By Anthony Mitchell
Susquehanna needed a spark after Berkeley (N.J.) tied the game early in the second half and looked to run.
The break-neck speed at which Berkeley ran their offense helped the Knights even the score and their tight defense forced a half-court turnover early in the second half.
Sprinting back, Harley Sellinger got to the rim in the nick of the time to swat a lay-up attempt off of the backboard and out of play. Energized by the Sellinger rejection, the Crusaders grabbed the lead and held an advantage for the rest of the game for a 78-64 win over the Knights at O.W. Houts Gymnasium Monday.
“I needed to get back (on defense),” Sellinger said. “I needed a big play to get us back into it. It’s just one of those game-changing plays that we needed.”
And change the game it did.
The Crusaders forced a miss off of the ensuing possession with Sellinger pulling down the rebound and the ball rested in Brandon Hedley’s hands for a corner 3-pointer a few seconds later to put Susquehanna ahead 48-45.
“(The Sellinger block) was huge,” Crusaders coach Frank Marcinek said. “We didn’t have a lot of momentum going for us at that point and he came out of nowhere (and) blocked it.”
The block was the cap on a strong performance at both ends for Sellinger with 18 points and nine rebounds. Steven Weidlich soared for 10 rebounds and added 11 points for the Crusaders for a double-double.
With a small lead, the Crusaders (7-4) tightened their defensive pressure, fighting for rebounds in close after Berkeley (9-7) had owned the glass at their end of the court in the first half with 13 offensive rebounds.
Taking advantage of small holes in the Knights defense, the Crusaders started to work the ball around the perimeter before making a quick pass to a cutter on the baseline.
The Crusaders used a cutting Matt McGugan to push their lead to five off of a crisp pass from Jake Eskin. After a soaring put-back from Weidlich and a 3-point play from Wally Rutecki, the Crusaders quickly transformed a tie game into a 10-point lead.
During the run, Susquehanna boxed out the Knights in traffic for defensive rebounds, something that Marcinek stressed for his team to do in the second half according to Sellinger.
“Coach (Marcinek) gave us a challenge at halftime to play harder and go get more defensive rebounds,” Sellinger said. “We just had to pick it up and play as hard as we could.”
Refusing to go away, the Knights kept the ball at their end of the floor, converting on a lay-up before hitting on one of two free throws on their next possession to trim the Crusaders’ lead to seven, 55-48.
With the Knights looking to make a run, Susquehanna made its way to the foul line, where the Crusaders made a living, connecting on 30 of their 40 attempts.
True to form, McGugan knocked down a pair at the line and Sellinger spotted a cutting Weidlich for a lay-up on the next possession.
Driving the ball inside with time winding down on the game clock, the Crusaders drew fouls to keep their lead steady, connecting at the line consistently late in the game to prevent a Knights comeback.
To get to the free throw line consistently, the Crusaders needed to prevent the Knights from scoring and Marcinek was quick to credit his defense.
“We cut down on some of their penetration, which was key,” Marcinek said.
Despite a frequent press by the Knights, the Crusaders were able to avoid getting trapped along the sideline and turning the ball over, leading to open looks.
Susquehanna was in a battle in the first half as a late five-point run by the Knights cut the deficit to two at the half with the Crusaders clinging to a 37-35 lead.