Men's Basketball Guts Out Tournament Win

Monday, December 16, 2013

Women’s basketball

The Muhlenberg men’s basketball team leaned on its defense to keep pace in a low-scoring slugfest with Washington and Lee, then leaned on Malique Killing to get them over the hump.

Austin Curry
A few hours before the game, Curry was named Centennial Conference co-player of the week for the first time in his career. Curry was honored for his 24-point performance in Saturday’s win at DeSales.
Killing led all scorers with 28 points, including 15 in the final seven and a half minutes as the Mules muscled their way past a game Generals squad, 66-57, in the first contest of the PNC Royal Rumble. After four consecutive victories of 16 points or more, Muhlenberg (8-1) proved it could prevail in a rock fight, winning its fifth consecutive game and advancing to Tuesday’s championship. The Mules will meet host Scranton, an 80-66 winner over Rosemont, for the tournament title.

“Obviously the blowouts are good, but once you get into conference play, it gets a lot harder, and everyone is good once you get to the playoffs,” Killing said. “These matchups are what we’re going to see in the future. To gut a win out like that was a big confidence booster.”

Battling foul trouble, the Mules used pure grit on both ends of the floor to improve to 8-1 for the first time since the 1955-56 campaign. After the Generals (2-5) grabbed their last lead at 43-42 on a jumper with 8:34 to play, Muhlenberg put the clamps on, forcing five turnovers and taking control on the back of its electrifying point guard.

Killing was all over the floor down the stretch, disrupting the Generals on the defensive end and finishing a spectacular array of drives as he put his stamp on the first meeting between the schools. After senior co-captain Kevin Hargrove scored inside to give the Mules the lead back, Killing took over, scoring nine of the team’s next 11 points with one dazzling aerial display after another.

First, a pair of free throws and a hanging finish stretched the lead to five. Next, Killing answered a Generals bucket with a lefty layin, then polished off a beautiful backdoor feed from freshman Jon Schreer after the teams traded three-pointers to make it 55-48 with just under three minutes remaining. W&L pulled back to within five, but Killing answered again, drawing oohs and aahs from the crowd with a show-time three-point play. Killing drove to the basket, absorbed a big hit, and somehow got a hanging runner to roll around the rim and in with 2:07 to play. The Generals never got closer than six the rest of the way.

Malique Killing
Killing was 9-for-9 from the foul line, improving his season percentage to .870.
“I struggled with the physicality at the beginning of the game, but I wasn’t worried at all,” said Killing, who didn’t score until the 5:40 mark of the first half. “With the talent we have on this team, I knew we would be fine. At the same time, I understand I bring a lot to the team. [Late in the game] Alec Stavetski came over and told me to put us on my back. Those guys have so much confidence in me that it’s hard not to believe in myself.

“I’m not going to take all the credit, though,” he said of the impressive and-one. “I got a friendly bounce on that one.”

Despite shooting just 9-for-24 (37.5 percent) from the field in the first half, the Mules still took a 28-25 lead into the break and made it stand up thanks to another lockdown defensive effort. The Generals shot 36.7 percent from the field and committed 20 turnovers against a Muhlenberg team that came into the game ranked eighth in Division III in field-goal percentage defense. The Mules used a number of players to harass W&L’s top weapon, the third-leading scorer in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference, into seven turnovers and held him to 11 points, seven below his season average.

“In the locker room at halftime, defense is the only thing we talked about,” said Killing, who came up with six steals. “It’s what we hang our hats on.”

While the Generals faded down the stretch, Muhlenberg saved its best for when it counted most. The Mules shot 56 percent from the field (14-of-25) in the second half. They also had 11 assists to six turnovers after committing 11 miscues in the first half

Hargrove finished with 11 points to go along with three blocks and two steals. Senior co-captain Austin Curry joined him in double figures with 10 and added seven assists. Senior co-captain Brandon Bovino snagged a game-high 11 rebounds.

Next up: a date with the host Royals, who received 11 votes in the latest poll, on their home court, and perhaps the Mules’ toughest test of the season to close out the 2013 portion of their schedule.

“They will be by far the best team we’ve played,” Killing said of Scranton. “Beating Scranton would be huge.”
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