The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

January 10, 2012

Bill Bowman's column on college sports: Crusaders learn lesson about closing

Crusader men learn lesson about closing


Daily Item

---- — It may have seemed like nit-picking at the time, but Frank Marcinek wasn't doing it for the sake of picking nits. He had a purpose behind it, because he sees the big picture.

Players don't always see what's behind the door, and coaches like it that way. Players don't always realize the reason they are doing 'A' is to get to 'Z;' most think it's about going from 'A' to 'B.'

The long-time Susquehanna men's basketball coach was not pleased with the way his team finished Saturday's win over Drew, a six-point victory where the Crusaders led by nearly 20 at one point. Instead of relish in the win, he got on his team for letting Drew creep back into the game in the final moments. In Marcinek's mind, the Crusaders stepped off the gas when they should have floored it, leaving the Rangers on the side of the road.

Some people call an end-game scenario a clutch situation. I like to call it "winning time." Coaches will often tell you the most important periods of the game are the final few minutes of the first half, the first few minutes after halftime, and the end of the game. On Saturday, Marcinek felt even though his team was successful in the end, they failed during winning time.

While the Crusaders might have limped home Saturday, whatever Marcinek and his coaches said in the 20 or so hours between the end of Saturday's game against Drew and Sunday's tough win over the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy, it was obvious the point got through to the players.

Down nine late in the first half to USMMA, Susquehanna scored the final six points of the half to get within three at the break. In the final minutes of the game and overtime, the Crusaders made the clutch plays all over the court when they had to. There was Spenser Spencer's 3-pointer to give SU the lead; Harley Sellinger's putback that became the game-winner; and then freshman Matt Possanza intercepted an inbounds pass to deny the Mariners a chance at the win.

In winning time, the Crusaders made all the necessary plays.

"We played well in those spots when it mattered most," Marcinek said after Sunday's win. "My gripe with these guys has always been the last couple minutes of the half and the last couple minutes of the game. We were down nine, and we got it to three and that was key.

"We played pretty well down the stretch in overtime."

Those are big steps for this team. While SU has one of the league's most explosive scorers in Spencer, the Crusaders are incredibly young. Their roster has just two seniors (Spencer and little-used classmate Matt Modrick), while it is littered with 10 freshmen and sophomores. Its two captains are sophomores Jake Eskin and Wally Rutecki.

But Marcinek sees a lot of potential in this group, which is why wants them to do the little things now so they are natural when things really matter a month from now. They have won eight of nine since starting 0-4 and now have a big weekend coming up starting with a trip to Catholic on Friday night. The Cardinals were unbeaten in the Landmark before dropping games at Moravian and at Scranton by a combined six points over the weekend.

If the Crusaders can finish the way they finished Sunday, they are going to be in the mix in the Landmark from now until playoff time. But they have to be ready for Marcinek to nit-pick a little.

It's what coaches do when they think they have something special.

n Sports editor Bill Bowman covers college sports for The Daily Item. Email comments to bbowman@dailyitem.com.