ALBANY With everything going wrong for them - including the unexpected exit of its head coach - the Bishop Ludden boys basketball team had the excuses lined up as it spiraled toward its first defeat of the season Friday night at Albany Academy.
And when the final horn sounded, the state Class A no. 1-ranked Gaelic Knights had lost, 68-64. But in fighting back from its near-disastrous start, Ludden had shown as much character than in any of its 12 victories this winter.
This was the Gaelic Knights' longest road trip of the season, and it wasn't to face a pushover. Albany Academy is the defending state Federation champions and held the no. 8 spot in the state Class A rankings, and the combination of a talented roster and home-court advantage, the Cadets wasted little time grabbing control.
Defensive pressure led to a rash of early Ludden turnovers, and AA quickly grabbed a 13-4 lead. The Gaelic Knights closed the gap to 16-9 by the start of the second quarter, but the reprieve was temporary.
AA worked the advantage to 28-14, and worse yet for Ludden, head coach Pat Donelly, furious at the calls (including three early fouls on Ben Hackett, who didn't have a point in the first half), picked up one technical foul, and then another, which is an automatic ejection.
As Donnelly left, the Cadets' Matt Knezovic, who had 22 first-half points, made all free throws, and AA stretched the margin to 40-22 late in the half. Just in time, though, the Gaelic Knights began to regroup, going on an 8-2 run to close the half, capped by Kyle Hawk's 3-pointer, that made it 42-30 at the break.
That momentum carried over into the third quarter. Hackett returned and hit some key baskets to launch another run, while Dan Kaigler started to dominate in the paint. His three-point play cut AA's lead to 52-48 late in the period.