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The Blue & Gray Press | November 23, 2017

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Saints March In, Stomp On Eagle Men (77-73)

By JENICA SEMLER

When Thursday’s game against Marymount University ended and the Saints had won, the University of Mary Washington’s fans filed out of Goolrick Gymnasium in near silence.  It was the first home game this season that the Eagles lost.
Despite their best efforts, the University of Mary Washington’s men’s basketball team lost 77 to 73 in a close home game against Marymount University.
Following Saturday’s game at Hood College in the CAC Contest, the team’s record is now 12-6 overall, and 6-4 within the Capital Athletic Conference, leaving them tied for second place in the CAC.
Head Coach Rod Wood was despondent about the team’s performance.
“Execution wise, it wasn’t the greatest of games offensively or defensively, but we played hard,” he said.
The Eagles led for the majority of the first half, at times by up to 12 points.  The two teams struggled back and forth and at the end of the second half, and with 26 seconds left in the game, the score was 73 to 74.
Sophomore Matt Tracey reflected on the team’s faults.
“We had a problem putting them away,” he said. “We couldn’t push our lead to 15 or 20 which would have sealed the game.”
Coach Wood agreed.
“I think it’s flattering when people say, ‘how come you lost?’”  he said. “In order to win, every single guy on the team must play at 100 percent mentally and physically.  It’s draining.  It’s not like they get a breather, they have to do it every single night.  What you want as a Coach is for them to play as close to their talent level as possible.  You want your kids to achieve their potential.  This group collectively plays as close as any I’ve ever coached.  I couldn’t be happier with a group of young men.”
This season, Wood’s players are just as dedicated to each other and the team as he is to them.
Senior Mike Lee, a guard and an integral part of the men’s team, discovered a stress fracture in his fibula on January 19th  of this year, after having been in pain all season.
Lee refuses to let the injury stop him.  When off the court, he uses crutches  and goes to physical therapy.  In addition to stretching,  Lee treats his leg with an ice bucket, steam and heat at least twice a day.
“We don’t want to strengthen it right now,” he said. “It gets enough pounding during games.”
Despite being advised to sit out for four to six weeks, Lee refuses to leave his team behind.
“I’m playing anyways,” he said.  “It’s pretty painful, but I feel it would be a lot more painful if I never gave it a try.  The reason I’m willing to play under these circumstances is because I know we have a team that is good enough to win,” he said.  “I’m not playing with a stress fracture just because it’s my senior year.  I’m doing it because the guys that I’m playing with are my family.  Just like you would do anything for your natural family, I would do anything for my teammates and coaches. Coach Wood has played the roles of a boss, a friend, as well as a father on and off the court.  I don’t mind playing the last couple games with a broken bone to show my appreciation for that. ”
It’s understood by everyone on the team that Mike’s decision to play is not only causing him great physical pain but also jeopardizes his future.
Senior Justin Baker admired Lee’s dedication.
“I think Mike is a great example because he shows everyone including all the younger players how much he wants to win and how much of his possible professional career his sacrificing just to help us achieve our team goal,” he said.
Despite his injuries, coach Wood argues that Lee is playing more of a team game.
“Freshman and sophomore year Mike was more of a scorer while the rest of his game lagged behind,” Wood said.  “Since then he’s really matured as a player.  And now his injury affects his shot because he has less strength and one leg essentially.  He knows he’s not as much a scoring threat so he’s raised his game in other areas: rebounding, defensively, finding the open man on our team, etc. Other than the stress fracture his game has really blossomed.”
Lee played for 31 minutes on Thursday.  He had seven defensive rebounds and scored 15 points.  The high scorer for the Eagles was senior AJ Fitzgerald with 17 points.
“I know how much pain Mike is in and exactly what he’s going through and for him to play at the level he is, especially in the last two games—is nothing short of remarkable,” Wood said. “[But] it does effect his play and it effects how I coach.  There’s not a whole lot we can do about the injury so we need people to step up.”
Freshman Ben Stokes “stepped up” at Thursday’s game, when he came off the bench to score 11 points, three three-pointers and two free throws, in just nine minutes on the court.
Wood was impressed with Stokes’ improvement.
“There were things Stokes didn’t do in previous games that I showed him on tape that he did last night,” he said.
Stokes reflected on this meeting.
“We had a conference and he showed me specific spots on the floor to get to, to help me get open,” he said.
Senior Justin Baker contributed phoenomenonally, tallying seven rebounds, 11 points and 11 assists for the Eagle men.  However, he notes where there is room for both individual and team improvement.
“We can play better, and once we get clicking on all cylinders, we will be a very hard team to stop,” he said.
Treacy notes the Eagle advantage in future home games.
“We are probably going to be the most experienced team in the conference down the stretch so we know the level we have to play at, whereas other teams have to play younger players where they aren’t very experienced, so that should play in our favor,” Treacy said.