Bearcats fight hard, fall short in marquee Battle of Lexington
The Baruch College men’s and women’s basketball teams clashed against the Brooklyn College Bulldogs in a thrilling edition of the annual Battle of Lexington. As the marquee event of Welcome Week organized by the Undergraduate Student Government, a number of clubs participated in the bonafide school-spirit contest. Hosted in the Athletic Recreation Center, the stands transformed into an eclectic fun house sprawling with fanatics in Crayola costumes, inflatable dinosaur suits and other coordinated outfits.
Still, as game time inched closer, it was all business for the Lady Bearcats, marching onto the court with revenge on their minds. Baruch entered its match as the most efficient offense in the conference. Both sides failed to get into a rhythm throughout the competition, however.
Baruch set the tone in the first half with suffocating defense as Brooklyn shot just 7-for-40 from the field. Coming off a steal by captain Veronica Ganzi, the Bearcats’ Kristen Podlovits drained a 3-pointer at the buzzer to end the first quarter. Both offenses littered the court with errant shots in the second quarter; nearly half of the quarter elapsed before a field goal was made.
Brooklyn capitalized on second-chance opportunities near the rim thanks to its height advantage, which kept the score close. In turn, the Bearcats entered the locker room up by only three points.
To open up the second half, Ganzi, Podlovits and guard Shannon Barrett shouldered the brunt of the scoring responsibilities. Down 38-35 with around four minutes left in the third quarter, Ganzi cut toward an inbounds pass from Podlovits directly under the rim and laid it with foul shots to come. Entering the fourth quarter, Brooklyn reverted to a man-to-man defense and maintained a balanced attack on the other end. For stretches of the match, Baruch’s offense resembled a 3-on-3 pickup game that lacked fluidity. Down three with less than six minutes remaining and the offense stalling, Arias sank a 3-pointer from the top of the key for the tie. Demetra Papadopoulos and her teammates set effective off-ball screens that sprung Barrett and Arias open, but the Bulldogs’ 6-foot-4-inch Maya Ajee-Thomas was a menace for the Bearcats near the glass. Brooklyn scored 14 of its 24 points in the paint during the fourth quarter, a tell-tale sign of an aggressive game plan that utilized its height to secure its 69-65 victory over Baruch.
After a brief intermission, the Bearcats’ male counterparts took center stage also fueled by a thirst for vengeance.
Losers of 14 or their last 16 matches heading into Battle of Lex, the Bulldogs seemed to be a shell of themselves less than a year removed from defeating Baruch in the CUNYAC tournament championship. In fact, Baruch won 76-61 when it squared off three weeks ago in Brooklyn. But defending home court in a rivalry game left the Bearcats humble and hungry.
The Bearcats were out of touch early on, with freshman duo Allen Villar and George Smyth, Jr. pestering Brooklyn’s big man whenever he attempted to maneuver in the low post, but broke down as the threat of shooters around the arc forced the Bearcats into confusing defensive rotations.
On the other side of the ball, sophomore guard Jack Sixsmith has adjusted well to his expanded role in the offense. He averaged 6.2 assists and 2.2 steals per game since being promoted to the Bearcats’ starting lineup in early January. Sixsmith can lean on the rest of the first unit to score as he embraces a facilitator role. One minute of watching Villar’s footwork and patience in the paint is enough to tell he has steadily become the team’s go-to scorer alongside Chimaechi “Chima” Ekekeugbor, one of the team’s two captains.
Full-court pressure was the Achilles’ heel of the Bearcats as they relinquished 12 points off turnovers in the second half. Nikovic seized on one-on-one matchups before a help defender could arrive. The ARC groaned with each basket made, as Baruch’s 13-point lead evaporated before its eyes. Two free throws by Konfino gave Baruch possession down by one, but William Sixsmith heaved an errant 3-pointer. Brooklyn, after two more free throws, held a three-point lead with nine seconds left.
Baruch inbounded the ball, swung it to Paige who rose up from the left wing and nailed a 3-pointer with two seconds remaining to send the Battle of Lex into overtime. No costume or face paint was wild enough to match the pandemonium in the ARC. Players leapt onto Paige as he and hundreds of fans released primal roars.
Baruch had chances to tie, but free throw shooting and turnovers were the difference in its 97-95 loss to Brooklyn.
Rivalries are forged by years of spiteful, bitter competition that elevates the skill levels of both combatants. They are loaded with history filled with dread and delight—rarely split evenly between the foes. For Baruch, failure today is motivation for tomorrow.