Crusaders Set To Open 2008-2009 Season On Friday Night

Nov. 12, 2008

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GAME DAY QUICK FACTS:
The Teams: Holy Cross (0-0, 0-0 PL) vs. Sacred Heart (0-0, 0-0 NEC)
Date: November 14, 2008
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Place: Hart Center (3,600), Worcester, Mass.
Holy Cross Radio: WWFX 100.1 FM, Worcester; www.worcesterpike.com, internet; Dick Lutsk, play-by-play
Sacred Heart Radio: www.sacredheartpioneers.com, internet; Jeff Holtz, play-by-play; Gene Gumbs, color
Series Record: Tied, 2-2
Last Meeting: Sacred Heart 61, Holy Cross 58 (December 30, 2007, Fairfield, Conn.)


PROBABLE HOLY CROSS STARTERS:
Pos.  No.  Name                Ht.   Wt.   Cl.
F      21  Alex Vander Baan    6-9   205   Sr.
F      33  Colin Cunningham    6-6   220   Sr.
C      53  Eric Meister        6-8   225   Jr.
G      12  Adam May            6-8   205   Jr.
G      22  Andrew Beinert      6-4   185   So.

THE SERIES WITH SACRED HEART: This will be just the fifth meeting between the Crusaders and the Pioneers on the hardwood, with the all-time series tied at 2-2. The Crusaders won the first two games in the series with a pair of victories at the Hart Center, 55-52 on Jan. 3, 1999, and 63-48 on Jan. 6, 2000. Sacred Heart then came back to win in the last two meetings between the schools in Fairfield, 66-61 on Jan. 3, 2001, and 61-58 on Dec. 30, 2007.

SERIES QUICK FACTS:
Overall: Tied, 2-2
In Worcester: Holy Cross leads, 2-0
At the Hart Center: Holy Cross leads, 2-0
Ralph Willard vs. Sacred Heart: 1-2
Dave Bike vs. Holy Cross: 2-2
Current Win Streak: Sacred Heart, two games

FOR OPENERS: Holy Cross owns an all-time record of 64-25 in its opening game of the season. This year will mark the 45th time the Crusaders have opened the season at home, with Holy Cross posting a 38-6 mark in the previous 44 contests. Since Ralph Willard took over as head coach, the Crusaders stand 7-2 in season openers. Over the last nine years, Holy Cross has defeated Providence (54-43 in 1999-2000), Quinnipiac (85-57 in 2001-2002), Boston University (59-57 in 2003-2004; 58-48 in 2004-2005), High Point (85-73 in 2005-2006), Fairfield (67-65 in overtime in 2006-2007) and Hofstra (61-47 in 2007-2008) on opening day, while falling to Providence (63-57 in 2000-2001) and Kansas (81-57 in 2002-2003). The longest season-opening win streak for the Crusaders came from 1945-1946 through 1957-1958, when Holy Cross won 13 straight season-opening contests.

HOLY CROSS IN HOME OPENERS: The Crusaders have an all-time record of 72-14 in their opening home contest of the season. Since moving into the Hart Center, Holy Cross has posted a 26-7 mark in its home opener. The Crusaders have also been extremely successful in home openers during the Ralph Willard era, posting a 7-2 record. Last year, Holy Cross posted a 61-47 victory over Hofstra in its opening home game of the season. The Crusaders also won five consecutive times in their home opener, from 2000-2001 through 2004-2005.

HOLY CROSS NAMES CAPTAINS: Senior forward Colin Cunningham (Memphis, Tenn.), senior guard Pat Doherty (Scranton, Pa.) and senior forward Alex Vander Baan (Uxbridge, Mass.) have been selected as the Crusaders' captains for the 2008-2009 season. These three players will take over the leadership role from Tim Clifford and Kyle Cruze, who served as the Crusaders' captains as seniors during the 2007-2008 season.

WILLARD CONTINUES IMPRESSIVE RUN AT HOLY CROSS: Ralph Willard is now in his 10th season as the Crusaders' head coach, and currently owns a mark of 174-103 during his time in Worcester. He now stands in second place on the all-time school list for career victories, behind only George Blaney (357-276 / 1972-1994). In 2006-2007, Willard was selected as the Patriot League Coach of the Year for the third time in his career. He was previously named the conference's Coach of the Year during the 2000-2001 and 2004-2005 seasons, and in 2004-2005 he was also one of 10 finalists for the Jim Phelan National Coach of the Year Award. Willard has led the Crusaders to four Patriot League tournament titles and four trips to the NCAA Tournament, during the 2000-2001, 2001-2002, 2002-2003 and 2006-2007 seasons. He has also guided Holy Cross to four Patriot League regular season championships in 2000-2001, 2002-2003, 2004-2005 and 2006-2007, with the 2002-2003 squad posting an overall record of 26-5 to come up just one win shy of the school single season record for victories. Prior to his time at Holy Cross, Willard spent five seasons as the head coach at the University of Pittsburgh, and four years as head coach at Western Kentucky University. He led Western Kentucky to the NCAA Tournament during each of his final two seasons (advancing to the Sweet 16 in 1992-1993), and his overall career record stands at 318-227. Willard is a 1967 graduate of Holy Cross, and was a three-year letterwinner for the Crusaders.

CRUSADERS PICKED THIRD IN PRESEASON POLL: In the 2008-2009 Patriot League preseason poll, Holy Cross was picked to finish in third place in voting by the conference's head coaches and sports information directors. The Crusaders received 68 total points in the poll, including two first place votes. American placed first in the poll with 98 points and 14 first place votes, while Lehigh was second with 75 points. Following Holy Cross in the poll were Colgate (fourth, 67 points), Bucknell (fifth, 47 points), Navy (sixth, 46 points), Army (seventh, 29 points) and Lafayette (eighth, 18 points).

CUNNINGHAM COMING OFF SOLID SEASON: Senior forward Colin Cunningham took over as the starting small forward for Holy Cross last year, and turned into one of the Crusaders' top players. He averaged 8.1 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.2 steals per game, while hitting 36.8 percent (28 of 76) of his three-point attempts. Cunningham's top game in 2007-2008 came at American in the Patriot League quarterfinals, when he scored a career-high 20 points, to go along with four rebounds and three assists. He also had a big night at Lehigh in the regular season finale, recording 15 points, four rebounds and four assists. Some of Cunningham's other top performances last season have come against Fairfield (career-high 17 points, 10 of 10 on the free throw line), Boston University (16 points, four rebounds, three steals, four of five from three-point range) and Siena (15 points, four assists, three rebounds, three steals). Over the course of his career as a Crusader, Cunningham has totaled 403 points, 240 rebounds, 108 assists and 55 steals.

VANDER BAAN PLAYS KEY ROLE ON FRONT LINE: Senior forward Alex Vander Baan (Uxbridge, Mass.) is once again a key member of the Holy Cross lineup this year. He is coming off a 2007-2008 season in which he averaged 8.5 points and 5.7 rebounds in 19 games played, while missing a good deal of time in the second half of the year due to injury. During the 2007-2008 victory over Harvard, Vander Baan totaled a season-high 18 points and eight rebounds. He also had a huge game in the win at St. Joseph's, recording 16 points and seven rebounds, while making all four of his free throws in the final minute of play. Some of Vander Baan's other top performances last year came against Hofstra (15 rebounds, 10 points, three assists, three blocks), at Bucknell (14 points, five rebounds) and at Army (13 points, seven rebounds). As a freshman in 2005-2006, Vander Baan was selected to the Patriot League All-Rookie team. Over the course of his career as a Crusader, he has now totaled 576 points, 446 rebounds, 123 assists, 64 steals and 27 blocked shots.

ASSUMPTION RECAP: Colin Cunningham totaled 17 points and six rebounds, to lead Holy Cross to a 91-69 victory over Assumption in an exhibition game at the Hart Center on November 7, 2008. R.J. Evans added 12 points and seven rebounds in his collegiate debut, while Devin Brown recorded 12 points and six assists. Holy Cross led 16-13 after nine minutes of play, before going on a 9-0 run to increase the margin to double-figures. The Greyhounds would close to within seven points (29-22) with just over six minutes to go until the break, before the Crusaders closed out the half on a 19-7 run to take a 48-29 advantage into the locker room. Assumption would get no closer than 12 points in the second half, as Holy Cross eventually pulled away for a 22-point victory. Andrew Keister posted a double-double with 12 points and 13 rebounds, while Greg McCarthy finished with 10 points and three rebounds. Assumption was led by Mike Baldarelli with 21 points and four rebounds.

CRUSADERS LOOK FOR 300TH VICTORY AT THE HART CENTER: Holy Cross enters the 2008-2009 season with an all-time record of 299-109 at the Hart Center, and will be looking to post its 300th win in the building during the season opener against Sacred Heart. The Crusaders had a 23-game winning streak at the Hart Center from Feb. 15, 2006-Jan. 2, 2008, which was the longest streak in the history of the building and the sixth-longest home court winning streak in the nation at the time. In 2006-2007 Holy Cross posted a perfect 14-0 mark at the Hart Center, setting a school record for the most home victories since it moved into the building. During the Hart Center's history, Holy Cross has posted a winning record at home in 29 out of 33 seasons, while recording double-figure home victories 15 times. The Crusaders stand 86-17 at home since the beginning of the 2000-2001 season, including a 54-10 record against Patriot League foes.

CRUSADERS LOOK TO REMAIN TOUGH ON DEFENSE: Holy Cross should once again be among the top defensive teams in the nation in 2008-2009. Last season, the Crusaders held their opponents to 60.5 points per contest and 41.0 percent shooting from the field. Holy Cross also outrebounded the opposition by 5.6 boards per game, while forcing 13.9 turnovers per contest. Since the beginning of the 2001-2002 campaign, Holy Cross has held its opposition to only 58.9 points per contest. In addition, the Crusaders have ranked in the top 10 in the nation in scoring defense in five of the last seven seasons (sixth in 2001-2002 at 59.6; third in 2002-2003 at 58.7; seventh in 2003-2004 at 58.6; fifth in 2004-2005 at 56.8; and eighth in 2006-2007 at 57.5). Here is a look at Holy Cross' defensive statistics under Ralph Willard.

 

Season       PPG    FG%   3FG%    SPG   BPG
1999-2000   63.3   39.6   31.3    6.5   3.8
2000-2001   62.3   38.2   35.2    6.3   5.2
2001-2002   59.6   42.0   38.5    7.8   3.1
2002-2003   58.7   40.6   33.2    7.9   4.5
2003-2004   58.6   40.3   32.9   10.7   4.5
2004-2005   56.8   38.9   36.3   10.3   5.0
2005-2006   60.5   40.2   30.3    9.1   3.5
2006-2007   57.5   41.4   37.8    9.5   3.6
2007-2008   60.5   41.0   36.9    7.4   3.9

THE LAST MEETING WITH SACRED HEART: Tim Clifford totaled 24 points and seven rebounds, but it was not enough as Holy Cross was defeated by Sacred Heart 61-58 at the William H. Pitt Health & Recreation Center on Dec. 30, 2007. Clifford made 10 of 15 shots from the floor on the day, in addition to hitting four of five free throw attempts. Sacred Heart opened the game on a 7-2 run, and would eventually increase its lead to nine points (22-13) with nine minutes left in the half. But Holy Cross came back with a 9-0 spurt of its own to tie the score at 22-22, including four points by Clifford. After the Pioneers went back in front by four, the Crusaders closed the have with a 7-2 run to take a 29-28 advantage into the locker room. Early in the second half, Sacred Heart reclaimed the lead (38-36) with 16 minutes left to play. Holy Cross then went on an 8-0 run over the next five minutes of play, to claim a 44-38 lead. But the Pioneers came right back with a 13-5 run of their own to reclaim the lead, 51-49 with 6:49 left. The Crusaders stayed close down the stretch, but were never able to regain the lead. Holy Cross had the ball with 18 seconds left trailing by just three points, but was not able to convert as Sacred Heart held on for the win. Colin Cunningham recorded 10 points and four rebounds for the Crusaders. Luke Granato led the Pioneers with 18 points, hitting six of 10 three-point attempts.

MEISTER MOVES INTO STARTING LINEUP: Junior forward Eric Meister (Boalsburg, Pa.) looks to take over as a starter for Holy Cross in the low post this season. Last year, Meister averaged 4.8 points and 4.7 rebounds, while playing in 18 games with eight starts. During the 2007-2008 victory at Army, he scored 11 points on four of four shooting from the field. Meister also had a big game in the victory over Lehigh, totaling 10 points, a team-high nine rebounds, two blocks and two steals. Some of Meister's other top performances last season came against Yale (eight points, nine rebounds), Ohio (eight points, six rebounds) and Hofstra (seven points, nine boards). As a freshman in 2006-2007, Meister was selected to the Patriot League All-Rookie team. Over the course of his Holy Cross career, he has now totaled 200 points, 206 rebounds and 31 blocked shots.

HOLY CROSS IN THE RPI: Holy Cross finished the 2007-2008 season ranked 149th in the nation in the Ratings Percentage Index, with a rating of .5107. The Crusaders were the second-highest ranked team in the Patriot League, behind only American (91st, .5441). In addition, Holy Cross' non-conference schedule ranked as the 113th-best in the country, and the hardest in the Patriot League. The Crusaders concluded the 2006-2007 season ranked 59th in the country in the RPI with a rating of .5730. Holy Cross was also ranked 111th in the RPI in 2005-2006 (.5304) and 49th in 2004-2005 (.5657).

HOLY CROSS HAS GOOD SUCCESS ON THE BOARDS: The Crusaders look to once again be an outstanding rebounding team this year. Last season, Holy Cross was outrebounded only five times in 29 games, while averaging 33.5 rebounds per game and outrebounding the opposition by 5.6 boards per contest. The Crusaders were even more impressive in Patriot League play, outrebounding conference foes by 6.3 boards per game. The rebounding load was well balanced, with five different players averaging at least 3.6 rebounds per game. Forward Alex Vander Baan led the team with an average of 5.7 rebounds per game, followed by center Tim Clifford with 5.4 boards per contest. Forward Eric Meister totaled 4.7 rebounds per game, while forward Colin Cunningham added 4.4 boards per contest, and guard Kyle Cruze contributed 3.6 rebounds per game. The Crusaders have now posted a positive rebounding margin in nine straight seasons, including seven years in which they outrebounded the opposition by at least four boards per game.

HOLY CROSS IN THE NCAA STATISTICS: The Crusaders finished the 2007-2008 season ranked among the NCAA Division I leaders in six statistical categories. In addition, center Tim Clifford stood among the national leaders in field goal percentage, blocked shots and scoring. The rankings:

 

Category                   Rank  Player / Team   Avg.
Scoring Defense              16  Holy Cross      60.5
Rebound Margin               26  Holy Cross      +5.6
Field Goal Percent           28  Tim Clifford    57.1
Blocked Shots                29  Tim Clifford     2.3
                             80  Holy Cross       3.9
Field Goal Percent Defense   47  Holy Cross      41.0
Free Throw Percent           58  Holy Cross      72.9
Scoring                      71  Tim Clifford    18.0
Steals                       99  Holy Cross       7.4

CRUSADERS OWN FIVE PATRIOT LEAGUE REGULAR SEASON TITLES: Throughout its first 18 years of play in the conference, Holy Cross has won five Patriot League regular season titles. The last championship for the Crusaders came in 2006-2007, when they tied for first place in the conference with Bucknell, as both teams posted 13-1 records in league play. Prior to that, Holy Cross won outright Patriot League regular season titles in 2001, 2003 and 2005, while sharing the regular season championship in 1994. The Crusaders are the only team in league history to win more than two outright titles, while their five total championships are tied for the most in conference history with Navy (one outright, four shared) and Bucknell (two outright, three shared).

TRADITION OF EXCELLENCE: This year will mark the 90th season of Holy Cross men's basketball. The Crusaders own an overall record of 1264-813 (.609), while making 24 postseason tournament appearances -- 12 trips to the NCAA Tournament and 12 to the National Invitation Tournament. In the history of collegiate basketball, Holy Cross is one of only 16 schools to have won the NCAA Tournament (1946-1947) as well as the National Invitational Tournament (1953-1954). Throughout its history, Holy Cross has had six first team All-America selections, sent 10 players to the National Basketball Association, had four players inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, had 23 players drafted by professional teams, had three players go on to coach professionally, and had 15 players who have coached in college, including current Crusader coach Ralph Willard.

HOLY CROSS TO HONOR FOUR ALL-TIME GREATS AT HALFTIME CEREMONY: Four all-time Crusader basketball greats will be honored at halftime of the Nov. 16 game between Holy Cross and St. Joseph's. George Kaftan (Class of 1949), Bob Cousy (Class of 1950), Togo Palazzi (Class of 1954) and Tom Heinsohn (Class of 1956) will all be on hand to witness their jerseys being lifted to the Hart Center rafters -- the first time Holy Cross has held such a ceremony for any former student-athlete. The former Crusader standouts are the only four basketball players in school history to twice earn first team All-America honors. In addition, each of the four played on a Holy Cross national championship team -- Kaftan and Cousy were part of the 1947 NCAA championship quad, while Palazzi and Heinsohn were members of the 1954 NIT champions. While the jerseys of the four players are being lifted to the rafters, their numbers are not officially being retired. While at Holy Cross, Kaftan wore No. 12, Cousy wore No. 17, Palazzi wore No. 22 and Heinsohn wore No. 24. Current Crusader junior forward Adam May (Mentor, Ohio) is wearing No. 12 this season, while sophomore guard Andrew Beinert (Floral Park, N.Y.) wears No. 22. No player is currently wearing No. 24, while Cousy's No. 17 is no longer an eligible jersey number per NCAA regulations established in 1957.

CRUSADERS HAVE FIVE PATRIOT LEAGUE TOURNAMENT CROWNS: Two years ago, the Crusaders captured their fifth Patriot League Tournament with their 74-66 victory over Bucknell on March 9, 2007. Holy Cross' previous tournament titles came in 2003 (72-64 over American), 2002 (58-54 at American), 2001 (68-64 over Navy in overtime) and 1993 (98-73 at Bucknell). The Crusaders' five conference tournament championships are the most in Patriot League history, with Navy having the second most (three in 1994, 1997 and 1998). Holy Cross has also appeared in the championship game in six times in the last eight years. Overall, the Crusaders have made a conference-record nine appearances in the Patriot League championship game.

BLACK OUT NIGHT: The season-opener against Sacred Heart will mark the first-ever Black Out Night at the Hart Center. All Holy Cross fans are encouraged to wear black clothing to the game in support of their team. A special black Sader Nation t-shirt will all also be on sale at the game, with a price of $10.00 for the general public and $5.00 for Holy Cross students.

SCOUTING THE PIONEERS: Sacred Heart is coming off a 2007-2008 season in which it posted an overall record of 18-13, while placing third in the Northeast Conference with a 13-5 mark in league games. Sacred Heart's top returning scorer is junior guard Chauncey Hardy, who averaged 10.2 points and 3.0 assists per game ,while hitting 36.7 percent (40 of 109) of his three-point attempts last season. Sixth-year senior forward Joey Henley, who sat out last season due to injury, should be a force down low after averaging 11.1 points and 4.5 rebounds per game in 2006-2007. Sacred Heart is led by Dave Bike, who is entering his 31st season as the Pioneers' head coach. Bike has led Sacred Heart to an overall record of 464-415 during his first 30 seasons.

HOLY CROSS ON THE RADIO: Most of the Crusaders' basketball contests during the 2008-2009 season will be carried by The Pike, WWFX 100.1 FM in Worcester. Holy Cross Hall of Famer Bob Fouracre will be in his 22nd season calling the play-by-play for Crusader basketball on the radio. In addition, Jeremy Lechan and Dick Lutsk are in their fifth year on the Holy Cross broadcast crew, and will handle either play-by-play or color commentary for selected games. The Pike is currently scheduled to air 23 of the Crusaders' 29 regular season games. All games aired on The Pike can also be heard live over the internet at `www.worcesterpike.com'. The six games not carried on The Pike will be broadcast exclusively over the internet at `www.sportsjuice.com'. In addition, the Holy Cross student station, WCHC 88.1 FM, will carry a number of games this year.

CRUSADERS ON TELEVISION: Holy Cross is currently scheduled to have eight games shown on live television during the 2007-2008 season. The Crusaders had eight television appearances last year, while appearing on television 13 times in 2006-2007, 10 times in 2005-2006 and 10 times in 2004-2005. Here is a look at Holy Cross' television schedule for the 2008-2009 season:

 

Date     Opponent       Television Outlet
Nov. 29  Loyola (Ill.)  Lakeshore Public Television
Dec. 30  Siena          WCTR-TV3
Jan. 17  Bucknell       ESPNU
Jan. 24  American       ESPNU
Jan. 31  Lehigh         Service Electric Cable
Feb. 7   Lafayette      Lafayette Sports Network
Feb. 11  Army           WCTR-TV3
Feb. 25  Colgate        Time Warner Cable

CRUSADER ALL-ACCESS: Live video streaming of a number of Holy Cross basketball games will be available over the internet through Crusader All-Access. The package, done in association with CBS College Sports Online, is available for a $9.95 monthly subscription. For details on how to sign up for Crusader All-Access, click here.

DRIBBLES: The Crusaders had a 2-2 record last season when wearing their new black uniforms, winning at American and Bucknell, while losing at Maryland and Lehigh. Holy Cross also stood 8-6 on the year when wearing white, and 5-6 in purple ... Holy Cross' victory at Bucknell on Feb. 16, 2008, was its first at Sojka Pavilion in five years, breaking a five-game losing streak in the building ... With the victory at San Francisco, Holy Cross improved to 1-1 on the season in overtime games. The Crusaders now stand 11-3 in overtime contests under Ralph Willard.