Centre men’s basketball falls in first round of SAA tourney
Junior center Elijah Hirsh connected on 11 of 14 shots and grabbed 10 rebounds and eighth-seeded Berry connected on 57 percent of its shots host and defeated Centre College, the number one seed in the tournament, 97-93 Friday at Alumni Gymnasium.
Centre, 7-0 at home during the regular season, simply couldn’t contain Hirsh throughout the game.
‘We really didn’t have an answer for (Hirst) the whole game,”Centre coach Greg Mason said. “We put three different combinations on him and nothing seemed to work. If he was able to get the ball on the block, it was going in. We couldn’t stop him.”
Centre (17-8) led 15-11 after two free throws from sophomore Perry Ayers, who kept the Colonels in the first half with 17 points, but Hirsh scored eight points during an 11-0 scoring run that gave the Vikings a 22-15 lead with 10:13 to play in the half.
Centre battled back, though, and 3-pointers from Ayers, Art Walker and Tucker Sine cut the lead to 30-29 with 4:55 to play.
Hirsh’s 3-pointer gave Berry a 42-36 lead, but a pair of treys from Ayers and a Sine 3-pointer gave the Colonels’ a 44-42 lead at the half.
“I felt good with a 2-point lead at the half the way (Berry) had played,” Mason said. “We hit 55 percent during the half but it felt like we trailed the whole half.”
After an Alton McCloud trey began the second half, Centre countered with baskets by Jacob Spitzer and Bailey Rakes plus a 3-pointer from Ayers, who finished with a game high 32 points, five rebounds and 5 assists, to lead 51-45 early in the second half.
“We went up early in the second half, but then we would let Berry get several trips down the floor with lay-ups,” Mason said. “We were not engaged enough today to win a tournament game. We gave a talented team with a group of juniors and seniors some confidence and could never recover.”
Leading 70-67 with nine and a half minutes to play, Hirsh simply took over. He scored six points and Caleb Johnson drained a trey to give the Vikings its largest lead of the game at 79-69.
The Colonels, who shot 56 percent for the game, battled back and eventually trimmed the lead to two at 95-93 but ran out of time and they could get no closer.
The difference in the game – free throws. Centre entered the game as the best shooting team in the conference at 76 percent, but managed to connect on just 14 of 23 attempts while Berry cashed 20 of 30 attempts, including 11 of 14 at crunch time with the game on the line.
“We missed the bonus several times in the first half,” Mason added. “We just didn’t play as well as we wanted to. You don’t lose a lot of games when you shot that well. You have to give a lot of credit to Berry today. They played harder and wanted the game more than we did.”
Southern Athletic Association Tournament
Berry — Caleb Johnson 6-14 7-10 21, Alton McCloud 3-6 0-3 7, Elijah Hirsh 11-13 3-6 26, Miles Moore 7-10 4-4 19, McCarty Forte 3-10 4-4 11, Nick Marder 3-4 1-1 7, Ethan Clark 1-2 0-0 3, Coleman Ellingsworth 0-1 1-2 1. Totals: 34-60 20-30-97.
Centre — Art Walker 3-6, Jakob Spitzer 4-4 1-4 9, Bailey Rakes 2-5 0-0 4, Tucker Sine 6-14 0-1 16, Perry Ayers 10-15 7-9 31, Dawson Crump 2-2 0-0 4, Jared Griffin 2-4 0-0 5, Jacob Bates 5-11 6-8 16. Totals: 34-61 14-23 93.
Halftime — Centre 44, Berry 42. 3-pt goals: Berry 9-23 ( McCloud 3-6, Hirsh 1-1, Moore 1-2, Forte 1-7, Clark 1-2, Ellingsworth 0-1. Centre 11-20 ( Walker 2-3, Rakes 0-1, Sine 4-9, Ayers 4-5, Griffin 1-1, Bates 0-1). Rebounds: Berry 32 (Hirsh 10), Centre (Sine 6). Turnovers: Berry 7, Centre 10. Fouls: Berry 22, Centre 23.