FROSTBURG, MD —
The Frostburg State men's basketball team enters the 2002 Allegheny Mountain Collegiate Conference Tournament ready to follow a familiar path. The only difference is now they are the hunted instead of the hunter.
Last season, the Bobcats earned the tournament's No. 3 after an 8-4 league finish and went on to topple No. 2 Penn State Behrend in the semifinals before knocking off regular-season conference champion Pitt-Bradford, 77-73, in the title contest on Bradford's home court.
This year, FSU is once again the No. 3 seed, tying Penn State Behrend for second place in the league standings with a 9-3 AMCC mark but losing the tiebreaker on a coin flip.
The Bobcats will host Penn State Altoona in a first-round game Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m., and, barring a major slip up, are once again on a collison course with Penn State Behrend in Friday's semifinals to be held again at top-seeded Pitt-Bradford.
"We're in the same position as we were last year (as far as being the No. 3 seed and having to travel to Pitt-Bradford for the league final four)," said FSU third-year head coach Webb Hatch. "But, one of things we've said in practice is that we're the (defending) champions and that someone has to go through us. It's different than last year in that we were on the outside looking in."
While his squad might be tempted to look past Penn State Altoona, a team the Bobcats handled 101-66 and 100-51 during the regular season, Hatch knows the danger of underestimating any opponent in a one-and-done situation.
"Altoona had won three out of four games when they came in here (just one week ago to the day), and they nearly had Behrend beat a few weeks prior to that before falling in overtime," said Hatch. "We've played well against them this year, and we're just deeper than them. We're going to play up-tempo basketball and use our depth to try to wear them down."
Junior Pierre Bowery, who leads FSU with 20.6 points and 6.9 rebounds, has had two of his best games this season against Altoona, hitting for 21 and 29 points, respectively.
Senior Sean Brown is adding 15.9 points and 4.6 rebounds per game this year and scored 23 points in the last meeting with the Cougars.
Altoona, which is led by Eric Goodson (15.8 ppg, 8.5 rpg) and Kenny Edwards (14.0 ppg) certainly hasn't helped its cause, shooting just 33.7 percent (34-of-101) in the two losses to FSU.
The Bobcats are 7-2 since going to a four-guard offense, losing only to Waynesburg, 89-87 in overtime, and Pitt-Bradford, 96-79. FSU is also outrebounding opponents by an average of 6.0 boards per game in that span, a surprising figure considering the sacrifice in size the Bobcats make with a smaller lineup.
"I think we're a much different team than we were six weeks ago," said Hatch. "We've got five guys on the floor who can score from anywhere on the floor, we're quicker and we still rotate 10 players. The bulk of the playing time is going to our smaller lineup, but what we lose in size we make up for in speed and hustle.
"I think our guys certainly have the confidence," Hatch added. "I think we can win it again, but we'll have to play well to do so."
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Frostburg, MD 21532-2303