Juniata Drops Nail-Biter, 66-61, to U.S. Merchant Marine Academy

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By: Laura Chapman
Assistant Sports Information Director
chapmal@juniata.edu • juniatasports.net 


HUNTINGDON, Pa. – On a packed night in Kennedy Sports + Recreation Center, the Juniata College men's basketball team fell in a tight battle against the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, 66-61. The Eagles are now 14-9 on the year and fall to 5-7 in Landmark Conference play. Merchant Marine senior Nick Sergio had a game-high 19 points while Juniata senior Jeremy Hays (McMechen, W. Va./John Marshall) paced the Eagles with 18 points and four assists.


"They made shots, which allowed them to set their pressure which didn't allow us to get out in transition," said head coach Greg Curley. "That forced us into some more half court sets. I thought we got some good shots, but we just didn't make them for whatever reason."


The fight for the glass started from the first shot with the Eagles coming down with an all-important stop on Merchant Marines' first possession. At the five-minute mark the Eagles held a five-point lead at 9-4. Senior Kevin Stapleton (Indiana, Pa./Indiana) netted a clean trey for the 12-4 lead before the Mariners were able to convert a three-point to make it 12-7 with just under 12 minutes remaining. Stapleton totaled 11 points on the night and three steals.


Sophomore Justin Fleming (Dowell, Va./Benedictine College Prep.) drew the defense inside before dishing the ball out to senior Pat Cassidy (Hollidaysburg, Pa./Hollidaysburg) who nailed the jumper from the foul line and followed it up with a trey from the left corner for the eight point Juniata lead, 17-9. Senior Lucas Mellott (Warfordsburg, Pa./Southern Fulton) worked his way to a team-high six rebounds and added a steal to Juniata's nine total.


Hays pushed the Juniata lead to eight when he danced inside the paint, on the edge of control with the ball, and muscled in the lay up. Senior Dimitri Ross (Petersburg, Va./Appomattox Regional Governor's School) followed up Hays' effort with a monster three that set the Memorial Gym crowd roaring with just over six minutes to play in the half. In 12 minutes off the bench, Ross put in 12 points and pulled down two rebounds.


With just over two minutes left in the half, sophomore Kyle Koehler (Chester Springs, Pa./Devon Prep.) threaded a bounce pass to Stapleton for the layup under the basket and the 30-20 Juniata lead. Stapleton grabbed a steal on Merchant Marine's final possession of the half and Fleming floated in the layup at the buzzer for the 32-22 halftime advantage.


Out of the break, senior Kevin Snyder (Indiana, Pa./Indiana) made a great pup fake to draw his defender and slipped in a bounce pass to senior Brian Scholly (State College, Pa./State College) who drained the trey for the 35-24 lead. With six minutes gone in the second half, Hays sunk a three as the Mariners worked inside to pull within two at 41-39. The Mariners shot ten percent better from the floor in the second half at 53.8%.


At 9:32 remaining, Merchant Marine tied the game for the first time since the opening minutes of play. Scholly responded at the other end, converting a three-point play followed by a defensive stop and a trey from Stapleton for the 51-45 lead. Ross sunk a three with under seven minutes of play remaining to keep the Eagles on top 54-50.


Merchant Marine managed another tie, 56-56, at 4:25 and took their first lead of the game since the start at 59-56 before Scholly responded with a trey to tie the game again. The Mariners held a one-point lead, 62-61, into the final two minutes of action. Down three with 30 seconds to play, the Eagles couldn't convert on two chances to tie the game and fell 66-61.


"We just need to get better from this, keep plugging and keep grinding," said Curley. "I thought that was a pretty good defensive effort from us. We had a miss-match inside, but we did a good job of getting on him. [Sergio] is a kid that shoots 50% from the foul line and he didn't miss. He's a senior that came up big and did what he needed to do. That game wasn't without opportunities. We need to be able to score some points and set out defense to put a little more pressure on them."


The game marked the final home contest for the seven men's basketball seniors. The class of 2014 is the winningest four-year class in Juniata men's basketball history, totaling 65 wins to date.


"We can't let the scoreboard define what success is or what we've done," said Curley. "I can't say enough about those seven guys. They're great students, great people with great values. They've been the most successful group in the history of this school. That's saying a lot. They've all made a ton of big shots and a ton of big plays. It's very rare that seven seniors ever come through any program. I happen to be very proud of that. I'm very proud of them for staying together."


Juniata will finish the regular season on the road with games against Susquehanna University and Drew University this Wednesday and Saturday, respectively.


"We need to reground and keep fighting and come back and see what we can do this week," added Curley."


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