Crafton leads Bobcats to NEC Semifinals
by Seth Rothman
March 1, 2007
HAMDEN — With 13:37 left in the 2nd half of Quinnipiac’s 78-77 win over Fairleigh Dickinson in the Northeast Conference Tournament quarterfinals, DeMario Anderson had to take a seat.
The Bobcats go-to-guy had just picked up his fourth foul of the contest.
That’s when Bobcats swingman Van Crafton took over. He knew he had to become the new go-to-guy for Quinnipiac if they wanted any chance to win.
“That’s what coach recruited me for; to be a shooter,” Crafton said. “That’s what we practice every day. My teammates found me open and we ran a couple plays for me.”
Crafton hit three consecutive 3 pointers, and also nailed three free throws in a span of 2 minutes and 37 seconds to send Quinnipiac on a 12-0 run that gave then a 62-58 lead with 10:06 left in the 2nd half.
“I got the guys in the huddle and said ‘I’m not going out like this; we’re not going out like this,'” Crafton said.
“Too much Van Crafton for us, ” Fairleigh Dickinson head coach Tom Green said. “He had a terrific ballgame tonight.”
“Van Crafton came here, and I thought he was the best shooter I’d ever seen. Now, I’m starting him every game,” Quinnipiac head coach Joe DeSantis said. “We need Van to make shots; two or three 3’s a game to extend the defense so guys like Adam [Gonzalez], DeMario [Anderson], and Chris Wehye can drive it.”
Crafton finished with a game-high 23 points, just one shy of his career record. Those buckets halfway through the half weren’t his biggest, however. With under eight seconds remaining in the game, and with his team trailing by one, Crafton took the ball at the top of the key, and without hesitation, drove to the basket.
“Coach tells me all the time, just catch and shoot. At the end of the game, it crossed my mind; just pull from where I was,” Crafton explained. “But I tried to take it to the basket, being down one, I tried to draw a foul or kick it off to one of my teammates to get a score.”
With 5.9 seconds left in regulation, referee Top Lopes blew Crafton’s drive dead and signaled a foul against FDU’s Sean Baptiste. Crafton had a 1-and-1 opportunity at the charity stripe, and nailed both shots to give the Bobcats their one point final cushion.
“Tonight, making free throws was part of the little things we needed to do,” DeSantis said.
After the free throws, FDU called a timeout and devised a play to get the ball to Cameron Tyler.
“We were looking to get the ball to Cameron Tyler and have him come off a screen by Manny Ubila. The play was designed for Cam to penetrate, and see what he could get out of it,” Green said. “Mike [Peeples] was supposed to be a decoy, but they shut down Tyler. I felt very confident in having a senior [Peeples] have the ball in his hands.”
“I looked around for Cam first, because he’s better than me; way faster,” Peeples said. “I was very confident going to the basket. I saw DeMario Anderson, he cut me off, and tried to trap me. So I spun off and tried to lean into Akinyanju, and go up strong.”
So, when Peeples, a senior for the Knights, took the ball to the hole, Green felt comfortable in the play. Meanwhile, DeSantis was sweating. He had seen this play before from FDU. At the end of last year’s NEC quarterfinal game between the two teams — played at the Rothman Center in Hackensack, New Jersey — FDU used this same play in winning the contest by one. So, DeSantis was ready.
“The last time we played FDU, we went over the situation,” DeSantis said. “Cameron Tyler got the ball, drove by us, got to the rim and missed the shot. So I said to the guys the next day, ‘The next time we get put in that position, I want the inbounder to front Cameron Tyler, and don’t let him get it.’ Take nothing away from Michael Peeples, because he’s a great player, but we get the ball out of Tyler’s hands, I think that was advantage us.”
When Peeples’ lay-up clanged off the bottom of the rim, and the rebound was swatted away from danger, the Bobcats were on their way to Fairfield for an NEC semifinal game against Sacred Heart.
Fairleigh Dickinson senior center Andre Harris was disconsolate after the game, and blamed his teammates for the loss.
“Today, a couple people that were guarding Van Crafton, not to throw any names out, but we know he’s a shooter, he can’t go to the hole,” Harris explained. “People are guarding him with their hands down. That’s when he started getting hot in the second half. We had some people on the team who played like they didn’t care, because this isn’t their last year.”
That attitude has left the Knights on the outside looking in. Meanwhile, the Bobcats will fight Sacred Heart on Sunday for a berth into the NEC Championship Game, to be played on Wednesday on ESPN 2. The semi-final matchup will be a 4 pm start from the William H. Pitt Center in Fairfield, CT.