(Chicago, Ill.) Three seasons ago when introduced as head coach of the men's basketball program, head coach Bob Schermerhorn instilled a mantra that his teams would be known for: "we play hard." That was shown Wednesday night during the Saints 95-84 loss at No. 7 Saint Xavier University in the second round of the Chicagoland Collegiate Athletic Conference (CCAC) Tournament. Despite being down by as many as 20 points in the second half, despite playing one of the best teams in the country, the Saints played hard for 40 minutes and left the gym with their heads held high after completing their second straight season with a program best 14 wins and a first round conference play-off victory. Holy Cross finished with a 14-18 overall record.
"The turnovers in the first half kind of took away the momentum we opened up with and handed it over to Saint X early in the game," said Schermerhorn. "Our execution could have been better, and Saint X was able to capitalize on our mistakes early on."
A solid start by the Saints had them clinging to an early one point lead after senior Yama Kader (Mission Viejo, Cali.) knocked down his first triple of the game. The Cougars, however, were quick to respond with an 18-2 run during which the Saints turned the ball over four times.
Turnovers became a major factor for Holy Cross in the first half much like the last time the two teams met. The Cougars turned 11 Saints turnovers into 17 points in the first half, holding a 17-0 advantage in points off turnovers.
Saint Xavier's success offensively, where they shot 57% (21-of-37) from the floor, had them extend the lead to as many as 20 points late in the half before a dunk by Brandon Evans (Grand Rapids, Mich.) right before time expired made it a 52-34 Cougar lead at the break.
The Saints too were productive offensively in the first half hitting 52% (16-of-31) from the floor; however, turnovers and the ability of the Cougars to get to the foul line had this game looking lopsided throughout the first twenty minutes.
Trailing still by 20 early in the second half, the Saints outscored the Cougars 42-33 in the game's final 15 minutes and had cut the once massive Cougar lead to as little as seven points with 1:50 left to play.
Seniors Yama Kader and Mike Vander Ploeg (Kalamazoo, Mich.) exploded offensively for the Saints in the second half helping the Saints get back in the game. Combined, the two seniors scored 31 of the teams 50 second half points.
Kader, who finished with a team-high 23 points, scored 20 in the second half while knocking down six of his seven made shots from beyond the arc. Vander Ploeg scored 11 points in the second half including three 3-point shots for a game total of 18 points.
What it came down to in the second half was the ability of Saint Xavier to get to the foul line. The Cougars got to the free-throw line 24 times in the second half and knocked down 17 of their attempts. Conversely, the Saints only got to the foul line 4 times during the entire game.
Despite the massive advantage in attempts at the foul line, the Saints outscored the Cougars 50-43 in the second half and hit 10-of-18 3-pointers.
Darrell McIntyre (Indianapolis, Ind.), who was put in charge of guarding All-American Brad Karp, finished with 14 points and 8 rebounds while holding Karp to 15 points.
"Tonight showed incredible resiliency by our players," continued coach Schermerhorn. "We got down early but never gave up. The players did what I told them we'd be known for: they played hard. I'm extremely proud of all of them for all they have accomplished this season. We had our ups and downs along the way, but they were always willing to work. This group has been a pleasure to coach."
With the loss ending the Saints season and Holy Cross careers of seniors Yama Kader and Mike Vander Ploeg, it too was the end of an era for our beloved head coach Bob Schermerhorn who is set to retire after three years with the Saints and a Hall of Fame career in the basketball world. Coach Horn has taken the men's basketball program to a new level where they have had back-to-back 14 win seasons (program best) as well as back-to-back seasons with a play-off victory.
On behalf of Holy Cross Athletics, we'd like to congratulate coach Horn and the men's basketball team on an incredible season! It has been a joy to see this team grow! Best of luck to you all in your future endeavors!
We'd also like to give a special thank-you to all of the fans who continue to not only support the men's basketball program, but all Holy Cross Saints Athletics. You're all a part of what makes the Saints program special. Until next season, enjoy the off-season and as always, GO SAINTS!