Patriot League column: Colgate climbs higher, player of the week and more news and notes

Tegan Graham. (Colgate Athletics)
Tegan Graham. (Colgate Athletics) /

Colgate moves into second place with two big road wins

The Raiders seized control of second place with two impressive road wins. Rachel Thompson scored 33 points in an 82-73 win over Lehigh and Tegan Graham’s 15 first-half points paved the way for the team’s 45-point second-half explosion in an 80-69 victory at Holy Cross. The wins moved their overall record to 19-7 and 11-4 in conference play with three games remaining.

The league’s highest scoring team at 69.5 points per outing, Colgate put the focus in both contests on its transition game and the cumulative effect it has on opponents trying to keep pace with the Raiders. While the offense stayed in attack mode, Head Coach Bill Cleary looked to the defensive end to make the difference last week: “We feel we’re a very strong offensive transition team, but so are Lehigh and Holy Cross. So we put the emphasis on defensive transition and getting them playing in the half court.” The result was two decisive third quarter performances that set the stage for success.

Beating Lehigh: Catch me if you can

Cleary and staff felt the need for speed. Against the longer, taller Mountain Hawks, the Raiders opted for a smaller, speedier line-up. “We went small for the entire game,” said Cleary. “They’re taller. They are tall as heck. But we were a smaller but faster line-up and that worked for us.”

The Mountain Hawks simply couldn’t keep up with Thompson or the Raiders in the second half. The senior scored 12 points in the third quarter to lead a collective 10-for-16 effort from the field in the frame. When Lehigh grabbed a 39-36 lead early in the quarter, Colgate exploded for a 39-16 run over the next 11:57, led by their transition game on both ends of the floor.

Thompson’s 33 points are the most points scored by a Raider in 15 years. She was joined by senior Haley Greer who added 11 points on three triples, and Alexa Brodie and Taylor Langan who each added 10 points.

The Mountain Hawks were led by forward Emma Grothaus with 21 points and seven rebounds. They were 2-for-15 from three-point range for 13.3% and committed 18 turnovers. The two teams will face each other again in the regular season finale for both on March 4th.

Beating Holy Cross: Wicked good win in Worcester

In the rowdy atmosphere of the Hart Center on Senior Day for the Crusaders, it was a senior visitor who had reason to celebrate after personally outscoring the hosts 11-6 over the last 4:01 of the second quarter in the face of a 27-19 deficit. Senior guard Tegan Graham’s scoring blitz helped fuel a 16-6 run to close the half with a 35-33 lead.

“Tegan did a great job of keeping us in the game at that point,” said Cleary. “She was able to keep us in the game until we were able to get out in transition a little more in the third quarter.” The spurt also gave Colgate the lead at the break—and the Raiders are 13-0 when leading at the half.

Colgate’s match-up zone did everything it could to keep Holy Cross forward Lauren Manis in check but the senior had a dynamic performance in front of the raucous home crowd, scoring 30 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. While the Raider’s zone shrank and tried to crowd the paint to make things tough for Manis, it also gave Holy Cross trouble finding gaps to penetrate for their drive-and-kick perimeter attack. They struggled to create open three-point looks for their shooters. Their guards were a combined 4-for-14 from distance.

Senior guard Haley Greer had a lot to do with limiting the Crusader offense. Despite a 1-for-9 effort from the field, Greer played a stellar game guarding Avery LaBarbera and frustrating the playmaking point guard with her length. Greer finished with 10 points, 6 assists and zero turnovers–while helping to force 18 Holy Cross miscues and nab three steals in the process.

Nine different Raiders played double-digit minutes as the transition pace increased after halftime and the Colgate read-and-react type offense produced a 16-for-31 second half shooting performance. Thompson and Graham led the way with 18 points apiece. The victory gave the visitors a series sweep and dropped Holy Cross to 15-11 overall and 8-7 in the league—good for a fifth place tie with Lehigh.

Tegan Graham. (Colgate Athletics)
Tegan Graham. (Colgate Athletics) /

It’s a matter of trust

The streaking Raiders now find themselves at the intersection of success and expectation—not always an easy place to be. Colgate is the new kid on that block in the league—their 19th regular season win is a program record–but it’s not new territory to Cleary. He knows the drill. The fourth-year mentor took Division II Bloomsburg University to four straight NCAA tournament appearances prior to arriving in upstate New York. Count the Colgate Raiders as a team that’s growing right before your eyes and it’s all about trust.

They don’t run a lot of set plays or isolation options and they give all five players on the floor the freedom to score. Their read and react offense depends on understanding what teammates are seeing, anticipating lanes, cuts, or when and where to screen. That takes a lot of communication and trust. It’s working–the Raiders are the top scoring team in the conference and are 16-0 this season when scoring 70 points or more.

“The players are seeing the trust that we have in them–and they are trusting each other,” says Cleary. “They really are feeding off each other right now. Offensively and defensively they are understanding where they are and what everyone needs to do.”

The strength of this squad is its depth of scoring and shooting talent, combined with a coaching staff that understands player-combinations, match-ups, and scouting. And that trusts extends to the coaching staff too.

“I try not to get in the way of my staff,” says Cleary. “I trust them without question that they’re reiterating the messages we want. They do a fantastic job of that and I think that’s why you see the trust we all have.”

Abby Schubiger (Colgate Athletics)
Abby Schubiger (Colgate Athletics) /

What do the road wins mean for Colgate moving forward?

It means there’s a culture of success taking shape in Hamilton, New York.  To beat the pre-season number one (Lehigh) and number two (Holy Cross) teams on the road shows that Colgate’s program has clearly taken a step forward. “We stressed to our players after the game today how our team matured this week,” said Cleary. “This was a big week for our program–not for just this season, but for all the subsequent seasons.”

The Raiders are forging a mentality, a competitive maturity, and trust. Growing pains? A few. Ups and downs? Sure. All future champions face hurdles or have insecurities—they just learn how to conquer them, and overcome them, together. No apologies, no favors, just doing the work that needs to be done. All part of the honest process of growing a champion.

Count Colgate among the teams in the Patriot League embracing that process and the challenge ahead. And it’s what makes them one of a just a few teams favored when tournament time rolls around.

What’s next? A showdown with first-place and defending champion Bucknell this week.

Current Standings

Bucknell (20-6, 13-2)

Colgate (19-7, 11-4)

Boston University (15-11, 10-5)

Lafayette (13-12, 9-6)

Lehigh (16-10, 8-7)

Holy Cross (15-11, 8-7)

American (11-14, 7-8)

Loyola (MD) (7-19, 4-11)

Army (7-19, 3-12)

Navy (7-19, 2-13)

Game of the Week:

Boston University at Bucknell @2:00p.m. February 29th

A challenging week for Boston University that starts with Lehigh and ends with Bucknell. The rematch with the Bison promises to be one of the most telling contests down the stretch. Is Boston a serious contender? Can Bucknell solve a zone consistently? BU Head Coach Marisa Moseley has matched last year’s breakout rookie campaign with an impressive season guiding a freshman class through significant roles and a surprising third-place showing to date. Senior point guard Katie Nelson is joined in the backcourt with freshman star Maggie Pina. BU’s starting line-up features three freshmen in Pina, Maren Durant, and Sydney Johnson.

If Bucknell has shown any weakness this season, it’s finding consistent offense or flow versus zone defenses. They were frustrated by the BU zone in their first game this season but expect a different look this time around. The Bison were 15-for-46 from the floor in game one for a season-low 32.6%. It’s unlikely we’ll see a repeat of that shooting performance, especially at home.

If senior forward Ellie Mack is aggressive looking for her shot in the high post, center Tessa Brugler will find more opportunity down low than in game one and she needs to be involved. Look for a big game from junior shooting guard Abby Kapp too. Lots on the line for playoff positioning. Buckle up, this one is going to be scrappy.

The last meeting: February 1, 2020. Boston University jumped out to an early 16-4 lead at the end of the first quarter and fended off a Bucknell rally to win, 52-48, in Boston. Sophomore forward Riley Childs had a big game for the Terriers with 18 points and 11 rebounds. Freshman sensation Maggie Pina scored 15 points and hit three three-pointers. BU’s win is just one of two losses in conference play for the Bison.

Bucknell managed to grab its first lead of the game at 48-46 on an Ellie Mack three-pointer but the Terriers finished the game on a 6-0 run to close it out. Bucknell’s only loss at home was back on November 20th to Temple. They are undefeated in Lewisburg in conference play.

Tune in to Patriot League action this week:

February 26th

Navy at Loyola (MD) @5:30p.m.

Lehigh at Boston University @6:00p.m.

American at Lafayette @7:00p.m.

Bucknell at Colgate @7:00p.m.

Army at Holy Cross @7:00p.m.

February 29th

Colgate at Army @1:00p.m.

Boston University at Bucknell @2:00p.m.

Holy Cross at American @2:00p.m.

Lafayette at Navy @7:00p.m.

March 1st

Loyola (MD) at Lehigh @7:00p.m.

League news and notes:

  • Senior forward Ellie Mack reached the 1,000-point career scoring mark in Buckell’s 67-56 win over Lehigh. She leads the Bison in scoring with 15.2 ppg.
  • Lafayette forward Alexis Santarelli scored 21 points to help lead the Leopards to a 76-65 win over Loyola (MD).
  • Bucknell’s win over Lehigh marked the program’s fifth series sweep of the season.
  • Colgate leads the league in scoring average with 69.5 ppg and assists with 17.6 apg.
  • Senior point guard Katie Nelson leads Boston University and the league in minutes played with 39.3 mpg.
  • Mary Kate Ulasewicz scored 10 points in Navy’s 62-52 loss to Army. It marked the senior’s fifth straight double-figure scoring game.
  • Bucknell reached the 20-win plateau for the fifth consecutive season.
  • Holy Cross senior forward Lauren Manis scored 30 points for the first time on her home court at the Hart Center as the team celebrated senior day for five members of the program. Despite the 30-point, 14-rebound effort, the Crusaders fell to Colgate, 80-69. It was the third 30-point game of her career.
  • Sophomore guard Jade Edwards of American University posted back-to-back double-doubles in wins over Navy and Boston University.
  • Colgate freshman Alexa Brodie shot 7-for-12 from the field and 4-for-6 from three-point distance in wins over Lehigh and Holy Cross. She scored 10 points in each game.
  • Avery LaBarbera leads the league in free throw shooting percentage with 83.3%.

Patriot League Player of the Week:

Rachel Thompson, Colgate University, Senior Guard

  • Scored a team-high 33 points, grabbed 14 rebounds, and dished six assists in an 82-73 win over Lehigh.
  • Her 33-point effort was the most points scored in a game for Colgate in 15 years.
  • Led Colgate in scoring with 18 points in an 80-69 road win against Holy Cross. Thompson shot 7-for-12 from the floor.
  • Leads Colgate in points, field goals made, rebounds, assists, steals, and free throw shooting percentage.

Patriot League Rookie of the Week:

Hope Brown, Army, Freshman Guard

  • Honored for the second time this season as league rookie of the week.
  • Scored 18 points in a 62-52 win over Navy, including 15 points in the decisive second half.
  • Posted 16 points in a 75-55 win over Loyola (MD). Brown shot 6-for-10 from the field and 4-for-5 from the free throw line.
  • Started Army’s last 18 games and is averaging 8.2 ppg on the season.

Love our 24/7 women’s basketball coverage? Join our Patreon now and support this work, while getting extra goodies and subscriber-only content for yourself.