6 rebounds and 4 steals. Playing on an injured leg, Andre Roberson finished the season with 9 points and 8 rebounds. Overall, the team shot just 38.9 percent from the field.

Poor shooting had also troubled the Judges in their opening round match against Scranton as the Royals jumped to an early seven point lead. However, the Judges took control of the game, as Scranton committed 15 turnovers and no competition in the paint, leaving with the 74-60 win. Brandeis outscored the Royals 22-8 in points in the paint and held a 19-7 edge in second chance points, making the most of their 17 offensive rebounds.

“We were aggressive going to the glass” Coach Meehan said after the Scranton victory. “They were guarding us a little tighter on the perimeter and that allowed us – we still took 16 threes, we don’t take many more than that.”

Kenny Small ’10, who would be referred to as “the X-factor” by Scranton coach Carl Danzig, finished with 19 points, going 3-4 from the three point line, while Steve DeLuca finished one rebound shy of a double-double with 16 points, 9 rebounds. Terrell Hollins ’10 had one of his best performances in a long while, coming off the bench for 14 points. Scranton was led by Paul Biagoli, who led all scorers with 22 points. Eli Londo and Ryan FitzPatrick each had 10, while their leading scorer coming into the game, Zach Ashworth, was held to seven points. Londo also had five blocks in the losing effort.

In a lot of ways, the loss to F&M was reminiscent of the Judges entire season – a very poor start, opening with three straight losses and dropping five games overall in non-conference play; seemingly little chance to climb back after losing player and then launching a vigorous rally down the stretch that proved the naysayers wrong. The only difference was that this time, this comeback was not enough.

“We had a good run at the end and we really came together and started playing a lot better but your whole season matters and that’s the point you try to make to the guys,” Meehan said about the season. “We were very fortunate to get into the tournament though we believed we belonged in the tournament but our schedule certainly helped us. But in order to stay closer to home and host, you have to win games through out the season.”

Brandeis finishes the season with an 18-9 record and looks to next year with a number of questions. Most importantly, how this team will respond without their offensive dynamos, DeLuca and Olson. Coach Meehan had this to say about the departing players.

“They work hard everyday, they came, they improved themselves, they took advantage of all the opportunities that Brandeis offers academically and athletically.” Meehan continued, “that’s what you hope for in players: guys that really appreciate the opportunity to be at a school like Brandeis and they take full advantage of it and they love to play the game and they get better and better because they work hard at improving themselves. We appreciate the fact that the two of them came off of major surgeries after last season and still had a great senior year.”

It is a very disappointing loss but if there is something to take solace in, it’s that they went down fighting.