Crusaders Set To Take On Syracuse On ESPNU

Nov. 27, 2006

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THE SERIES WITH SYRACUSE: This will be the 25th meeting between the Crusaders and the Orange on the hardwood. The all-time series is tied at 12-12, although the schools have not met since the 1980-1981 season, when Syracuse posted a 77-57 victory in the second round of the National Invitation Tournament. The Orange have won the last four games between the teams, with the last Crusader victory coming on Jan. 5, 1972 (99-93 in Worcester). Holy Cross and Syracuse first met on Dec. 30, 1949, with the Crusaders posting a 71-58 victory in Syracuse.

HOLY CROSS KICKING OFF LONG ROAD TRIP: Beginning with the contest at Syracuse, the Crusaders will play their next 11 games away from the Hart Center. The meeting with the Orange begins a stretch of four road games in 10 days, including contests at Yale (Nov. 29), Dayton (Dec. 2) and Duke (Dec. 6). Other road games in the next six weeks come at Providence (Dec. 19), La Salle (Dec. 28), Boston University (Jan. 3) and Lafayette (Jan. 6). In addition, the Crusaders will face Niagara (Dec. 29) and Delaware (Dec. 30) at the Explorer Classic, and George Mason (Dec. 21) at the DCU Center. Holy Cross' next game at the Hart Center will come on Jan. 9 against Army.

CRUSADERS OFF TO FAST START: Holy Cross has opened the season with five straight victories, marking the team's best start during Ralph Willard's tenure as head coach. Previously, the best start of the Willard era came in 2004-2005, when Holy Cross opened 3-0 with victories over Boston University (58-48), Harvard (60-52) and Marist (79-52). Holy Cross has not won six straight games to open a season since the 1988-1989 campaign, when they started 6-0 with wins over Mount St. Mary's (90-82), New Hampshire (89-73), Assumption (105-84), Harvard (91-74), Fordham (79-68) and Boston College (85-80). This year marks the 11th time in school history in which Holy Cross has opened a season with at least five straight victories. Overall, the longest season-opening winning streak in school history came during the 1949-1950 season, when the Crusaders won their first 26 games.

SIMMONS HAS STRONG START TO SEASON: Senior guard Keith Simmons (Kingston, N.Y.) has started the season hot, averaging 18.2 points, 6.6 rebounds and 3.0 steals in the first five games of the year. In Saturday's victory over William & Mary, he totaled 16 points and eight rebounds, while tying a school single-game record with seven steals. In the previous game at Harvard, Simmons had 20 points and six rebounds, while against Siena, he posted his second career double-double with 18 points and 11 rebounds. He also totaled 19 points, six rebounds and two assists against Hampton, while 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. Entering the Syracuse game, Simmons has scored 1,169 career points as a Crusader, while making 49.7 percent of his field goal attempts (403 of 811) and 44.4 percent from three-point range (151 of 340). 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 26th in points scored.

THOMAS SHINES IN SENIOR SEASON: Senior point guard Torey Thomas (White Plains, N.Y.) is once again among the top players in the Patriot League this season, and was named to the preseason all-conference team. In Saturday's win over William & Mary, he totaled 10 points, four rebounds, four assists and two steals. In the previous game at Harvard, Thomas scored 12 points and handed out six assists, while against Siena, he recorded 20 points, five rebounds, three assists and two steals. He also totaled 10 points, five rebounds, five assists and four steals against Hampton, while posting 20 points, six rebounds, five assists and four steals against Fairfield, including a pair of free throws with 2.9 seconds remaining in overtime to win the game. Through five games, Thomas is now averaging 14.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, 4.6 assists and 2.4 steals per contest. A year ago he averaged 11.0 points, 5.3 rebounds, 4.8 assists and 2.4 steals per game, 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 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 808 points, 375 rebounds, 331 assists and 185 steals. He currently ranks fourth all-time at Holy Cross in career steals, and ninth in career assists.

CRUSADERS KEEP WINNING AT THE HART CENTER: Holy Cross stands 4-0 at the Hart Center so far this season, and now owns an all-time record of 280-105 in the building. The Crusaders currently have an eight-game home winning streak, after going 11-2 at the Hart Center last season with an 8-1 mark against Patriot League opponents. Holy Cross also stands 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 68-12 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.

WILLIAM & MARY RECAP: Keith Simmons totaled 16 points, eight rebounds and a school record-tying seven steals, to lead Holy Cross to a 66-57 victory over William & Mary at the Hart Center on Nov. 25, 2006. Simmons scored the first five points of the game, as the Crusaders quickly jumped out to an 8-2 lead after three minutes of play. A few minutes later, Holy Cross would go on a 12-2 run to take its largest lead of the afternoon (22-9) with 10:30 left in the first half. But William & Mary refused to go away, eventually cutting the lead to eight points (34-36) at the break. The Tribe then came out of the locker room on fire, scoring seven straight points to make it a one-point game (34-33) with 17:58 remaining. The Crusaders were able to hold onto a slim lead over the next several minutes, before William & Mary tied the score at 44-44 with 10:10 left in regulation. But Pat Doherty hit a runner in the lane to put Holy Cross back in front, then had a steal and a fast break layup to make it a four-point game. Those four points by Doherty started an 11-0, giving the Crusaders an insurmountable 55-44 lead with just five minutes remaining. The Tribe was able to get no closer than seven points the rest of the way, as Holy Cross held on to win by nine. Tim Clifford finished the game with 13 points, six rebounds and two blocks, while Doherty had 10 points, five rebounds, five assists and two steals. William & Mary was led by Adam Payton with 15 points and five rebounds, while Nathan Mann added 12 points and four assists.

CRUSADERS REMAIN TOUGH ON DEFENSE: Holy Cross is once again among the top defensive teams in the nation in 2006-2007. Through the first five games of the year, the Crusaders have held their opponents to 59.0 points per game and 38.5 percent shooting. Holy Cross has also averaged 11.0 steals and 5.2 blocks per contest, while outrebounding the opposition by 9.2 boards per game. In addition, the Crusaders have held four of their first five opponents to under 60 points during regulation. 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 also forced their 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).

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 139-80 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 283-204. Willard is a 1967 graduate of Holy Cross, and was a three-year letterwinner for the Crusaders.

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. In Saturday's victory over William & Mary, he totaled 13 points, six rebounds and two blocked shots. Previously at Harvard, Clifford scored a team-high 22 points on nine of 11 shooting from the field. Through the first five games of the year, he is averaging 11.2 points, 5.6 rebounds and 2.4 blocks per contest. 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 384 points, 226 rebounds and 91 blocked shots. He currently ranks sixth all-time at Holy Cross in career blocks.

STEALING THE SHOW: Holy Cross has opened the 2006-2007 season by averaging 11.0 steals per game, including a high of 16 steals against Fairfield. Senior guard Keith Simmons currently has a team-high 15 steals so far this season, while tying the school single-game record with seven steals in the victory over William & Mary. Senior guard Torey Thomas has added 12 steals on the year, and sophomore guard Pat Doherty (Scranton, Pa.) has posted nine steals. 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.) is 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. In the victory over Siena, Vander Baan posted his first career double-double with 11 points and a career-high 10 rebounds. He also had a solid game against Hampton, recording nine points and six rebounds. In five games played so far this season, Vander Baan is averaging 6.6 points and 6.4 rebounds per contest, while making 50.0 percent of his field goal attempts (nine of 18) and 77.8 percent of his free throws (14 of 18). 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.

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).

HOLY CROSS HAVING GOOD SUCCESS ON THE BOARDS: The Crusaders have averaged 38.0 rebounds through the first five games of the 2006-2007 season, and are currently outrebounding their opponents by an average of 9.2 boards per game. Holy Cross' top rebounding game so far this year came against Siena, when it held a 43-21 advantage on the glass. The rebounding load has been well balanced, with five different players currently averaging at least 4.0 boards per contest. Senior guard Keith Simmons leads the team with 6.6 rebounds per game, while sophomore forward Alex Vander Baan has averaged 6.4 boards per contest. Junior center Tim Clifford (5.6 rebounds per game) and senior guard Torey Thomas (4.4 rebounds per game) are also enjoying fine seasons on the glass, while freshman forward Eric Meister (Boalsburg, Pa.) is chipping in with 4.0 boards per game.

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.

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.

SCOUTING THE ORANGE: Syracuse enters the game with an overall record of 6-0 on the year. The Orange is coming off an 81-71 victory at Canisius on Saturday night, in its first road game of the season. Sophomore guard Eric Devendorf leads the team in scoring with an average of 16.0 points per game, while making 46.4 percent (13 of 28) of his three-point field goal attempts. Senior forward Demetris Nichols (15.8 points per game) and freshman guard Paul Harris (12.0 points per game) are also scoring in double figures, while senior forward Terrence Roberts averages a team-best 9.7 rebounds per contest. Syracuse is led by head coach Jim Boeheim, who owns an overall record of 732-253 in 31 seasons with the Orange. Boeheim's teams have won eight Big East regular season championships, five Big East tournament titles, and the 2003 national championship.

TRADITION OF EXCELLENCE: This year marks the 88th season of Holy Cross men's basketball. The Crusaders own an overall record of 1229-789 (.609), 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.

CRUSADERS REACH DOUBLE-FIGURES IN LEAGUE WINS: Holy Cross finished the 2005-2006 regular season with an 11-3 mark in Patriot League play. That marked the sixth time the Crusaders reached double-figures in conference victories, since the Patriot League began play in the 1990-1991 season. The school record for most conference wins is held by the 2002-2003 and 2004-2005 teams, which both posted 13-1 marks in the Patriot League. In addition, the 1992-1993 team went 12-2, the 2000-2001 team was 10-2, and the 1991-1992 team had a 10-4 record. Holy Cross' six seasons with double-figure victories are the most in Patriot League history, as no other school has accomplished the feat more than five times.

DRIBBLES: Sophomore center Greg McCarthy (Mansfield, Mass.) has totaled 10 points and six rebounds, while playing 49 minutes during the first five games of the season. Last year, he totaled four points and one rebound in 15 minutes of action all season ... Freshman forward Eric Meister has started his collegiate career strong, averaging 4.2 points and 4.0 rebounds per contest, including a career-high 10 rebounds in the victory over Harvard ... Sophomore guard Lawrence Dixon (Columbia, Md.) has hit four out of seven attempts from three-point range so far this season ... The Crusaders received 64 votes in the preseason Mid-Major Top 25 Poll from