TOWSON, Md. — Goucher trailed Susquehanna by only four points when the two teams walked off the Decker Sports & Recreation Center court at the end of the first half tonight, but one thing was clear: If the Gophers were going to get back into contention in the Landmark Conference by pulling out a win, they needed to do something to cool off the Crusaders in the second half.
During the first 20 minutes of play, Susquehanna was 20-for-32 from the field, a .625 shooting percentage. The Crusaders, who owned sole possession of third place in the conference standings going in, also lived up to their reputation as one of top 3-point shooting Division III teams in nation by knocking down eight of the 17 shots they launched from distance.
Susquehanna, it turned out, didn't come close to duplicating its shooting success in the second half, but the Crusaders made enough free throws to compensate for the dip in accuracy and came away with an 86-82 victory over head coach Leonard Trevino's Gophers.
Despite their opponent's blistering shooting performance in the opening period, the Gophers hung in there, assuming four-point leads on three separate occasions in the first 10 minutes and never falling behind by more than six points until a 3-point basket by Brandon Hedley with 2:46 to go before halftime extended Susquehanna's advantage to 44-37.
Even after another made 3-pointer by Hedley and a free throw by Josh Miller bumped Goucher's deficit to nine points, the Gophers went on a 7-2 run over the final 1:11 to close to within 50-46 by the end of the period.
Goucher, which didn't have a single double-digit scorer for the first time in 116 games dating back to the 2009-10 season in Saturday's contest against Elizabethtown, avoided a repeat of that tonight. Kevin Miles (District Heights, Md./Gwynn Park) bunched 11 of his team-high 20 points into the first 10 minutes and put his team up 23-19 midway through the opening period by connecting on a 3-point attempt.
Alex Noble (Clinton, Md./Surrattsville) was the leading scorer for the Gophers (3-14, 2-6 Landmark) in the first half with 13 points. He finished with 19 points, just missing his first double-double of the season by one rebound.
Goucher ended up with four double-digit scorers tonight as Tucker Canary (Silver Spring, Md./Montgomery Blair) and Chris Outing (New Windsor, N.Y./James I. O'Neill) both ended up with 10 points. Canary also supplied the Gophers with five rebounds, seven assists and three steals in his 32 minutes on the court.
Although Goucher never went ahead at any point in the second half, they tied the score at 52-52 early on a jumper in the paint by Outing, at 67-67 on a layup by Norman Allen II (Bowie, Md./Riverdale Baptist) with 8:50 left to play and at 69-69 when their next possession ended with a Outing making a beautiful pass to Zachary Hall (Catonsville, Md./Catonsville) who was cutting to the basket for a layup.
The Crusaders (13-4, 6-2 Landmark) responded by scoring the next seven points to go up 76-69 with 5:52 remaining. At least five points separated the two teams the rest of the way until the Gophers managed two field goals in the final five seconds.
Susquehanna's shooting numbers in the second half paled in comparison to the first 20 minutes: 7-for-27 (.259), including 3-for-12 on 3-pointers. Stepping up to the free-throw line 26 times and making 19 of those shots is what allowed the Crusaders to avoid the upset.
Hedley contributed 22 points to the victory. Steven Weidlich furnished the Crusaders with 17 points and 10 rebounds, missing a triple-double by three assists.
Goucher won't return to the Decker SRC until the final day of the month. Before then, the Gophers travel to Madison, N.J. on Saturday to take on Drew and to Huntingdon, Pa. on Jan. 28 to tangle with Juniata. Saturday's game against the Rangers is scheduled to begin at 4 p.m.