Lions continue march toward postseason play

The flood damage to Piano Row inconvenienced the team, but it was nothing that could stop the 13-7 (8-3 GNAC) Lions from rising to the top, clinching a 75-72 victory with seconds to spare at what used to be the Emerson home court.,There was no place like the Lions’ second home as the Emerson’s men’s basketball team took on the Johnson Wales Wildcats at Pine Manor last weekend.

The flood damage to Piano Row inconvenienced the team, but it was nothing that could stop the 13-7 (8-3 GNAC) Lions from rising to the top, clinching a 75-72 victory with seconds to spare at what used to be the Emerson home court.

The Wildcats opened with intensity, but the Lions came back with a vengeance, gaining the lead midway through the first half and holding on until the final eight minutes.

Senior guard Alfredo Tovar got Emerson off to a quick start, hitting a signature three-point shot from the left corner a little over two minutes into the game.

Just 40 seconds later, Tovar capitalized on Wildcat turnover, converting it to two more points.

“Tovar’s clutch three-point shooting is a constant threat at any point of the game, and [Joe] Boylan’s defensive ability is an unavoidable weapon,” said Team Manager Rhys Thieriot. “Coach Smith is always drilling on the importance of veteran leadership, and I feel these men have done a more impressive job of expressing that within these recent games.”

A literal above-the-rim shot came from Tovar with 12 minutes to go in the half, bouncing off the top of the backboard and slipping into the basket, adding three points to the Lions’ lead.

JWU’s Tit Hudarin answered Tovar’s movie-like play, scoring a three-point shot of his own, but the Lions senior nailed another only 45 seconds later, leaving no room for a Wildcats surge.

The Lions played for the final 13 minutes of the first half without one of their co-captains, junior Will Dawkins, who was benched after committing two fouls within 30 seconds of each other.

Still, the Lions had a nine-point lead at halftime (36-27) on 67 percent field-goal shooting and went 3-for-6 from beyond the arc.

Tovar and Dawkins hit back-to-back three-pointers to start the second half, but the Wildcats’ offense began to creep up on the Lions.

Johnson Wales tied the score with 11 minutes remaining in the second half (44-44), thanks to a three-pointer from game high-scorer Japhet Kerr and six points from Tirone McCray, including two from the foul line.

Freshman guard Jeremy Shannon and freshman forward Max Silver helped the Lions regain the lead, each making a free throw, but the Wildcats pulled ahead with eight minutes to go (49-48).

The Lions stepped it up and held on to the lead for the rest of the game, but not without offensive threats from JWU and some slip-ups on the defensive end.

“Defensively, I thought we played well,” said Emerson Head Coach Hank Smith. “But in the end of the second half, we didn’t rebound.”

Sophomore guard Anthony Remias hit a key three-pointer to extend Emerson’s lead to six (59-53) with a little less than six minutes left, but Kerr answered with his own shot from outside the arc 10 seconds later to close the gap once again.

“The Lions had control of the game and it started to slip out of our hands in the second half, which has been a problem of ours in several games,” Thieriot said. “However, they found a way to finish the game with a win, and ultimately that will give them confidence in the future.”

Rouse added eight consecutive points for EC hoops, followed by two from Dawkins at the free-throw line, helping the Lions grasp an 8-point lead (69-61).

Johnson Wales went back and forth with the Lions until the last second, but layups from Shannon and Tovar, along with two baskets made by Rouse from the line, sealed the deal.

The starting lineup was switched up, but the Lions dealt with it and came out on top despite the changes. Smith said he “moved people around” after junior forward Ben Chase suffered a hip injury against Rivier last week. Chase is expected to return to the lineup by Saturday or next Tuesday at the latest.

Both Smith and Dawkins agreed that the teams played very well.

“A lot of the team stepped up,” said Dawkins. “Everyone played major roles.”

The Lions’ Den faithful were a noticeable force, according to Dawkins, who called them the “best fans in the GNAC.”

“The fact that [the fans] traveled 30 minutes for a road game really helped us out,” Dawkins said.

Thieriot is aware of the passion of the fans as well. “I love the fact that the die-hard dedication of the Lions’ Den fans have earned themselves a terrific reputation around the league from other coaches and fans,” he said. “When teams face Emerson College now, all of the Lions, not just the players and coaches, are a difficult force to fight.”