Men's Basketball Grinds Out Important CC Win

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

It wasn’t the smoothest performance, but the Muhlenberg men’s basketball team’s victory over Swarthmore certainly made its path to the postseason quite a bit smoother. That, and a little help from some friends.

The Mules held on down the stretch in a choppy contest featuring 45 fouls and 35 turnovers, securing a 63-54 decision that brought them to the doorstep of a Centennial Conference playoff berth – and perhaps more than just that. With the win, and a pair of upsets from Gettysburg (over Johns Hopkins) and Ursinus (Franklin & Marshall), Muhlenberg (15-7, 10-5) vaulted into a three-way tie with the Blue Jays and Diplomats for third place in the league standings – with a showdown against F&M on tap for Saturday.

Kevin Hargrove
Hargrove is averaging 11.3 points and 10.5 rebounds over the last 10 games.
“As soon as I heard, I got so excited,” said Hargrove, who caught the final scores just before taking the court for the second half. “I grabbed the guys and told them that this game just got bigger. If we win, we would be tied with them. From then on, we knew we had to just grind this one out.”

And grind it out the Mules did. After leading by as many as 13 in the first half, Muhlenberg found itself fending off the gritty Garnet (6-16, 3-12) the rest of the way. Swarthmore twice got as close as two early in the second stanza, only to watch the Mules respond with a bucket by Hargrove each time. The Garnet sliced another double-digit lead down to four (56-52) with a late push, but Hargrove’s thunderous jam – with 1:10 to play and the shot clock winding down – on a perfectly executed pick-and-roll with Malique Killing – put an exclamation point on the Mules’ 12th straight victory in the series.

Alec Stavetski
Stavetski drove the baseline for this layup that gave the Mules a 46-38 lead with 6:55 left.
“We knew these guys weren’t going to quit,” said Hargrove, who scored 12 of his 14 points in the second half and added eight rebounds and two blocks. “We knew our offense wasn’t going to win that game; we were going to have to grind it out and do it with defense.”

Muhlenberg’s defense was strong for most of the night. The Mules held Swarthmore to 19 points in the first half – their fewest points allowed in a half since the first round of last year’s CC playoffs. The Garnet, who came in leading the league in three-point attempts, shot just 5-of-21 (24 percent) from behind the arc and committed 22 turnovers.

Senior Austin Curry led four players in double figures with 15 points, including eight during a 15-0 run that put the Mules in control after the Garnet had taken an early 5-0 lead. Sophomore Alec Stavetski joined Hargrove with 14 points.

Not to be outdone, the other half of Muhlenberg’s twin towers – freshman John Hunter – turned in perhaps the best performance of his young career. The rookie fell just short of his first career double-double, coupling a season-high 10 points with nine rebounds, six of them of the offensive variety. On the advice of his veteran counterpart, Hunter became more and more aggressive as the game wore on.

“John has been getting better every day,” Hargrove said of his frontcourt mate. “He has been fantastic. I keep telling him to take his shots. They weren’ít doubling him, but he wanted to pass it out. I told him to take it up himself. I’m leaving next year, but I’m expecting bigger and better things from him.”

With the victory, the Mules’ magic number for a CC playoff berth stands at one. Though it can clinch a spot with one victory or one Gettysburg loss, Muhlenberg has its sights set higher. A victory on Saturday would give the Mules a leg up on F&M, and sitting just a game behind second-place McDaniel, even more ground could be gained. Though the stakes have been raised, Hargrove says Muhlenberg’s next game is just the next step in a season-long path toward their bigger goals.

“We’ve had a great culture in practice,” Hargrove said. “Everybody has been getting up and down and playing with excitement. We just have to continue that process.”
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