Bard tops defending Liberty League champ Skidmore in conference opener

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SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. – After a 3-6 start to the season and with some obvious offensive concerns to address, Bard College head men's basketball coach Adam Turner and his associate Mike Romano decided to retool things a bit.

The adjustments look pretty good so far, to put it mildly.

The Raptors opened Liberty League play with an 82-75 victory at Skidmore on Saturday. It was Bard's first win over Skidmore in men's basketball since joining the Liberty League in 2011.

First, a disclaimer: Skidmore was playing without preseason All-American Aldin Medunjanin. He could miss a large portion or all of the season with a groin injury. That said, Skidmore is likely a Liberty League playoff team anyway.

A 14-3 run in the first half and hot shooting (52%) gave Bard a 42-31 halftime lead. Five minutes into the second half, the Raptors led, 54-34, and it was becoming a blowout.

Skidmore (5-4, 0-1 Liberty League) took less than two minutes to cut the 20-point deficit to 13, then to 10 with 12:23 to go. With 10 minutes left, Bard's lead was eight. This was either going to come down to foul shooting or a couple of crucial offensive possessions for sure. It turned out to be both.

Up eight, Bard turned it over on consecutive possessions on shot clock violations; Skidmore cut it to six, then to three, 65-62, on a three-pointer by Lithuanian freshman Edvinas Rupkas, with 3:41 left in the game.

Emmanuel Rainey responded with a three-pointer for Bard to push it back to six. There was 1:59 left when a pair of Erik Sanders (New York, NY) free throws cut it back to three again, 75-72, but Harry Johnson swished a clutch three at the other end to make it six again.

Finally, after Sanders made two more foul shots to make it 73-69 with 1:24 left, Rainey hit a lefty runner in the lane to provide the dagger. He finished with a career high 33 points, and the Raptors made seven of their last eight free throws.

"We have felt since the beginning of the season that we're a good offensive team," Turner said, "but we got into a shooting rut, and we ended up playing low-scoring games. We used the time over break the last couple of weeks to re-establish what the roles are. We have two really strong playmakers in Emmanuel and DeVahnte (Mosley), and we want to make sure we play to our strengths."

Rainey's 33 points were the most scored by a Bard player since Lamar Powell scored 40 in a loss to RPI two seasons ago. Rainey had 22 in the second half, nine from the foul line, and finished the game 5-for-6 from beyond the arc. Mosley had 18 points, six rebounds and four assists. Freshman Armando Dunn added 11 points off the bench, and senior Brandon Cunningham played well, producing nine points and four rebounds on 4-for-5 shooting from the field.

"At the end of last year, we felt that the league would be more wide open this year and that we had the talent to be right there," Turner said. "We knew Skidmore would be a challenge. But if the best player in the league is going to be out, every single team in the league right now is sitting in their locker room saying, 'The league is ours,' including us. Everything is wide open."

Rupkus finished with 23 points and seven rebounds for Skidmore; Sanders added 19 points. The Thoroughbreds host Hobart on Sunday.

Bard is right back on the court on Sunday as well, taking on Union in Schenectady.

"We've got to get some good rest tonight and start our preparation together in the morning," Turner said. "We took pride last year on being good on the second day on the road; the league doubleheaders are very tough; you have to be mentally tough and really prepared to grind out a win on the second day."

Follow the game via Live Stats and Live Video are available. Tip is at 4.