Men’s Basketball Grinds Out Win Over Lafayette

The men’s basketball team beat Lafayette 65-60 on Monday behind 18 points from Jesse Steele and Andrew Nicholas.

“They gave us everything we could handle today,” head coach King Rice said. “First off I want to say that my kids have grown up a whole bunch. This team last year really put it on us over at Lafayette. We talked about it all week, the opportunity to maybe have a win over a team that beat us last year. I’m just proud of my kids, it wasn’t easy.”

“It feels great (to get this win),” Steele said. “They really kicked our butt last year when we went there. So it feels really good to get this win and puts us over .500 and we’re on a streak right now, three in a row. Just need to keep going.”

In the second half, the Hawks (4-3) led 42-35. Over the next 2:45, a 9-1 run put MU ahead by 14 with 10 minutes left to play.

The Leopards (1-6) scratched and clawed their way back into the game, but never got within one possession.

The Blue and White closed out the game thanks to a steal and dunk from Nesmith and a dagger three from Steele with less than a minute to go.

MU’s up-pace defense played a big roll in the win. Lafayette had 27 turnover, with 19 Hawk steals.

“We do a lot of trapping on defense,” Dion Nesmith said. “When we see the ball we’re flying to the ball trying to get steals. We’re not trying to deflect passes out of bounds. We’re trying to steal the ball and go the other way and score two points. So everytime we see the ball in the air we’re going after it aggressively. Sometimes we get fouls on it. But I think that’s why we win games, because of our defense going after those steals and getting points on the breaks.”

The defense also stepped inside the lane and drew charges in the game.

“We have tough kids,” Rice said. “Before this game, early this year I think we had a couple. I thought we were just going to be the draw-charge team. But when your defense gets better, the way ours has, you want to stand in there for your teammates to take charges.”

The game opened as a back-and-forth battle. Teams traded the lead with each possession until Lafayette opened up a 17-13 lead.

Nicholas had the first six points of the game for the Blue and White. After hitting a runner, a three-pointer and one of his free throws, the Hawks led 6-4.

During the see-saw of an opening stretch, one of the teams needed to find a spark. As he so often does with hustle and determination, Max DiLeo stepped up for the Hawks.

“Max is one of the most ahtletic kids at our school,” Rice said. “He just is. He can jump. He was a great soccer player. He probably would win the dunk contest if we had everybody doing it.”

Trailing 10-9, DiLeo found himself dribbling down the court with no one in front of him. The 6’1” sophomore raised up high and brought the crowd to its feet with a two-handed jam.

Eight minutes into the game, MU was being out-rebounded 10-4. After a timeout, the Hawks trotted out their biggest lineup of the night. Aside from Steele, the smallest man on the floor was 6’4”.

The Blue and White finished the half strong with a three-pointer by Steele and trailed 26-24 at the half.

Counting Steele’s three, the Hawks went on a 15-4 run early in the second half.

Stephen Spinella opened the half with a slam dunk. Spinella, Nicholas and Ed Waite added a few more buckets and free throws to put MU ahead 36-30.

Steele sandwiched a Lafayette three-pointer from Tony Johnson with two triples of his own. The second three had the Hawks ahead 42-35 with just under 13 minutes left in the game.

Baskets by Nesmith, Waite and Steele had the Blue and White ahead 50-36 and feeling comfortable.

John hit another three, which was shortly followed by a Joey Ptasinski three and it was an eight-point game, 52-44.

The Leopards closed the gap to four after the teams went back-and-forth with baskets and Ptasinski drilled another three and the score was 57-53.

With 2:25 left, Nicholas put the Hawks up six with a two-handed jam.

The Leopards responded with a bucket of their own and Spinella made one free throw to put MU ahead 60-55 with 1:35 on the clock.

The Hawks defense was pressuring all game and they came up with a turnover at the most opportune moment.

A three-man trap caused a turnover at halfcourt and Waite came away with the ball.

Following a timeout by the Blue and White, Steele pulled up and hit the dagger, a three to put his team ahead by eight with 55 seconds left.

“He really got after it, we got the steal, he got the bucket,” Rice said. “All good.”

“Honestly, I thought there was less time on the shot clock,” Steele said. “So when I shot the ball and saw the shot clock said 10 I said, ‘This ball has to go in or I’m going to get yelled at.’ But Ed (Waite) made a great play. He was getting double-teamed. He just passed it out of the double-team and I was open and I just jumped up and shot it. Luckily it went in.”

“Jesse’s number was called though,” Rice said. “They did a good job of making him get away from the ball for a second, but he was going to get that ball back and go at eight seconds. He just did a little early. Good thing it went in though.”

Seth Hinrichs came down the floor and matched Steele’s three for Lafayette, 63-58.

Steele made two free throws on the Hawks next possession and Levi Giese made a bucket for the Leopards with 31.5 remaining.

Steele and Nicholas couldn’t convert on free throws, but Lafayette’s offense wouldn’t get on the board again.

“I was bragging about it (foul shooting) and that’s what I get,” Rice said. “We’re good free throw shooters. What happens when you’re a team that hasn’t been in the past, it can rear its head up pretty quickly.”

Hawks win 65-60.

MU shot 46.9% from the field opposed to Lafayette’s 43.1%. From three-point range, the Blue and White shot 31.8% to the Leopard’s 33.3%.

Their next game is Monday, December 3 at 7 pm at Binghamton.

They return home Wednesday, December 5 for a game against Navy.

PHOTO COURTESY of MU Photography