By: Laura Chapman
Assistant Sports Information Director
firstname.lastname@example.org • juniatasports.net
HUNTINGDON, Pa. – The Juniata College men's basketball team opened the 22nd Annual Comfort Inn Doc Greene Tournament with a 93-67 win over the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg. Senior Jeremy Hays (McMechen, W. Va./John Marshall) finished with a game-high and career-high 28 points on the night to advance the Eagles to the championship game tomorrow afternoon. The guard finished the night 10-12 from the floor, 3-3 from behind the arc, and 5-6 from the free-throw line.
"[Pitt.-Greensburg] had won four games in a row and they can score," said head coach Greg Curley. "We didn't communicate very well to start the game and we gave them some pretty easy looks. Coming off break we really needed to weather the storm and stay consistent and I think we did that. They didn't get a ton of easy baskets other than early and we made the adjustments. Our defense really allowed us to take the lead. We were able to make them turn over the ball and, for the most part, turned them into points."
Pitt.-Greensburg opened the game with its customary solid three-point shooting, taking the 11-0 lead before senior Pat Cassidy (Hollidaysburg, Pa./Hollidaysburg) drained a three followed by a layup from Hays to gain some Eagle momentum. The Bobcats continued to drain treys sinking seven in the first half alone. The Eagles were able to respond from behind the arc with freshman Dennis Fisher (Bellefonte, Pa./Bald Eagle Area) and Hays, as Juniata sunk four threes in the first period.
In an effort to halt the momentum of the high energy Bobcats, the Juniata bench called a time out that helped turn the momentum in favor of the Eagles. Hays was able to grab a steal and assist senior Lucas Mellott (Warfordsburg, Pa./Southern Fulton) on a layup that brought Juniata within two at 25-27. Mellott nailed two shots from the foul line after snatching a steal to give the Eagles their first lead at 30-29 with five minutes remaining. Hays followed up with a layup and, after a few defensive stops, Juniata carried a two-point 39-37 lead into halftime.
"I think the way they played us allowed Jeremy to get in the lane a little more," said Curley. "They were trying to come out and play guys, spread us out, change defenses, play full court, and that opened things up for Jeremy to get down the lane. He did a really nice job making decisions tonight."
Pitt.-Greensburg's Jarell Rigueroa notched 17 points in the first half, but the Eagles defense locked down on the sophomore and only allowed him two points in the second 20 minutes.
"We made [Figueroa] work for it," said Curley. "He's a good player. We communicated a lot better the second half. I thought we got better defensively as the game went on. We've got to get to the point where we start coming out of the gates and executing."
The Eagles opened scoring in the second half with a trey from senior Brian Scholly (State College, Pa./State College) and Hays followed up with a three point play from a layup and a made free-throw. Juniata continued to build its lead reaching an 11-point margin just three minutes into the second half. With 12:30 to go, Scholly drained a three to give Juniata the 13-point lead at 63-50. The Eagles continued their hot free throw shooting to extend the lead out to 17-points. With back-to-back layups from Fisher and a steal from freshman Trevor Clune (Meadville, Pa./Meadville Area), Juniata earned a 21-point lead at 71-50. The Eagles finished the night with a season-high 15 total steals.
Pitt.-Greensburg closed the gap down to 12, but a layup from Hays followed by a steal and a fast break from Mellott put the Eagles up 82-64 with 3:35 to play. A quick set of passes and a beautiful feed inside to sophomore Kyle Koehler (Chester Springs, Pa./Devon Prep.) from Mellott gave Juniata the 20-point lead. Koehler had another solid night off the bench with 14 points in 23 minutes.
"I thought we were a little bit soft at the end of the game," said Curley. "We got a big lead and got ahead of ourselves a little bit. We need to stay focus and execute. When you get back on your heels a little bit against pressure you start to have some problems, but we weathered those. We were able to get as many easy baskets as we gave up."
Juniata will face off against Nazareth College in the championship game tomorrow afternoon. The Golden Flyers rolled to an 85-65 win over Elizabethtown College in the first game of the tournament. Tip off for the championship game will be at 4 p.m. in Kennedy Sports + Recreation Center.
"Nazareth is an NCAA tournament post-season caliber team and probably the most complete team we've played this year," said Curley. "They're as efficient offensively, as talented offensively, and as good defensively as we've played so this is going to be a really big challenge. I'd like to think it's too really good teams playing each other and I hope both teams bring their best games because that's both why we're in the tournament and what we want to see. I'm excited to see what our guys do with the opportunity."
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