ELIZABETHTOWN – There’s something about playing with the lead, maintaining it, not relinquishing it. It’s a mental thing, a psychological boost – something that has the potential to become an emotional thing.
On Tuesday evening at Thompson Gymnasium, on the campus of Elizabethtown College, the Lebanon Valley College men’s basketball team’s propensity for protecting a lead proved critical, in a 70-54 road triumph over the homestanding Blue Jays. Lebanon Valley captured the lead for good seven minutes into the contest on an Evin Timochenko lay-up, then never relinquished it over the game’s final 33 minutes.
The non-conference result was the Flying Dutchmen’s third victory in their last four outings and evened their overall mark to 3-3. Elizabethtown fell to 3-3 on the season.
“That was huge, no question,” said Lebanon Valley head coach Brad McAlester of the momentum his squad drew from holding the lead. “They (the Blue Jays) made a few runs. But we switched everything on defense, and when you hold a team to around 50 points, you’re going to give yourself a good chance to win. We definitely talked about the defensive effort.
“It’s just so early,” McAlester added. “League play begins next week and that will give us a better idea of where we’re at. We start with two tough games on the road (at Widener and at York), and if we could split them, I’d take it. We just have to keep getting better.”
While they deserve credit for protecting their lead, neither did the Flying Dutchmen pull away from the Blue Jays, that is until late in the second half.
Nursing a 46-41 cushion with 7:57 to play, Lebanon Valley held Elizabethtown to a single bucket over the next 5:18 and opened a 16-point bulge. Ryan Harder notched five Flying Dutchmen points during that stretch, teammate Colin Jones tallied four points and Timochenko and Luis Garcia each contributed a bucket.
“It’s a road win,” said McAlester. “We’re young. We have lulls when we look OK. When we’re clicking, we look pretty good.”
“They’re (the Flying Dutchmen) really inside oriented,” said Elizabethtown head coach Britt Moore. “We knew the Jones kid would be a handful. But I thought we did a good job with (Zach) Tucker. But they did a good job of getting the ball inside, and they have some kick-out options as well.”
On nine-of-16 shooting from the field, Jones paced the LVC attack with 22 points. Harder contributed 18 points on six-of-six shooting, which included four three-point field goals.
In addition to his 15 points, Timochenko hauled down ten caroms. Lebanon Valley converted 13 of its 15 free throw attempts and benefitted from 19 E-town turnovers.
“In college basketball, the three-point line is becoming more of a focus,” said McAlester. “If you’re on, you’re looking pretty good. If you’re not, it can be hard to overcome.”
Lebanon Valley’s biggest lead of the first half came at 21-12, courtesy of a Jones free throw, 4:28 before the break. The Flying Dutchen led 29-24 at halftime.
The Flying Dutchmen matched that lead at 44-35, as Timochenko maneuvered inside for a deuce 9:21 into the second half.
“I always think a good goal is making the playoffs,” said McAlester. “I think this team can make it.
“We’ve got to get consistency with the ball,” added McAlester. “They’re (Tucker and Garcia) playing tentative against the press. They’ve got to attack it. We’ve just got to keep working at it.”