By: Laura Chapman
Assistant Sports Information Director
firstname.lastname@example.org • juniatasports.net
HUNTINGDON, Pa. – On a loud night in Kennedy Sports + Recreation Center, when the energy on court was as palpable as the fans in the stands, the Juniata College men's basketball team used a potent offense and a steady defense to top Alfred University (AU), 92-76, in the quarterfinals of the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Southwest tournament. Senior Brian Scholly (State College, Pa./State College) led the Eagles with a commanding game-high 32 points and a game-high nine rebounds. Just over three minutes into the game senior Kevin Stapleton (Indian, Pa./Indiana) netted his fourth point of the night to give him 1,000 points in his Juniata career. The guard finished the night with 15 points and six rebounds.
"To hold a team like that to 12 points with just eight minutes left in the half and to hold them to 26 points total in the second half says a lot," said head coach Greg Curley. "That really shows how committed these guys are to winning and how committed they are to each other. That second half was as good as we've played."
The game opened as Stapleton came down with a rebound and Scholly and classmate Jeremy Hays (McMechen, W. Va./John Marshal) worked the ball up the court with a series of quick passes for the layup inside by Scholly. Scholly followed up with a trey for the 7-2 lead. A steal by Hays followed by two made free throws by senior Pat Cassidy (Hollidaysburg, Pa./Hollidaysburg) gave Juniata the early 9-2 lead. Cassidy was 6-6 from the foul line where the Eagles shot over 78% on the night.
The high-energy game continued with a ferocious back-and-forth including a number of steals by the Eagles. Juniata forced 17 AU turnovers on the night grabbing 12 steals as a team. With seven minutes gone in the half and tied at 17-17, Hays split the legs of an AU defender with bounce pass to first year player Nate Ogle (Falls Church, Va./George Mason) to give Juniata the 19-17 lead. Ogle had a big night defensively for Juniata, pulling down a career-high five rebounds and putting in 13 valuable minutes off the bench.
Senior Lucas Mellott (Warfordsburg, Pa./Southern Fulton) put Juniata up 24-17 with a layup from a great baseline pass by sophomore Kyle Koehler (Chester Springs, Pa./Devon Prep.) and followed with a windmill layup for the 26-19 lead at the 10-minute mark. Mellott was just one rebound shy of his fifth double-double of the year, finishing the night with 10 points and nine rebounds. Less than a minute later, Stapleton worked his way out of triple team coverage to feed the ball inside to freshman Dennis Fisher (Bellefonte, Pa./Bald Eagle Area) for the open layup.
With five minutes to play in the first half the senior Dimitri Ross (Petersburg, Va./Appomattox Regional Governor's School) combined with Ogle to get Scholly the ball inside for the 39-31 Juniata lead. The high tempo game continued with both teams running the court and with 2:25 to play the Saxons tied things up at 41-41. Scholly nailed a three in the closing 30 seconds and the Eagles went into halftime trailing 50-46.
"I challenged the seniors at halftime and I don't know what we've seen better leadership than the second 20 minutes of that game," said Curley. "I'm really proud of the game that all those guys played."
Out of the break, Scholly put up the first points for either team with a three at 18:40 to pull within one at 50-49 AU. Ogle pulled down a huge rebound with five minutes gone in the period and on the other end of the court, Scholly drained a sweet three to put the Eagles on top 57-55. Ross hit a jumper from the corner and then nailed a put-back for the 61-56 Juniata advantage forcing an AU timeout with 13 minutes to play. Ross totaled nine points wit two rebounds shooting 4-8 from the floor over his 15 minutes of court time.
"I was very happy with the play Dimitri Ross gave us off the bench," said Curley. "I thought his push that he gave us in the second half really got us over the top. The same was true of Nate Ogle and Justin Fleming. That group played really well and we've been looking for that – to be able to go to the bench and stay consistent. Not only that, but at times they gave us a little extra rebounding with Nate and Dimitri was able to hit some big shots for us."
Ogle forced a turnover that released sophomore Justin Fleming (Doswell, Va./Benedictine College, Prep.) on a fast break, which he converted with a move right under to net for the 63-56 lead with just over ten minutes left to play. Moments later, Mellott jumped over two AU players for an offensive rebound and drained the put back to give the Eagles a nine-point advantage.
"We did a better job guarding the ball and we got down and focused," said Curley of the teams' defense. "We lost focus for a little bit and I think the way they play gets you that way. Sometimes you have to refocus yourself and understand who you are within the game and I thought we did a nice job of that in the second half."
With eight minutes on the clock, Mellott grabbed a steal and then nailed the fast-break-layup for the 70-58 Juniata lead. Ogle connected with Fleming on a crosscourt run for open space underneath and the easy layup. Juniata pushed out its advantage as Scholly made it 80-64 Eagle lead with five minutes to play on his sixth three of the night. Stapleton pulled a steal and converted the fast break before slipping in a put-back layup for the 90-74 advantage.
Juniata closed out the final minutes of play to take the 92-76 win. The Eagles will travel to Bethany College Saturday, March 8, to face No. 1 seed Bethany at 5:30 pm.
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