The Royals are back-to-back Landmark Conference champions. The team traveled to Washington, D.C., Saturday and knocked off top-seeded Catholic University 76-65 to become the first away team to win the conference championship in the conference’s eight-year history. This win came a year and a day after the team’s 71-56 championship win last season against Susquehanna University in the Long Center.
Scranton is 22-5 overall and 14-2 in conference play. The team faced Susquehanna and Catholic in the semifinal and championship games respectively this season, the only two conference opponents Scranton lost to in the regular season.
Head Coach Carl Danzig said the team was highly motivated to learn from its losses.
“That adversity, that made us stronger and in turn when we get into those games against Susquehanna and Catholic … they (Scranton players) know what to expect,” Coach Danzig said. “Basketball is basketball, you can never really judge what’s in a kid’s heart and we’ve got some kids with some really big hearts.”
Coach Danzig’s oldest son, senior co-captain and last year’s conference player of the year, Ross Danzig, only managed three points in the championship game.
“If you told me he (Ross) would go 1 for 10 in the championship game and we would win, I would laugh at you, but in the Susquehanna (semifinal) game he’s near perfect – 11 for 13 – and I don’t think we get to the championship game without that performance,” Coach Danzig said. “But the great thing is Ross didn’t have a great game, but he still had seven assists; he accounted for almost 21 points.”
However, first-year Ethan Danzig, Coach Danzig’s second son, scored 14 points. In the Danzig trio’s only year together, they were able to win the conference championship.
“It’s storybook,” Coach Danzig said. “Certainly when I’m in a wheelchair and they’re laughing at me about the times I used to yell at them on the court, it’s going to be a lot of fun for us. It’s a special thing that nobody will ever be able to take away from us.”
Ross said other teams scout for him, Brendan Boken and Justin Klingman, and he enjoys driving, drawing two defenders and setting up other players.
“We’re a quality team, you can’t take away one of us and expect that to shut down our offense when we’ve got eight or nine guys that can give you 15 points on any given night,” Ross said. “If you watch me on the court, the most excited I get is when I skip it out to Kling(man) or Ethan and they knock down a three. That’s when I get excited and I run down the court waving my arms.”
Junior co-captain and two-time first-team all-conference selection Boken led the team in scoring and rebounding in the championship game both years and won the tournament’s MVP award both years. He scored 23 points in both games and grabbed one more rebound (12) this year than last year.
“It was a lot of fun last year when we won it at our place and everyone ran on the court, but this one was kind of even sweeter,” Boken said. “We went down there to a packed gym at Catholic, the crowd was going nuts, and they were pretty confident coming into the game. We got down early, but we came back and really stuck it to them.”
The Royals now advance to the 62-team NCAA Division III Tournament for the 26th time in program history, the second most appearances in Division III men’s basketball. The team plays Baruch College (21-6) of Manhattan, New York at 5:30 p.m. on the campus of Babson College in Babson Park, Massachusetts in the first round. Should the Royals win that game, they will face the winner of No. 5 Babson (25-2) and Westfield State University (20-6) in the second round at 5:30 p.m. Saturday. The Royals and Baruch have met only once on Nov. 17, 2012 in the championship of the Radisson Invitational in the Long Center. Scranton won 81-69. Baruch senior forward/center Granville Gittens was a first-year student on the Baruch team that played Scranton, and now he leads the team in points (15.4 per game) and rebounds (7.4 per game). Baruch is coming off a double-overtime win in the City University of New York Athletic Conference championship, defeating Brooklyn College 90-83 Saturday at home.
After winning the Landmark Conference championship last season, the Royals lost 94-81 to Hobart College in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Boken said the team has extra motivation after an early exit from the tournament last season, and he likes the team’s chances.
“I think we have a pretty good matchup with Baruch on Friday and if we win that – not looking too far ahead – we’ll most likely play Babson on Saturday, which is a top-five team. To be honest, I think we match up pretty well against them as well,” Boken said. “I think some people are kind of underestimating us because we were ranked earlier in the season, we dropped out of the rankings, so I think people are going to take us a little too lightly coming into this thing and it’s not going to end up well for them.”
Junior guard Brian Farrell is a key contributor for the Royals off the bench. He said the team’s bench brings energy to the game and that could be instrumental in making a tournament run this season.
“Coach Danzig always says ‘peaking at the right points,’ and I think we had a down point earlier in the season, but we’re picking it up,” Farrell said. “We’re getting hot right at the end of the season, so I think we’re going to make a good run.”
This senior class has been one of the most successful in Scranton history, winning three championships in four seasons and only losing in their sophomore season. As first-year students, these seniors made an Elite Eight run in the NCAA tournament in 2012.
Senior co-captain and second-team all-conference selection Klingman said the team’s closeness off the court has helped its play on the court. He said the team jokes around, but still knows when it is time to get serious.
“Myself, Ross and (Mike) Fee have been together now for four years, and it’s something special to win it with some of your closest friends,” Klingman said.
The Royals’ preparation in practice has been an integral part of its run of six Landmark Conference championships in eight seasons. Assistant Coach Joe Mihalich said the “black team,” the second unit that plays against the starters in practice, is the team’s most important group.
“We always try to make sure that what we do is preparation for the next game, so whether it’s running Catholic’s 1-3-1 (defense) or running Susquehanna’s fast break offense, we always want to make sure that we try to simulate the other team as best as we can,” Mihalich said. “In games past, we’ve even gone so far as to give each guy certain numbers for certain other team’s personnel.”
This year’s Scranton team has an incredible combination of camaraderie, talent and hunger not found in many other teams.
“We’ve just got something going here. We call it the Scranton way. This is just what we do,” Coach Danzig said. “We were able to create a harmony within our team and these kids really fight for each other.”
March 6, 2015