LHU Men’s basketball clinches playoff spot with win over Bloom
By BILL ALBRIGHT
Express Sports Writer
LOCK HAVEN – When the Bloomsburg University men’s basketball team rolled into Thomas Field House Saturday afternoon, it provided Lock Haven an opportunity to take care of business, and for the Bald Eagles, business was good.
Playing from behind for most of the game, the Bald Eagles scrapped and clawed their way back to take the lead down the stretch, sealing the deal in the final seconds to punch their ticket to the postseason by clinching a PSAC playoff spot with a 78-75 victory over the Huskies.
After an absence of one year, participation in the PSAC tournament will be the fifth for head coach Mike Nestor who is in his eighth season as boss of the LHU program.
“It is just a good feeling, said a happy and smiling Nestor. “I knew it, coach Bo (asst. coach Brian Oleksiak) knew it, but I don’t think these guys (LHU players) knew it which is a good thing. I don’t think they know anything half of the time so we just let them go out and play. As for Bloom, they are a scrappy team and I knew that. We are not a team that can come in and blow anybody out. We aren’t a team that is built that way. We just don’t have that kind of talent. For us, it just a matter of being tough and playing smart to scrap it through. I am just so proud of our guys. We finished the game with seven guys and one of them just came on the team a week-and-a-half ago.”
As for the game, it presented a bunch of peaks and valleys that the Bald Eagles had to play their way through to get the win. One big obstacle was in rebounding, an area that Bloom held a distinct edge (37-26). However, the biggest obstacle might have been having to finish the game with one of the team’s two highest scorer on the bench with an injury.
“We had some things happen during that game in terms of personnel,” said Nestor. “It has kind of the thing that has been happening to us all season. It is a case of the next guy up because someone has to make a play.”
The Huskies jumped on top from the opening tip, leading 12-4 seven minutes into the game a lead they maintained (18-15) midway through the period.
LHU took a 22-21 lead at the six-minute mark of the period before Bloom outscored the Bald Eagles 14-9 down the stretch to take a 35-31 lead to the locker room at halftime.
Already playing with a short bench, the Bald Eagles suffered yet another injury in the first half when high-scoring Christian Kelly went out with a lower leg injury and didn’t return.
Kelly, who does many things for the Eagles, came into the game averaging 18.3 points per game.
“It is tough when you lose a guy like him,” said Nestor. “I think he is pretty hurt right now with the ankle. We will get some treatment on it, he will be off of it for a couple of days and the most important thing for us to do is just get him healthy so that when we bring him back he will be ready to play.”
The Huskies maintained their lead (41-39) four minutes into the second half until the two teams were deadlocked at 51-all with 11 minutes left in the half.
However, that is when LHU turned up the intensity on both ends of the floor, outscoring the Huskies 12-4 in the next 80 seconds for a 63-55 lead.
But here came the Huskies as they battled back to tie the game at 65-all with 6:30 on the clock.
Down the stretch, the Bald Eagles went up by as many as six, but Bloom always seemed to have the answer. That is until the final possession when the Eagles stiffened on defense to cause a Bloom turnover that locked up the deal.
With Kelly out of the lineup, high-scoring Matt Cerruti stepped up and more or less took over control of the team. Cerruti finished with 30 points and eight boards while also dishing out seven assists and coming up with a pair of steals.
“Being able to do what I did today is just one of those great feelings,” said Cerruti. “The main team goal all year has been to make it to the playoffs and that is what we have worked for since the fall. Now that we qualified, the next thing we hope to do is take the next step which means taking it one game at a time to prepare for whoever is next.”
In addition to Cerruti’s effort, Jihad Barnes also played a strong game, finishing with 10 points to go with six rebounds and six assists. Jesse McPherson chipped in with 10 points, five rebounds and two blocks while Noah Warren knocked down four three-pointers and finished with 12 points to complete the quartet of double-digit scorers for LHU.