By Todd Hummel
The Daily Item
---- — SELINSGROVE -- Susquehanna controlled its own destiny for the Landmark Conference playoffs, needing to win final three home games to clinch a berth.
The first two of those games came this weekend and things couldn't have gone more smoothly for the Crusaders.
So smoothly in fact, next Saturday's home finale with rival Juniata is for seeding purposes only as Susquehanna has already wrapped up a playoff berth.
Four Susquehanna players scored in double figures as the Crusaders beat Catholic 80-71 on Saturday afternoon at O.W. Houts Gymnasium.
"The one thing we want to do is not lose at home and we had to protect Pour house," freshman Tony Seldon said. "We knew it was an urgent game for us. We had to win to get in to the playoffs."
Friday night had worked out perfectly for the Crusaders, as Susquehanna beat Goucher and Catholic lost to Juniata, meaning a win over the Cardinals on Saturday clinched a berth in the league playoffs.
"Obviously, the last couple of weekends didn't go the way we wanted it to. (Susquehanna had dropped three straight on the road entering Friday night). We have a lot of confidence playing at home and we knew what we had to do," Susquehanna senior guard Spenser Spencer said. "We were really excited and focused all week in practice and it showed this weekend."
Susquehanna (14-9 overall, 8-5 LC) has one more league-game remaining, a home game next Saturday with rival Juniata that will determine playoff seedings. Catholic drops to 16-8, 6-7.
Despite the fact the Crusaders led the whole game, that didn't mean that there were not points in the contest where the Cardinals had their chances.
Maybe Catholic's best shot to get a lead on Susquehanna came at the beginning of the second half, where foul trouble and the Cardinals' improved play at the end of the first half had Susquehanna coach Frank Marcinek concerned.
"The start of the second half, I was a little bit nervous. I had thought they (Catholic) had established their inside game. I thought they were going to go in at us and we had some foul trouble," Marcinek said. "I was a little bit concerned about our start of the second half, but as long as they didn't get ahead of us, we were in good shape."
The Cardinals trailed by four (39-35) to start the second half, but rallied to tie the game twice in the early stages, the last coming with 15:34 left in the game when Steve Limberiou tied the game at 44-44.
However, Seldon scored six consecutive points for the Crusaders to start a 12-2 run to give Susquehanna a 59-46 lead when Spencer hit a 3-pointer with 11:41 left in the game.
"We knew we needed to stay aggressive (in the second half). We knew if we didn't put them away, they would come back on us," Seldon said. "We wanted to continue to put the pressure on them."
There was a reason Marcinek said Catholic "had the best talent in the league." The Cardinals didn't go away with their own playoff hopes on the line, rallying to within 71-68 when Limberiou hit a 3-pointer with 1:09 left in the game.
Susquehanna converted 9-of-12 foul shots down the stretch to clinch the game.
Spencer led four Crusaders in double figures with 19 points. J.T. Wilson added 18 points, while Seldon finished with 12 points and nine rebounds. Harley Sellinger added 11 points and eight rebounds. Point guard Mike Perillo had nine points and seven assists. Perillo also didn't commit a turnover in the second half.
The Crusaders jumped on the Cardinals early building a seven-point lead less than two minutes into the game when Spencer's 3-pointer with 18:36 left in the first half gave Susquehanna an 8-1 lead.
"That's one of the things we've been focusing on since the beginning of the season, is jumping on teams at the start of the game," Spencer said.
"It was huge to get off to the good start. I think (a start like that) clears your head," Marcinek said. "Though we jumped out to a seven- or eight-point lead right out of the gate, it usually doesn't last very long in my experience."
Catholic would never let the game get away from it in the first half -- Susquehanna never got its lead to double digits -- but the Cardinals weren't able to tie the game until late in the first half. Wilson had 13 of his 18 points in the first 22 minutes of the game, including connecting on 3-of-5 3-pointers. It was a bounce-back night shooting the ball for the junior, who was 4-of-14 from the floor on Friday night against Goucher.
"Last night, I didn't shoot well at all, but the coaches told me to keep shooting. I'm a pretty good shooter, so I'm confident they're going to start dropping," Wilson said. "If they are going to hug (Spenser), I'm going to have open 3's on the wing or on the trail."
Shawn Holmes had 17 points to lead Catholic. Limberiou added 15 points off the bench.