Having lost to Park twice during the regular season, Curley was looking for something different -- namely defense -- against the Bruins yesterday in the MIAA C Conference championship at Gilman.
Curley (13-10) delivered just that, turning in its best defensive showing of the season en route to a 63-46 victory for its first title, and ending Park's string of 19 straight wins.
Senior guard Ron Riccitelli led all scorers with 20 points and, along with backcourt mate Jamie Cruz, shut down the penetration of Park's Thibault Manekin and Cameron Stanley. The Bruins were led by Keith Ganzenmuller's 15 points and Paul O'Callaghan added 13.
"Our rebounding was it. They didn't get any offensive boards until late in the game," said Curley coach Dan Popera. "They're a quick-shooting team, but playing on a strange court, I thought we had the advantage if we could get the ball inside and not rely on the long jumper."
"The biggest concern we had was stopping their rebounding," said Riccitelli. "They had a lot of second chances the last time we played them. We just ran our offense, were patient doing it, and jammed the ball inside."
Forward Brian Hubbard and center Brad Bush had a strong game on the boards, combining for 15 rebounds and giving Park (19-3) no good looks at the basket on the inside. Park relied all season long on the shooting of its backcourt, but Ganzenmuller, Stanley and Manekin were ineffective and no shot came easy.
Park found itself in a familiar position, trailing 28-18 with 7:36 left in the third quarter, and, as usual, came back, running off eight straight points to pull within 28-26 after an 8-foot jumper by Stanley. It would be the Bruins' last rally.
"They're an awesome team. They worked incredibly hard all season individually and as a team but they didn't play Park basketball today," said coach Josh Wolf. "We knew Curley's strength was on the inside and we knew it was coming, but we couldn't shut it down."
The Friars answered with a running layup from Mike Palmere, who finished with 17 points, and a basket from Jamie Cruz (10 points) to extend their lead to 32-26 at the five-minute mark.
Curley then took control of the game, outscoring Park 11-3 over ** the final 4 1/2 minutes of the third quarter and ballooning the lead to 43-30. Over that span, the Bruins were held to just one field goal.
"That was the turning point, the way we came back in the third quarter," Popera said.
Curley continued to go at Park at the beginning of the fourth
quarter, converting three Bruins misses into easy layups by Vernon Fuller and Hubbard (seven rebounds), and the Friars had their largest lead yet at 49-31.
O'Callaghan ended a three-minute scoring drought by Park with a putback on a miss by Stanley and Stanley turned a steal into a layup as Park cut its deficit to 49-36. The Bruins got no closer and Curley used a break-away layup from Riccitelli and six of eight free throws down the stretch to seal the win.
Both teams came out a little anxious to start the game as Curley hit one of its first six shots and Park just two of nine. The Bruins were slow moving the ball on offense and committed four turnovers, yet managed to trail just 11-7 early in the second quarter.
Curley, meanwhile, stayed active offensively, pushing the ball inside to Bush and Palmere and getting several second chances, as the Friars extended their lead to 18-12. Curley took a 26-18 lead at halftime.