The raucous atmosphere was in place. The matchup was set: Lafayette versus American. The latter, tied for first in league standings. The former, losers of nine straight games in January, but winners of three of their past four.
Home in the Kirby Sports Center, while the snow continued to fall outside, Lafayette outscored American 47-29 in the second half and flew past the Eagles to win 74-62. And by faces of the Lafayette players as the final buzzer sounded, this one in particular was important in their season.
Asked though, if this late season surge is similar to last season’s run, head coach Fran O’Hanlon quickly cut in, “Just one game at a time” as his players nodded in agreement.
Three league contests remain and the Leopards have now won four of their past five. But their recent stretch will not surprise others in the Patriot League – Lafayette has become well known for its late season surges into the conference tournament.
Down six at halftime, the Leopards were visibly much more passionate entering the second half and the momentum quickly shifted in large part due to their 13-6 run in the first minutes of the half.
The Leopards’ lead fluctuated around ten points for the majority of the half but American brought it within six with 3:00 to play. From there, it was all Lafayette. Sophomore guard Bryce Scott scored a three-point play and then forward Dan Trist followed with one of his own.
Trist sent the crowd into a frenzy with a Blake Griffin esque throw-in basket over an American defender. In the postgame press conference when asked, Trist classified it as a dunk as his coach smiled and agreed.
It was a convincing win and the statistics help tell the story. The Lafayette bench outscored the American bench 45-16. The Leopards won the rebounding edge 27-22, ten of which came from Trist, who added 19 points to lead all scorers. It also needs to be mentioned that Lafayette shot 72.7% from the field in the second half while holding American to just 38.5%.
The win today confirms the parity in the Patriot League, a topic mentioned frequently throughout the season.
“Anything goes in this league,” said sophomore guard Zach Rufer, who scored nine points off the bench. “It’s unpredictable. Everyone has their days and everyone doesn’t have their days. Any given day you can win.”
Forward and co-captain Seth Hinrichs scored 18 to provide the one-two punch with Trist.
Up next for Lafayette is Holy Cross on Wednesday in Worcester, Mass. By the looks of it now, the Leopards seem primed for yet another conference tournament run. But if you ask O’Hanlon, there is no looking ahead – it’s just one game at a time.