Crusaders Set To Take On Hampton On Wednesday Night

Nov. 14, 2006

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The Teams: Holy Cross (1-0, 0-0 PL) vs. Hampton (1-1, 0-0 MEAC)
Date: November 15, 2006
Time: 7:00 p.m.
Place: Hart Center (3,600), Worcester, Mass.
Holy Cross Radio: WTAG 580 AM, Worcester;, internet; Bob Fouracre, play-by-play
Holy Cross Student Radio: WCHC 88.1 FM, Worcester
Hampton Radio: Rob Dixon, play-by-play; WHOV 88.1 FM, Hampton, Va.
Series Record: Holy Cross leads, 1-0
Last Meeting: Holy Cross 61, Hampton 56 (December 27, 1996; New Orleans, La.)

Pos.  No.  Name                Ht.   Wt.   Cl.
F      10  Keith Simmons       6-5   205   Sr.
F      21  Alex Vander Baan    6-8   205   So.
C      00  Tim Clifford       6-10   270   Jr.
G       1  Torey Thomas       5-11   185   Sr.
G      20  Pat Doherty        5-11   170   So.

THE SERIES WITH HAMPTON: This will be only the second meeting between the Crusaders and the Pirates on the hardwood, with Holy Cross leading the all-time series 1-0. In the only previous game between the schools, Holy Cross posted a 61-56 victory at the New Orleans Christmas Classic on Dec. 27, 1996. This will also be only the third time the Crusaders have played a member of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, with Holy Cross standing 2-0 all-time (including a 65-59 victory over Florida A&M on Nov. 23, 1996).

Overall: Holy Cross leads, 1-0
In Worcester: First Meeting
At the Hart Center: First Meeting
Ralph Willard vs. Hampton: 0-0
Kevin Nickelberry vs. Holy Cross: 0-0
Current Win Streak: Holy Cross, one game
In Overtime: n/a

HOLY CROSS TAKES SEASON OPENER: The Crusaders began the 2006-2007 season by posting a 67-65 overtime victory against Fairfield. With that win, Holy Cross improved its all-time record in its opening game of the season to 63-25, including a 37-6 mark at home. Since Ralph Willard took over as head coach, the Crusaders now stand 6-2 in season openers. During the Willard era, 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) and High Point (85-73 in 2005-2006) on opening day, while falling to Providence (63-57 in 2000-2001) and Kansas (81-57 in 2002-2003).

THOMAS SHINES IN SEASON OPENER: Senior point guard Torey Thomas (White Plains, N.Y.) looks to once again be among the top players in the Patriot League this season, and has been named to the preseason all-conference team. To open up the season, Thomas totaled 20 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals against Fairfield, while hitting a pair of free throws with 2.9 seconds remaining in overtime to win the game. A year ago he averaged 11.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.4 steals per contest this year, while making 34 of 96 attempts (35.4 percent) from three-point range. Thomas finished the 2005-2006 season as the Patriot League's leader in assists, while ranking second in steals, fourth in rebounding and 14th in scoring. He also scored 20 or more points in a game three times last season, and led the team in scoring on five occasions. In addition to his scoring, Thomas also reached double figures in rebounds twice last year, as well as hitting double digits in assists twice. Over the course of his career as a Crusader, Thomas has now totaled 756 points, 359 rebounds, 313 assists and 177 steals. He currently ranks fourth all-time at Holy Cross in career steals, and ninth in career assists.

SIMMONS OFF TO STRONG START: Senior guard Keith Simmons (Kingston, N.Y.) had a big game to open up the season, recording 18 points, five steals and two rebounds in the victory over Fairfield. Prior to the start of the year, Simmons was selected as a 2006-2007 preseason mid-major All-American by (one of just 25 players from across the nation to be chosen to the squad). He was also named preseason All-Patriot League, after earning first team all-conference honors in both his sophomore and junior years. In 32 games played last season, Simmons averaged 14.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.2 steals per game, while shooting 52.5 percent (158 of 301) from the field and 47.6 percent (60 of 126) from three-point range. He was even more effective in Patriot League regular season games, averaging 16.1 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.4 assists against conference foes, with a league-best 59.8 field goal percent (76 of 127) and a 51.8 mark (29 of 56) from beyond the arc. Simmons scored 20 or more points in a game eight times during the 2005-2006 season, while leading the team in scoring on 12 occasions. Entering the Hampton game, Simmons has scored 1,096 career points as a Crusader, while making 49.6 percent of his field goal attempts (377 of 760) and 45.3 percent from three-point range (146 of 322). He is currently the all-time Patriot League leader in career three-point field goal percentage, and while ranking second all-time at Holy Cross in three-point field goals made and 34th in points scored.

CRUSADERS KEEP WINNING AT THE HART CENTER: Holy Cross stands 1-0 at the Hart Center so far this season, and now owns an all-time record of 277-105 in the building. The Crusaders went 11-2 at the Hart Center last season with an 8-1 mark against Patriot League opponents, and stand 36-5 in Patriot League regular season home games over the last six seasons. In 2004-2005, Holy Cross posted an overall record of 12-3 at home, including a 10-game winning streak. Since the beginning of the 2000-2001 season, the Crusaders now have an overall mark of 65-12 at the Hart Center. The building opened on Dec. 1, 1975, and since that time Holy Cross has posted a winning record at home in 27 out of 31 seasons, while posting double-figure home victories 14 times.

CRUSADERS LOOK TO REMAIN TOUGH ON DEFENSE: Holy Cross should once again be among the top defensive teams in the nation in 2006-2007. In the season opener against Fairfield, the Crusaders posted 16 steals and six blocked shots, while holding the Stags to 23.5 percent shooting from three-point range. Last season, Holy Cross allowed just 60.5 points per game, while holding its opponents to 40.2 percent shooting from the floor and 30.3 percent shooting from three-point range. The Crusaders were particularly impressive over the last 20 contests in 2005-2006, allowing just 56.8 points per game, with the opposition shooting 37.7 percent from the floor and 28.4 percent from three-point range. Holy Cross also forced its opponents to commit 16.0 turnovers per game, while averaging 9.1 steals and 3.5 blocks per contest, and outrebounding the opposition by 3.9 boards per game. Since the beginning of the 2001-2002 campaign, Holy Cross has held the opposition to only 58.9 points per contest. In addition, the Crusaders ranked in the top 10 in the nation in scoring defense in four of the last five seasons (sixth in 2001-2002 at 59.6; third in 2002-2003 at 58.7; seventh in 2003-2004 at 58.6; and fifth in 2004-2005 at 56.8).

SIMMONS AND THOMAS NAMED CAPTAINS: Senior guard Keith Simmons and senior guard Torey Thomas have been selected as the Crusaders' captains for the 2006-2007 season. Both players are three-year letterwinners for the Crusaders, and will take over the leadership role from Kevin Hamilton and Kevin Hyland, who served as the Crusaders' captains as seniors during the 2005-2006 season.

FAIRFIELD RECAP: Torey Thomas hit a pair of free throws with 2.9 seconds remaining in overtime, to break a 65-65 tie and lead Holy Cross to a 67-65 victory over Fairfield at the Hart Center on Nov. 12, 2006. Thomas finished the game with 20 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals, while hitting six of nine field goals, six of eight free throws and both of his three-point attempts. The Stags jumped out to a 63-59 lead half-way through the overtime period, before Keith Simmons hit a free throw and a three-pointer to tie the score at 63-63. Thomas then made a pair of free throws to give the Crusaders the lead, before Greg Nero hit a basket in the paint to tie the score at 65-65 with 34 seconds remaining. Thomas would hit the game-winning free throws on the next possession, and Fairfield could manage only a desperation shot from mid-court before time expired. Holy Cross led by an many as 14 points in the first half and nine points early in the second half, and was still up by six (52-46) with four and a half minutes left in regulation. Fairfield then scored six straight points to tie the score at 52-52, before Tim Clifford made a layup and a pair of free throws to give the Crusaders a four-point lead with one minute remaining. But Fairfield's Mike Van Schaick hit a three-pointer to trim the lead to one point, and with less than a second remaining, Holy Cross was called for a foul to give the Stags a chance to win the game. Danny Oglesby hit his first free throw to tie the score, but missed the second and the game went on to overtime. Simmons finished the afternoon with 18 points, five steals and two rebounds, while Nero led Fairfield with 23 points and six rebounds.

CRUSADERS PICKED SECOND IN PRESEASON POLL: In the 2006-2007 Patriot League preseason poll, Holy Cross was picked to finish in second place in voting by the conference's head coaches and sports information directors. The Crusaders received 86 total points in the poll, to trail only first-place Bucknell (96 points). Holy Cross received three first-place votes in the poll, with the Bison earning 12 first-place votes and American one. Following the Crusaders in the poll were American (third, 70 points), Lehigh (fourth, 64 points), Colgate (fifth, 48 points), Lafayette (sixth, 35 points), Navy (seventh, 31 points) and Army (eighth, 18 points).

SIMMONS AND THOMAS NAMED PRESEASON ALL-PATRIOT LEAGUE: Senior guard Keith Simmons and senior guard Torey Thomas were both named preseason All-Patriot League, in voting by the conference's head coaches and sports information directors. Holy Cross was the only team in the league to place more than one player on the preseason all-conference team. Along with Simmons and Thomas, other selections to the squad were Bucknell senior center Chris McNaughton, American senior guard Andre Ingram and Lehigh senior guard Jose Olivero. All five players on the preseason All-Patriot League squad were named either first or second team all-conference at the conclusion of the 2005-2006 season.

WILLARD CONTINUES IMPRESSIVE RUN AT HOLY CROSS: Ralph Willard is now in his eighth season as the Crusaders' head coach, and currently owns a mark of 135-80 during his time in Worcester. He stands in third place on the all-time school list for career victories, behind only George Blaney (357-276 / 1972-1994) and Lester "Buster" Sheary (155-36 / 1948-1955). Willard has led the Crusaders to three Patriot League tournament titles and three trips to the NCAA Tournament, during the 2000-2001, 2001-2002 and 2002-2003 seasons. He has also guided Holy Cross to Patriot League regular season championships in 2000-2001, 2002-2003 and 2004-2005, 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. During the 2000-2001 and 2004-2005 seasons, Willard was named the Patriot League Coach of the Year, and in 2004-2005 he was also one of 10 finalists for the Jim Phelan National Coach of the Year Award. 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 279-204. Willard is a 1967 graduate of Holy Cross, and was a three-year letterwinner for the Crusaders.

THE LAST MEETING WITH HAMPTON: Jon Kerr totaled 18 points and six rebounds, to lead Holy Cross to a 61-56 victory over Hampton at the New Orleans Christmas Classic on Dec. 27, 1996. The game was close throughout a first half which featured four ties and 11 lead changes. The Pirates were up 25-24 with 2:56 left before the break, but the Crusaders then went on a 9-2 run to take a 33-27 advantage into the locker room. Hampton fought back early in the second half, and was able to regain the lead (39-38) with 13 minutes left to play. The score was then tied 56-56 with two minutes remaining in the game, before Kerr hit a pair of free throws to give Holy Cross the lead for good. The Crusaders then clamped down on the defensive end and held the Pirates without a point for the remainder of the game, earning the victory despite hitting just three of eight free throw attempts in the final minute of play. Damion Ezell finished the game with 15 points and three steals for Holy Cross, while Ian Dombrowski added eight points. Hampton was led by Efrem Carter with 18 points and eight rebounds, while Torrey Farrington added 14 points and six rebounds.

STEALING THE SHOW: Holy Cross opened the 2006-2007 season by recording 16 steals in the victory over Fairfield, led by Keith Simmons with five and Torey Thomas with four. In 32 games played last season, the Crusaders totaled 290 steals, for a Patriot League-best average of 9.1 steals per game. Holy Cross reached double figures in steals 11 times last year, with highs of 16 against Harvard and 15 against Lafayette. Kevin Hamilton led the team with 102 steals last year, while Thomas added 77 steals last season. With his 102 total steals, Hamilton set new Holy Cross and Patriot League single season records. Hamilton's average of 3.3 steals per game last year also set a new Patriot League single season record.

VANDER BAAN LOOKS TO BUILD ON ALL-ROOKIE SEASON: Sophomore forward Alex Vander Baan (Uxbridge, Mass.) should once again be a key member of the Holy Cross lineup this season, after being selected to the 2005-2006 Patriot League All-Rookie Team. Against Fairfield in the season opener, he totaled four points and five rebounds. In 32 games played last year, Vander Baan averaged 6.2 points and 5.0 rebounds per contest, to rank ninth in the conference in rebounding. He also led all Patriot League freshmen by earning league Rookie of the Week honors four times last season (Nov. 21, Dec. 27, Feb. 6, Feb. 20). Vander Baan's top week of last year came at the San Juan Shootout, where he averaged 15.7 points and 7.0 rebounds over three games, while shooting 55.6 percent from the floor.

CLIFFORD PLAYS BIG IN THE POST: Junior center Tim Clifford (Walpole, Mass.) looks to be one of the top big men in the Patriot League this season, after moving into the Crusaders' starting lineup for the final 13 games last season. In the season opener against Fairfield, he totaled six points, five rebounds and four blocked shots. Overall last year, Clifford averaged 7.8 points, 4.1 rebounds and 1.5 blocked shots per game, while making 96 of 194 (49.5 percent) field goal attempts. He was even more impressive against Patriot League opponents, averaging 9.7 points per contest and hitting 54.2 percent (52 of 96) of his shots from the floor. Clifford's top game of 2005-2006 came against American, when he totaled 27 points, four rebounds and four blocks, while hitting nine of 15 shots from the floor and eight of nine attempts from the foul line. He also had a huge night in the victory over Brown, recording 21 points, seven rebounds and four blocks, while making nine of 12 field goal attempts. Over the course of his career as a Crusader, Clifford has now totaled 334 points, 203 rebounds and 83 blocked shots. He currently ranks eighth all-time at Holy Cross in career blocks.

TRADITION OF EXCELLENCE: This year marks the 88th season of Holy Cross men's basketball. The Crusaders own an overall record of 1225-789 (.608), while making 23 postseason tournament appearances -- 11 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 to coach professionally, and had 15 players who have coached in college, including current Crusader coach Ralph Willard.

SCOUTING THE PIRATES: Hampton enters the game with an overall record of 1-1 on the year. The Pirates opened the season with a 102-75 loss at Maryland, before posting a 74-73 victory over New Orleans. Freshman forward Mike Freeman leads the team with averages of 18.5 points and 5.0 rebounds per game, while hitting 72.2 percent (13 of 18) of his field goal attempts. Sophomore guard Demario Mattox has averaged 16.0 points 4.0 assists and 4.5 steals per game, while junior guard Rashad West is chipping in with 12.0 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.0 assists per contest. Hampton is led by Kevin Nickelberry, who is in his first season as a collegiate head coach. Nickelberry spent the previous three years as an assistant coach at Clemson, and was an assistant coach at Holy Cross from 1999-2001.

HOLY CROSS ON THE RADIO: Once again this season, the majority of the Crusaders' basketball contests will be carried by WTAG 580 AM in Worcester. For the 18th straight season, Bob Fouracre will call the play-by-play for most of the games. In addition, Jeremy Lechan and Dick Lutsk are in their third year on the Holy Cross broadcast crew, and will handle either play-by-play or color commentary for selected games. WTAG is currently scheduled to air 22 of the Crusaders' 30 regular season games. In addition, WCUW 91.3 FM in Worcester will air seven Holy Cross contests which are not included as part of the WTAG package. All 30 regular season games will also be carried live over the internet at "". In addition, the Holy Cross student station, WCHC 88.1 FM, is scheduled carry a number of games this year.

CRUSADERS ON TELEVISION: Holy Cross is currently scheduled to have nine games shown on live television during the 2006-2007 season, with other television appearances still to be announced. During each of the last two years, the Crusaders had 10 television appearances, including four games on ESPN2. Here is a look at Holy Cross' television schedule for the 2006-2007 campaign:

Date     Opponent    Television Outlet
Nov. 27  Syracuse    ESPNU
Dec. 6   Duke        ESPN2
Jan. 6   Lafayette   CSTV / Lafayette Sports Network
Jan. 9   Army        WCTR-TV3
Jan. 12  Bucknell    ESPNU
Jan. 26  Lehigh      ESPNU
Jan. 31  American    WCTR-TV3
Feb. 9   Bucknell    ESPNU
Feb. 25  Lehigh      Service Electric