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Game Previews: 2008 Landmark Conference Basketball Tournament Semifinals

(Posted February 26, 2008)

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- A capsule look at Juniata College's matchups for the 2008 Landmark Conference Basketball Tournament Semifinals on Wednesday, Feb. 27. The fourth-seeded men will travel to Susquehanna to take on the top-seeded Crusaders, while the women, a no. 2 seed, will host third-seeded Moravian College.

WBB: #3 Moravian College at #2 Juniata College

No. 2 seed Juniata College hosts no. 3 seed Moravian College Wednesday evening at the Kennedy Sports + Recreation Center in Huntingdon. The Eagles and the Greyhounds split the regular season series, with each squad winning on its home court. Juniata downed Moravian 66-57 on January 11 in Huntingdon, while the Greyhounds knocked off Juniata 70-64 on February 2 in Bethlehem.

For Juniata (17-8, 10-4), this will mark its first appearance in post-season play since the 2001-02 campaign, when the Eagles dropped a 61-54 decision to Lebanon Valley College in the semifinals of the Commonwealth Conference tournament. That game was the last in a string of three straight seasons that saw Juniata earn a spot in the conference tournament, but fail to come away with a win on each occasion. Juniata's last win in the post-season was on Feb. 25, 1992, in a 71-65 victory over the University of Scranton in the MAC Northwest Division playoffs.

Moravian (16-9, 9-5) has had more recent success in the post-season; the Greyhounds reached the championship game of last season's Commonwealth Conference tournament, falling 79-57 to Messiah College. This will be Moravian's seventh straight appearance in a conference tournament, going back to the 2001-02 season.

Juniata is paced offensively by the trio of Kelly Ashcraft (Bellefonte, Pa./State College), Claudia McDowell (Alexandria, Pa./Juniata Valley), and Jen Hnatuck (Mechanicsburg, Pa./Trinity), who are all averaging between 11 and 13 points per game. Ashcraft comes into today's game having shot .450-or-better from the field in each of the past five games, and she has averaged 14.2 ppg during that span. In the February 17 edition of the NCAA statistical rankings, she was ranked 21st in D-III in field goal percentage. McDowell continues to be Juniata's top free-throw shooter, averaging .822 at the line and ranked 60th in Division III. She has averaged 19.5 ppg over the last two games coming into the tournament. Hnatuck has seen her shooting number cool down in recent games after a red-hot month of January and early February, but she has posted 16 double-digit scoring performances in her rookie season, and leads the Eagles with nine double-doubles this season.

All three players were named to the 2008 All-Landmark Conference teams, with Ashcraft and McDowell earning first team honors, and Hnatuck getting a nod for the second team.

Ali Meckey (Ebensburg, Pa./Bishop Carroll) has been Juniata's top outside shooting threat in 2007-08, as she has been throughout much of her career. She will be looking to add to her school-record total of 157 three-pointers. Jill Walsh (Johnstown, Pa./Ferndale) has averaged 8.5 ppg over the past two games, well above her season average of 5.8 ppg.

Off the bench, Kelly Rotan (Atco, N.J./Hammonton) has shot .727 (8-of-11) from the field over the past three games, while averaging 7.0 ppg. A total of nine players have averaged nine-or-more minutes this season.

Moravian finished up the regular season winning three of its last four games, and eight of its last 12. The Greyhounds will be attempting to beat Juniata to earn their sixth straight trip to a conference title game, and will have plenty of players with post-season experience to aid that cause. Nine players on the Moravian roster were members of the 2006-07 team that reached the Commonwealth Conference title game. Moravian boasts three starters �?" Kirsty Stearns (.915), Jessica Foran (.913), and Alyssa Bisci (.871) �?" who rank among the top 16 in Division III in free-throw shooting.

The Greyhound offense features five players averaging in double-figures, led by Foran with 12.8 ppg and 2.6 rpg. Katie Harrison adds 11.4 ppg, while Bisci chips in with 11.3 ppg. Stearns is Moravian's top rebounder with 7.1 boards per game to go with her 10.2 ppg, while Amanda Brown averages 10.0 ppg and is the 'Hounds top three-point threat with 52 treys (.342 3FG%) this season.

MBB: #4 Juniata College at #1 Susquehanna University

The old adage in basketball is that it's tough to beat a team three times in one season. Juniata College will be hoping that piece of conventional wisdom holds true as the fourth-seeded Eagles travel to Selinsgrove to face no. 1 seed Susquehanna University.

Susquehanna (13-11, 10-4) won both meetings this season over the Eagles, including Saturday night's 60-55 win in Selinsgrove to close out the regular season. The Crusaders defeated Juniata 75-71 in both teams' Landmark Conference opener back on December 1, 2007, in Huntingdon.

The Eagles (16-9, 9-5) are making back-to-back post-season appearances for the first time since the 1987-88 and 1988-89 seasons. Juniata reached the Commonwealth Conference championship game last season, dropping a 63-60 decision to Widener University �?" after knocking off Susquehanna 76-64 in a semifinal in Huntingdon. Juniata went 1-1 in its ensuing appearance in the ECAC Division III Southern Region Tournament, giving the Eagles a 2-2 post-season mark under seventh-year head coach Greg Curley.

Senior Brian Cannon (Fallston, Md./Fallston) leads the Eagle offense with 18.3 ppg, ranked 91st among Division III leaders in scoring. He ranks fifth among Juniata's top ten career leaders in total points with 1,327, and with 547 rebounds he is only the fifth player in school history to surpass both the 1,000-point and 500-rebound marks. His 457 points this season places him ninth among Juniata's single season leaders. Cannon comes into the tournament with his game on a bit of an upswing; he has shot 27-of-48 (.563) from the field over the last three games, averaging 21.3 ppg during that span.

Seniors Kyle Opitz (Gibsonia, Pa./Pine Richland) and Brent Ferko (Sarver, Pa./Freeport) are also averaging in double-figures at 14.7 and 10.0 ppg respectively. Opitz is Juniata's most lethal three-point option with 62 treys this season, fifth-best single-season mark in school history. He is ranked 103rd in the nation in three-pointers made per game at 2.48 per game. He did not hit a three-pointer in Juniata's regular-season ending loss at Susquehanna, marking the first time this season he was held scoreless from beyond the arc, however he has shot .500-or-better from the field in eight of Juniata's last 11 games.

Junior David Thompson (Altoona, Pa./Altoona) was also held scoreless in Saturday night's loss at Susquehanna, after scoring 18 points the previous Sunday at Drew. He comes into the tournament averaging 8.8 points while shooting 15-of-24 (.625) from the field over the last four games.

Junior starter Justin Baker (Nanty Glo, Pa./Bishop Carroll) has been Juniata's top blocker this season with 23, while adding 2.8 points and 4.0 rebounds per game. Off the bench, Jeff Berkey (Stoystown, Pa./Shanksville-Stonycreek) adds another 7.8 ppg and 3.4 rpg. He tallied 10 points in the loss at Susquehanna, his first double-digit performance in the last eight games. Berkey rattled off five straight double-digit scoring games in late January, including a season-high 26 points at home against Moravian.

Susquehanna comes into the tournament with three wins in its last seven games, however the Crusaders have lost on their home floor just once in 2007-08 �?" a 73-68 loss to Misericordia on December 6, 2007. Outside of that loss, the five-point margin in Saturday's win over Juniata was the narrowest home victory for Susquehanna this season.

The Crusaders boast the 28th-ranked scorer in Division III, Josh Robinson, with 21.7 ppg, however he has not played in the last three games and his status for Wednesday night is unknown.

Among the players who will definitely be in the lineup, Kevin Cuff has been scoring 15.1 ppg this season, while Joel Patch has added 9.8 ppg to go with his 7.8 rebounds per contest. Robinson, Cuff and Brad Okonak are all legitimate three-point shooters in the Crusader arsenal; each has over 40 treys this season and have shot .390-or-better from beyond the arc.

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Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.