WATERVILLE — For the first 33 minutes on Sunday afternoon, Thomas College led Norwich University for all but 33 seconds.

That’s a little misleading, as Norwich stayed close nearly the entire time. The Cadets shot 59 percent in the second half and pulled out a 68-64 men’s basketball victory over Thomas on the second and final day of the Charlie Ryan Classic.

“It comes down to turnovers. Turnovers and defense,” Thomas coach Geoff Hensley said. “We were a little careless with the ball when we needed to be a little bit more precious with the ball. We played good defense — give them credit, they made some tough shots.”

Thomas actually committed only 13 turnovers, compared to 19 by Norwich. The Terriers also had an 18-9 advantage in points off turnovers. But four of Thomas’ turnovers came in the final 7:02, including one with 21.5 seconds to play and the Terriers trailing by two points.

There were some interesting connections between the coaches and players. Hensley played for Norwich coach Paul Booth when the Cadets won their first NCAA tournament game. Booth coached at Thomas for five seasons in the late 1980s and early 90s. Booth’s son, Ryan, a freshman on the Norwich roster, was the game’s high scorer with 21 points off the bench, and made five of his six three-point attempts.

Norwich went nearly nine minutes without scoring in the first half, and Thomas led 15-4 at one point. Thomas got most of its offense in the first half from Skowhegan graduate Levi Barnes and Winslow grad Justin Murray. The Terriers led 28-20 with one minute left in the half, but Booth drained back-to-back 3-pointers and Thomas settled for a 28-26 lead at the break.

“In the first half, Thomas did a good job of taking us out of what we wanted to do,” Coach Booth said. “And we stood around an awful lot. We became a one-on-one team.”

Barnes (20 points) and Murray (14) continued to score in the second half, with the highlight a two-handed dunk by Barnes on a fastbreak to put Thomas ahead 34-30. But Norwich went inside to Kevin Ross (15 points) and Mike Hogervorst (12). When the Cadets weren’t setting up layups with crisp passes, Booth was knocking down threes.

“We talked a lot about ball movement and player movement at the halftime,” Coach Booth said. “I thought we did a much, much, much better job of moving the ball and getting people moving. In the second half, I think we moved around much better, and played better as a five-man basketball team.”

Eric Westbrooks (14 points) made two free throws with 2:55 to play, and Thomas led 62-59. The Terriers had only nine free throw attempts on the day, and launched 25 3-pointers.

“I think, at times, we rely on the three a little bit too much,” Hensley said. “But I’m still pleased with the threes we took. The free throws will go up when teams start coming out on us, and we attack the basket and get fouled that way.”

After Booth tied the game with a long three, he split two defenders on the left side and drove for a layup and a two-point Norwich lead. Thomas senior Mike Akanji tied it up again at 64 with a leaner with 1:32 left, but Booth hit what ultimately was the winning basket on a leaner with 39 seconds remaining.

Thomas called timeout to set up a play, only to lose the ball out of bounds, and Hogervorst made both ends of a one-and-one for a four-point Norwich lead. The Terriers missed three shots in the final seconds.

The Terriers end their opening weekend at 1-1. They’ll face a Division I opponent on the road as they take on the University of New Hampshire on Tuesday.

“I’m so pleased with the guys’ performance,” Hensley said. “The guys showed a lot of toughness and grit (Saturday) when we beat Pine Manor. We’re real young — we have 10 freshmen on the roster — and they played composed.

“This is going to be a process. With so many young guys, and a brand-new coaching staff, there’s going to be a lot of change. The amount of work that our guys have put in, and the things they’ve picked up, we have a lot of potential.”

Matt DiFilippo — 861-9243

[email protected]

Twitter: @Matt_DiFilippo


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.