Preview: Men's Basketball Opens Playoffs at McDaniel

Tuesday, February 25, 2014 - page 2

The Muhlenberg men’s basketball team hopes to start the Centennial Conference playoffs in style. Its style, specifically.

Austin Curry
Curry is shooting exactly 42.4 percent from three-point range for the second straight season, good for third in the CC. He needs two more triples for 200 in his career.
The fifth-seeded Mules (16-9) begin their postseason journey Wednesday at fourth-seeded McDaniel (17-8) in a first-round clash between teams with contrasting tendencies.

While high-powered Muhlenberg ranks second in the CC in scoring offense (74.1 points per game), field-goal percentage (.458) and three-point percentage (.385), the stingy Green Terror paces the league in scoring defense (59.7) and is third in field-goal defense (.409) and second in three-point defense (.314). Employing a deliberate offense, McDaniel, which attempted 41 fewer shots than any other team in the conference (and 159 fewer than Muhlenberg), finished ninth in the CC in scoring (62.5) and is the only team without a player averaging double figures.

“Obviously we would like to impose our style,” said senior Brandon Bovino. “One of our strengths is getting the ball up and down the floor. I think we’re ready for whatever they bring at us.”

Those stylistic differences were on full display as the teams split their regular-season meetings. Each won on its home court, where the Green Terror finished 8-3, including a 57-50 defeat of the Mules on Jan. 8. Muhlenberg, which went 6-6 on the road, led by 15 in the first half but managed only 20 points over the final 26 minutes as McDaniel gradually clawed its way back before closing the game on an 8-0 run.

The rematch was a different story. The Green Terror came to town in first place, but the Mules handed them a 68-54 setback on the strength of 27 points from junior Malique Killing and 56-percent shooting against Division III’s eighth-ranked scoring defense.

The team best able to dictate the pace and shape the game to its preferred style, then, is likely to get the better of Round 3.

“They are very athletic, and we’ve had some trouble with that,” Bovino added. “We need to make sure we stay in front of them. I think it comes down to not letting them get to the basket as easily as some teams have been able to against us.”

Despite their differences, the first-round foes share a dream of ending lengthy postseason droughts. While Muhlenberg hasn’t captured the league crown in 16 years, the Green Terror is still looking for its first CC playoff win – and its first postseason victory of any kind since 1961. McDaniel (formerly Western Maryland) is 0-4 all time in the conference tournament; Muhlenberg is 9-13.

Kevin Hargrove
Just 13 points away from 1,000 for his career, Hargrove had 10 double-doubles this season. His triple-double against the Green Terror last season was only the eighth in CC history.
The Mules will also be playing against history. Since the CC went to a five-team field in 2005, no fifth seed has even made it to the championship game. However, the road team has won the 4-5 game three of the last four years, including Muhlenberg in 2010.

Bovino and fellow senior captains James Albano, Austin Curry and Kevin Hargrove have accomplished quite a bit in their four years in Allentown. Sixty four victories, numerous individual records and three straight playoff appearances highlight their collective resume. The only box left to check is a conference title.

“Our end goal every season is to win a championship,” Bovino said. “As the games wind down in your career, it becomes a little more important. It would be great to cap off our careers with a championship, but we know it’s a tough road. We have the talent; it just comes down to execution.”

Muhlenberg, which lost in the CC championship in 2012 and in the semifinals a year ago, snapped a two-game skid with a 67-65 victory over Ursinus on Senior Day. McDaniel, meanwhile, has dropped two in a row and three of its last four, including a 55-47 defeat to Gettysburg in Westminster last weekend.

A victory on Wednesday would propel the Mules into the semifinals for the third straight year, where defending league champion and top-seeded Dickinson (20-5) awaits a Friday night showdown. Muhlenberg split its season series with the Red Devils, with each team winning on the road.

The other semifinal pits second-seeded F&M (17-8) against Johns Hopkins (15-10), the third seed. Muhlenberg was swept by the Diplomats this year and went 1-1 against the Blue Jays. The semifinal winners meet back in Carlisle on Saturday for the league title.

That, however, can wait. For now, it’s all about the first step on the road to the NCAA Tournament.

“This could be the last game of our season, the last game of some of our careers,” Bovino said. “We’re ready to go.

“We feel like we can beat anybody, and those teams feel the same way. It’s just a matter of who can get the job done.”