Offense Clicks as Leopards Advance to Quarterfinal
EASTON, Pa. – The offense was clicking on all cylinders to lead the Lafayette men’s basketball team to a 93-86 win over American at Kirby Sports Center in the opening round of the Patriot League Tournament on Tuesday evening.
The Leopards tied their largest scoring output of the year with 93 points, equaled in a 93-83 victory over their next opponent, Colgate, on Jan. 31. Lafayette will travel to Hamilton, N.Y. on Thursday for a quarterfinal matchup with the second-seeded Raiders at 7 p.m.
The offensive total is a Lafayette postseason record, breaking the previously-held mark of 89 points against Colgate on March 8, 2003, and versus Boston U. on March 5, 2015. Additionally, it was the most points scored by a team in the Patriot League First Round since its inception in the 2013-14 season, breaking a mark already held by the Leopards in an 84-71 win over Loyola in 2014.
The Maroon and White moved their home tournament record to 11-0 on Tuesday night, going 30-of-59 from the floor (50.8%) and 12-of-19 from three-point range (63.2%). Senior co-captain Matt Klinewski led four players in double-figure scoring with 23 points, while freshmen Justin Jaworski and Alex Petrie, and senior co-captain Eric Stafford rounded it out with 20, 17 and 12 points, respectively. Additionally, Jaworski added a career-high five assists, the biggest coming in the final minutes.
The final five were tightly contested with Sa’eed Nelson’s layup at 2:34 making it 83-80. After a pair of stops on either end, Stafford came through with the biggest shot of the game as Jaworski found him open in the left corner and he drained the triple to push it out to six with 1:25 to play. From there, it turned into foul shooting, one of Lafayette’s strengths, as it was able to close out the victory.
Sophomore Lukas Jarrett had one of his better games of the season, ripping down eight boards to go along with five points, two assists, a block and a steal. Junior Paulius Zalys also produced on the glass with eight rebounds, accompanying five points, three assists, a block and a steal as well.
On the other side, Lafayette could do very little to slow down Nelson, who finished with a game-high and career-high 41 points on the night. Nelson hit 14-of-20 from the field, 4-of-6 from three-point range and 9-of-10 from the charity stripe. Allentown, Pa. native Sam Iorio added 17 points and four rebounds for the Eagles, while Larry Motuzis rounded out the major offensive sources with 13 points.
The win moves the Leopards to 10-20 on the year overall and finishes American’s campaign at 6-24.
Both teams started strong as Iorio and Marvin Bragg went back-to-back from distance to counter a Petrie three at 14:49 to lead 12-9. The two sides traded buckets to the midway point as a patented pull-up jumper at the elbow from freshman E.J. Stephens knotted the game at 18-18.
Lafayette won the next stretch, but the game remained within one or two possessions to the four-minute mark as Petrie’s jumper made it 33-29 with 3:59 left. The Leopards closed with a big momentum swing as they finished on a 9-2 run including an acrobatic Petrie layup at the buzzer to take the game into the break in front by 11, 42-31.
Lafayette avoided a run out of the break from the visitors, keeping its lead at 11 on a Klinewski layup through the first four minutes. Back-to-back buckets from the Eagles on either side of the 15-minute mark pulled them within seven, but the Leopards held off a run, leading 65-55 into the 12-minute media break.
American made its move at the nine-minute mark as Nelson and Motuzis went back-to-back from distance to pull within four, 70-66. Another triple from Motuzis at 5:25 forced a Lafayette timeout with the edge at three, 78-75, but the Leopards won the final five minutes to close out the 93-86 win.