By Zachary Moretti
The Eagles improved their record to 8-6 this year while increasing their Capital Athletic Conference win total to five after a hard fought game against the Marymount University Saints. Led by senior guard Matt Hale’s 24 points, the University of Mary Washington took down Marymount 60-55 Monday night.
“[We won because of] toughness,” Coach Rod Wood said. “We didn’t play our best game, but we got the ‘W’ and that’s what counts. I saw a lot of growth from Saturday’s game to tonight’s one. We let one get away Saturday and I don’t think we were that tough. Tonight we played tough. That’s what I was most proud of.”
In what can easily be described as a physical, defensive game, both teams started off cold from the field. Seven minutes into the game both teams were only able to score five points apiece.
With junior center Brandon Altmann in early foul trouble, Hale stepped in and connected for the Eagles’ first 12 points of the evening. At the end of the first half, UMW led Marymount 27-25, with Hale leading all scorers with 17 points.
With Altmann on the bench for much of the first half, it was clear that Wood wanted to try and reestablish his interior game to start the second half. Altmann scored six straight points for the Eagles after halftime, but after just over a minute into the half he picked up his third and fourth fouls and was relegated back to the bench.
In a game where fouls were called fairly loosely in the opening half, it became obvious after the break that the referees attempted to tighten things up, as both teams were in the bonus by the mid-point of the second half.
With Altmann sideline with the aforementioned fouls, Marymount shifted their complete attention to try and slow down Hale. The Saints switched defenders often, shifting from faster defenders to taller and longer ones in an attempt to keep Hale off balance. The Saints also changed the manner in which they defended the UMW guard, pressing up at times and sagging off in others, occasionally sending a double team his way to force the ball out of his hands. But despite Marymount’s scheme, their game plan was only moderately successful as Hale still managed seven big second-half points.
“A lot of teams have been doing that lately,” Hale said. “I just try to tell myself not to force shots but instead to become more of a facilitator.”
“Matt’s just a great player and he does it every night,” Wood said. “He does whatever the team needs him to do to win. He plays so hard and most nights he just wills us to victory. That’s what he did tonight. We need other players to step up and start producing at his level.”
After building an eight-point Eagle lead, the Saints stormed back and cut the UMW advantage to just three, 57-54, with only a minute left in regulation. In what ended with an exciting finish, the Saints had multiple opportunities to get the game tied up to force overtime.
The first chance for Marymount came on a short corner three-pointer that missed and led to an over-the-back foul on UMW senior guard Kevin Storus.
After Marymount’s Elvin Ellis converted one of two free throws, Altmann pushed the lead back to three by making a one of two free throws of his own. With six and a half seconds left in the game, Marymount had one last shot to tie the game at 58, but Saint’s guard Patrick Prewitt was unable to connect.
In desperation, freshman guard Ryan Farrar was fouled by Marymount, but the Saints’ strategy to stop the clock did not work as Farrar connected on both of his foul shots, icing the game and sealing the victory 60-55.
“This was a huge win for us, especially after a tough loss on Saturday,” Hale said. “It was good to come out here at home and get a win. We think of ourselves as a good team and good teams don’t lose back to back games and they don’t lose at home.”
When asked what needs to be improved upon if the Eagles are to push for a Capital Athletic Conference title this year, Wood responded with this sentiment.
“Four things; free throws, a positive rebounding margin, limiting the opponent’s offensive rebounds, and limiting our turnovers to 10 or less. Right now we aren’t doing those things, yet we are still finding ways to win games. If we improve in those areas, I think we will be really tough to beat.”