News From Terre Haute, Indiana

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January 18, 2014

Strickland scores 33 as Rose-Hulman takes over first in HCAC

TERRE HAUTE — Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference men’s basketball aficionados have looked up to Julian Strickland for a long time, and for almost two years now the HCAC has been looking up at Rose-Hulman in the standings as well.

On Saturday in Hulbert Arena, the Engineer senior showed again — perhaps more decisively than usual — why those two facts are more than coincidental as host Rose-Hulman broke a first-place tie in the HCAC standings with a 65-60 win over Mount St. Joseph.

Strickland had 33 points, including all of his team’s in a game-ending 7-1 run, as Rose-Hulman overcame the newest member of the HCAC power elite — not without considerable difficulty.

With less than three minutes to go in the game, the visiting Lions had a 59-58 lead and the ball; at that point there had been four ties and six lead changes in the second half but Mount St. Joseph had threatened to take momentum with a 7-2 run.

Jimmy Miller came up with a loose ball and kept possession for the Engineers with a timeout, however. A missed shot by the Engineers was saved when Jordy Martin soared out of nowhere to grab an offensive rebound, and Strickland didn’t need much help after that.

Taking advantage of his roommate’s rebound, Strickland got to the free throw line with 1:27 to play and buried both shots, putting Rose-Hulman ahead to stay. A turnover at the other end — the Rose defense had finally begun to solve the Lions’ Princeton-style offense in the second half — gave the Engineers a chance to pad the lead, and with the shot clock in its final seconds Strickland rose above a defender in his face and another sprinting toward him to swish a dagger of a 3-pointer.

After the Lions hit one of two free throws — Strickland rebounding the miss of the second, of course — Strickland put the game out of reach with two more free throws with 15.3 seconds left.

“That’s why he’s the reigning MVP in this league,” coach Toby Carrigan of the Lions said after the game. “When it was time to make plays, he made them.”

Coach Jim Shaw of the Engineers was even more emphatic.

“Today was the first good shooting game [Strickland has] had in awhile, and we needed it,” Shaw said, “but that is why he is without a doubt the league MVP. Even when he wasn’t shooting well [relatively speaking; Strickland came into the game averaging 21.7 points per game] he found ways to help us win games. This game he got it going offensively to lead his team to a win.”

“I know my teammates are looking to me to make big plays … and the ball’s usually in my hands when we’re not hitting,” Strickland said Saturday. “But everybody contributed down the stretch.”

Strickland was pretty good at the end of the first half too. The Lions, running their offense crisply and bothering the Engineers with a 3-2 matchup zone, had a 30-21 lead before Rose closed out the first period with a 12-3 run. The Engineers hit a trio of 3-pointers in that stretch — two by Strickland, assisted by Martin, and one by Martin assisted by Strickland — and Martin’s free throw with 3.4 seconds left sent the teams to the locker rooms in a tie.

“They were tough to guard,” Martin said after the game, “and in the first half we kind of got lost. Our backups try to run [the Mount St. Joseph offense] in practice, but [the Lions] run it a lot better and a lot faster.”

“Our coaches do a good job scouting,” Strickland said. “[The Lions] were really hard to guard … but in the second half we did a lot better.”

“[The Lions] are very difficult to play against,” Shaw confirmed. “On the one end they zone, which we don’t see very often, and at the other end they are so well coached in their Princeton offense.”

The visitors jumped out to five-point leads at 39-34 and 42-37 early in the second half too, but then the Rose defense started to gain some traction. A 9-2 run included steals by Strickland, Tyler Duffy (for a tie-breaking layup) and Corey Povaleri, and the Engineers had their first lead since Strickland’s game-opening 3-pointer.

Mount St. Joseph countered with a 6-0 run, only to see the Engineers get eight straight points (the first five by Strickland). With Rose leading 56-52, Matt Loesing drew a charging foul on David Mann, the Lions’ leading scorer on Saturday, but that only started the Lions’ 7-2 run for the lead.

“It’s a game of runs,” Strickland said later. “You’ve got to take punches right after you give one.”

“I told [the Engineers] in the locker room that there were three big plays,” Shaw said. “Matt taking the charge, the offensive rebound by Jordy, and then big shot after big shot by Julian. I count all of his stuff as one big play.”

Although Martin is just 5-foot-11, Shaw wasn’t surprised about the crucial offensive rebound, the coach said.

“He got that rebound because Jordy makes plays nobody really counts on and he smells out the ball,” Shaw noted. “He’s gotten an offensive rebound for a championship before [two seasons ago in the HCAC Tournament at Transylvania].”

The Engineers have been atop the standings ever since, Shaw pointed out, and that’s fine with the two senior roommates.

“Everybody’s gunning for us … but it’s a great feeling,” Martin said. “We just take one game at a time.”

“We get [today] off and then focus on [Wednesday’s game at] Hanover,” added Strickland. “The next game is always the biggest of the year.”

Mann led the visitors with 16 points and Joel Scudder scored 12. Miller added 11 for the Engineers in support of Strickland.

“He’s one of my best friends, pretty much part of my family,” Martin said of Strickland, “and it’s nice to be able to go to him at the end [of games].”

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