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Men’s Basketball ends season with Elite Eight loss to Amherst

By zaronow

Section: Sports

March 21, 2008

All good things must come to an end. In competitive sports, some end sooner than others. Last weekend saw the careers end for seniors on 12 basketball squads, Brandeis was one of them as their not so semi-charmed season came to an end Saturday in the Elite Eight by number three ranked Amherst Lord Jeffs 65-55. The loss saw the careers end for starters Joe Coppens ’08, Kwame Graves-Fulgham ’08, Stephen Hill ’08, and reserves Florian Rexhepi ’08 and John Saucier ’08.

“It’s been a tremendous year. It’s a disappointment not to play with them again for another week,” Coach Brian Meehan stated during post game remarks. Meehan also added, “We needed to play close to a perfect game…and we didn’t have that and you’ve got to give them credit…We were really somewhat, I don’t want to say ‘impatient’ but we didn’t stick to things that we normally do during the year and that’ll happen. You try to make things happen and sometimes you rush things a little bit too much.”

Brandeis started off with the momentum, building a quick lead and Stephen Hill’s ’08 jumper at the buzzer gave Brandeis the 29-24 lead at the half. Despite the lead though, Amherst kept close through out the first half and in the second half; their combination of height and athleticism proved too much for the Judges to contain. After swapping baskets on the first seven possessions, Amherst went on a 17-0 run over a nine minute stretch which included three dunks in a row. Despite some valiant efforts from Joe Coppens ’08, Kevin Olson ’09 and Terrell Hollins ’10, the Judges had nothing left to respond with and the Lord Jeffs were the ones leaving Plattsburgh with the tickets for Salem, VA.

“They got some shots off of multiple possessions,” Coach Meehan said. “We were struggling to find ways to score in the first half. Got a little worse in the second half but you got to give them a lot of credit; they do what they do very well. They’re long, they challenge shots, they’re tough to score on inside. We just seemed a little worn out; we weren’t making good backdoor passes on dribble penetrations. Consequently, the opening you have to catch and shoot goes away because you have to go back to grab the ball, reset your feet.”

Amherst dominated the defensive end with 12 blocks, three each coming from starting forward Fletcher Walters and reserve Mike Holsey. Despite surrendering 25 offensive rebounds, they held the Judges to 30.6 percent shooting and took away the three point line in the second half, surrendering only Joe Coppens’ attempt with 6:38 left in the game.

Coppens finished his college career with team highs of 18 points and eight boards in the losing effort. Hollins put in a hard fought 13 points but was snake-bit from the foul line, going only 1-6. Olson finished his year with 11 points, all coming from the first half after going 0-4 and 0-3 in his field goal and three point attempts.

Leading the way for the victorious Lord Jeffs squad was senior forward Fletcher Walters, almost single handedly keeping Amherst in the match with 13 in the first half and finishing the game with 22 and 10 rebounds. Kevin Hopkins and Brandon Jones had 12 and 11 points respectively with Hopkins coming one rebound short of a double-double himself. Senior All-American guard Andrew Olson rebounded from a poor first half to finish with nine points and seven assists.

Also finishing out their careers Saturday night was guard Kwame Graves-Fulgham ’08 who added to his All-Time assists total with four on the night, giving him 473 overall. Florian Rexhepi ’08 and Stephen Hill ’08 had their careers end on quiet notes, Hill pulling in five rebounds. John Saucier ’08 saw no action in either game.

The defeat followed a thrilling, and many would later point out, draining victory over host school SUNY-Plattsburgh 74-63. Andre Roberson ’08 had team high 20 points, 18 coming from the first half. Joe Coppens had 16 points while Terrell Hollins finished one rebound short of a double-double with 14 points and nine rebounds. Stephen Hill rounded out the double-digit scoring with 10 points on 5 of 6 shooting from the field.

Plattsburgh was paced by senior guard Anthony Williams with a game high 28 points on 12-24 shooting. Travis Gorham also finished out his career with 11 points and 11 rebounds. Antwane Miller rounded out the Cardinal’s attack with 11 points of his own.

The game started with the Cardinals taking the lead but Brandeis went on a 16-4 run to close out the first half ahead 39-30. The second half saw Plattsburgh launch a furious comeback and tie up the score with 4:46 left in the game. Kevin Olson responded with a momentum crushing three on the next possession and Hill’s rebound off the missed free-throw with 39 seconds left sealed the victory. The win was a hard fought one and led Amherst Head Coach David Hixon refer to Plattsburgh at one point as their “sixth man”.

With the best season in Brandeis’s men’s hoops over and looking at replacing three starters next year, Coach Meehan had nothing but praise for his team: “I was saying to the guys, ‘from this point forward, every team is going to be measured to this team. This is the team that everyone is going to set the bar to. The seniors, they came in, they made a commitment to this program, to make it better and they achieved that. When we got there, there weren’t a lot of people yelling and screaming about being from Brandeis. Now, five hours from home, we have tremendous fan support, yelling and screaming and want the world to know and be proud about Brandeis and I feel that says a lot about what the seniors were able to accomplish. Beyond that, they did it the right way; they set an example for these younger guys as to how it needs to be done.”

Next year’s squad will be boosted with the return of Steve DeLuca ’08 who will return as a medical redshirt, and with the maturation of key reserves like Andre Roberson hopefully stepping up and Kevin Olson looking to build on his strong year, next year’s team could go either way, tremendous success or disappointing disaster. Regardless of next year, the 2007-08 men’s basketball squad was one of the best athletic squads that Brandeis has trotted out for inter-collegiate competition and as Coach Meehan said; this is the team that all others will be measured too. Starting with next year.

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