Big win on senior day keeps basketball in playoff hunt

Senior Jesse Browne drives to the rim during a home game against Bard. Browne, a 1,000-point scorer, was one of two seniors honored before Vassar’s win against RPI on Saturday./ Courtesy of Carlisle Stockton

The Vassar Men’s Basketball Team stormed the court last Friday and Saturday to split a pair of games in Liberty League play. The home double-header followed a huge win Tuesday night against Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs, where first-year B.J. White hit three straight free throws after time had expired to push the Brewers to a 72-71 win over the Thoroughbreds.

“After our Tuesday win, there was a lot of excitement in the locker room. That was a big sweep for us and put us in a good spot for playoffs,” junior center Paul Grinde said.  “To get ready for this weekend, we just scouted each team really hard and went over a lot of personnel.”

The Brewers started strong on Friday night, shooting fifty percent from the field and going into halftime tied at 34 with the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) Tigers. Despite fighting hard and trading leads with RIT at the beginning of the game, Vassar struggled for much of the second half, only scoring twenty points while shooting twenty-six percent from the field.

Grinde led all scorers with 17 points. He also picked up his sixth double-double of the season, gathering 13 rebounds. Senior Jesse Browne started his senior weekend on the right note, adding 11 points for the Brewers.

Ultimately, the Tigers outplayed the Brewers, picking up a 63-54 win on the road. Vassar Head Coach B.J. Dunne stated, “Friday night we didn’t make enough plays down the stretch. We defended well but turned the ball over in crucial spots and missed a few good looks.”

Though Vassar didn’t get the outcome they had hoped for on Friday night, Saturday was a new day, with a little extra motivation and meaning on the line. Browne  and senior Tony Caletti  celebrated their senior night surrounded by friends and family, as they were honored for their contributions to the Brewers athletic program over the past four years.

Coach Dunne reflected on Caletti’s and Browne’s careers, stating, “Jesse and Tony have meant so much to this program the past four years. They have made us better every day and are highly respected by their teammates.They were invested in Vassar basketball from day one and it was great to honor them with a win on senior day.”

Dunne continued, “Jesse has been our leader on the floor, he will finish his career as one of the best players in program history and we will miss his scoring ability and work ethic. Tony has been our leader off the floor. He has a great ability to connect with everyone on the team and build trust amongst the group. We will miss his leadership and understanding of team dynamics.”

Caletti got the start for the game, and connected on a three pointer with his first shot attempt. Caletti commented, “Saturday’s celebration was special to me, just being my senior day and my last home game. It was really fun to get a win and be celebrated for my 4 years playing basketball here. It was an exciting game and vital to get a win, as a loss would have ended our season.”

Saturday’s game proved to be vital in terms of Liberty League standings, as the 70-62 win over Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute put Vassar in a tie for fifth place. In addition, the Brewers hold an edge in key tiebreakers, as only the top six teams make Liberty League playoffs.

“Saturday during shootaround we talked about when the moment arrives you have to go get it,” said Coach Dunne. “We can’t shy away from close games and big moments, we have to embrace them, and I thought our guys did that perfectly on Saturday. We built a lead and were able to withstand a RPI run late in the game. I was really proud of our mental toughness down the stretch.”

Both Browne and Caletti showed well in their final home game. Caletti added two assists to his three points in his first start of the season, and Browne scored 16 points and picked up four rebounds.

White topped his career high in points for the second time in three games as he scored 14 against the RPI Engineers. In addition, Grinde led Vassar scorers for the second day in a row, again scoring 17 points while recording his second straight double-double as he also recovered ten rebounds.

“Coach [Dunne] really put an emphasis on getting the ball down low this weekend, and when I got the ball I was just aggressive with it trying to get to the basket,” said Grinde. “Both teams are very good at rebounding, so I knew I needed to get on the glass if we were going to be successful.”

Despite Tom Horvat of RPI giving a strong 31-point showing, the Brewers were able to pick up the win thanks to a full team effort. 10 of the Brewer’s 15 players recorded nine minutes or more in the win. Vassar’s shooting percentage also increased from Friday to Saturday, as the team shot forty-five percent from the field, including an impressive 59% on three-pointers.

A week with two Liberty League wins and only one loss puts the Brewers in good standing heading into next weekend’s games, the final two of the regular season. The Brewers will first head to Geneva, NY, to face the Hobart Statesmen at 8:00 on Friday night, and will finish the season Saturday at 4 p.m. against the Ithaca College Bombers in Ithaca.

These final two games will serve as make-it or break-it contests in terms of whether or not the team advances to playoffs.

Despite the pressure, Coach Dunne is confident. “We need to focus on the things that lead to winning this week and prep with focus and urgency,” Dunne said. “We have been great all year in must-win games and we are ready and excited for the challenge.”

Dunne has every right to feel positive this week, as the whole team hopes that the momentum from Saturday’s senior night win will carry over to next weekend.

Grinde stated that one matter the outcome, he will miss his time sharing the court with Browne and Caletti. “Those two [Browne and Caletti] have meant so much to this program. They put so much work and effort in over their four years here and I want nothing more than to get these two to the playoffs,” Grinde said. “They’re two guys who have had a huge impact on me in my time at Vassar.”

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