By MICHAEL KELLY
Recorder Sports Staff
It was not an opening stretch of games to get overly excited about for the Amsterdam boys basketball team, but the Running Rams emerged from their 0-2 start in the Big 10 with their chins up.
"We've just got to get some chemistry going and, hopefully, it will come together soon," said Rams senior point guard Billy Carr, Wednesday. "It's only been two games, so we're not putting our heads down. We need to keep competing."
After a 24-point loss a week ago to the La Salle Institute Cadets, the Rams trailed Catholic Central by six points at the half of Tuesday's road game. But, then, the Crusaders dominated the Rams in the second half on their way to an 80-52 victory, as Catholic Central freshman Anthony Mack scored a game-high 30 points.
While Tuesday night's result was a setback, Amsterdam head coach Tony Orapello said his club had an encouraging team meeting before Wednesday's practice.
"Our guys are receptive to trying to work with what we have," said Orapello. "They're unselfish. They showed me something just now (in the meeting), that they want to work together and play together, and not worry as much about [playing time]. They want to be successful."
So far, Orapello's rotation has featured a deep bench, as more than a dozen players have seen time in each game. The coach said he expects that to change soon, as the Rams will likely head to a more conventional rotation featuring between eight and 10 players.
As it tends to go in the Big 10, there will be no respite for the Rams tonight after their 0-2 start. Instead, the Christian Brothers Academy Brothers -- you know, the four-time defending Section II Class AA champions? -- will pay a visit to Amsterdam High School tonight at 7:30 p.m.
In going against CBA (2-0, 2-0), Orapello said his team's goals were simple and unchanged from any other contest.
"We've got to get good shots, not let them get uncontested shots and keep them off the boards," he said.
But CBA has a way of making those basic basketball tenets hard to achieve for its opponents. Head coach Jay Mahoney's Notre Dame-Bishop Gibbons' squad played CBA Tuesday night and likened the Brothers' size to that of "a college team."
"The one thing about CBA is that coach (Dave) Doemel really stresses the weight room," Mahoney said Wednesday.
"They're always really strong and physical," he added.
Perhaps the Rams' best chance in tonight's game will be to get the Brothers into foul trouble. Tuesday night, the Rams abandoned the 3-point shot in favor of driving to the rim to afford itself foul shots, as Amsterdam shot 35 free throws in the loss.
"We've got to attack the basket, whether they're big or not," said Amsterdam's Carr. "A lot of guys like to swipe at the ball and if we can get [CBA's big men] into foul trouble that helps us because we're a shorter team."
If the Rams cannot use the referees' whistles to help them make up for CBA's height advantage tonight, Carr said each Amsterdam player will need to do his part on the boards to keep CBA from second-chance opportunities on offense.
"That gives them an advantage -- extra opportunities and possessions," said Carr. "We've got to limit that."
While Tuesday night's game was not one overflowing with positives for the Rams, two underclassmen stood out for Amsterdam, in sophomore Marcus Pritchard and junior Eric Robertshaw.
The 6-foot-2-inch junior scored eight points and was part of a Rams lineup that helped cut into the Crusaders' lead in the second half. Meanwhile, Pritchard showed signs of maturing in Tuesday night's loss.
"He's definitely improving," said Orapello. "In his first game, he looked nervous -- like most of the underclassmen. But I didn't see that (nervousness) from him Tuesday night."
Orapello said Pritchard was the Rams' best answer on defense for Catholic Central's Mack, a 6-foot-5-inch perimeter player.
"Mack's a great player. He's strong and he knows how to get to the basket," said Pritchard. "It was a challenge guarding him, but I thought I did OK. There was a lot of room for improvement; the next time we see him, I think I can do a better job."
Stunner in Troy
While most expected the La Salle Institute Cadets (2-0, 2-0) to be one of the better teams in the Big 10 this season, few expected the Cadets to score an early-season victory against the Troy Flying Horses (1-1, 1-1) this past Tuesday.
But La Salle did just that, as the Cadets were 67-65 winners in overtime. The win immediately catapulted the Cadets into the "Best of the Big 10" discussion, alongside CBA and Troy.
"It's going to be really interesting to see how the Big 10 unfolds," said ND-BG's Mahoney, "because you look at [CBA, La Salle and Troy] as being the top two or three teams, but then you look at where everyone else is, with their scores, and it's tough to figure out."
Sigh of relief
"Every day, let's get a little bit better. Let's improve," has been Mahoney's goal for his Golden Knights so far this season.
Finally, starting tonight, ND-BG gets a chance to breathe a little bit, as the 0-2 Golden Knights will travel to Albany (0-1) after opening their season with Troy and CBA. ND-BG lost about 10 players from last year's squad, leaving this year's green squad to tread through some treacherous early-season waters without too much varsity experience.
ND-BG -- who will play host to Amsterdam next Tuesday -- lost by 57 points to Troy, but then the Golden Knights stayed relatively close with CBA, falling 67-41. The main player for ND-BG this season has been 6-foot senior Dwayne Freeman, who is averaging 20.5 points per game.
"Dwayne, he's grown a few inches and he's a little more athletic than he was last year," said Mahoney. "That's made a huge difference. He's improved tremendously from last season to this year."