MEN’S BASKETBALL SEASON WRAP-UP: BULLDOGS TAKE HOME EIGHT WINS IN FIRST DIVISON I SEASON

March 24, 2009

MEN'S BASKETBALL SEASON WRAP-UP: BULLDOGS TAKE HOME EIGHT WINS IN FIRST DIVISON I SEASON

SMITHFIELD, R.I.- Up against one of the most difficult schedules that a first year Division I program could face, the Bryant University men's basketball team came away with an 8-21 record, highlighted by a three-game road win streak at the beginning of February and six wins against Northeast Conference opponents.

Coming off tremendous success at the Division II level that included five-straight trips to the NCAA tournament, with one ending in the National Championship game, the Bulldogs knew that they would be in for a challenging season that included new opponents, a new coach in Tim O'Shea, and a grueling travel schedule that had the squad playing 18 road games. Coach O'Shea inherited a Division I schedule that featured six BCS schools in UConn, Iowa, Boston College, Providence College, Rutgers and Maryland not to mention the defending Ivy League Champions in Cornell and a full slate of Northeast Conference games  

Looking back on the opponents for the season, Bryant played five NCAA tournament teams and one NIT qualifier. Robert Morris, Cornell, UConn, Boston College and Maryland all qualified for the field of 65, with Maryland making it to the second round and UConn still rolling into the Sweet 16 as a number one seed. Providence was eliminated in the first round of the NIT.

O'Shea knew that the team was in good hands with a great senior class that finished their careers with 60 wins in four seasons, as Peter Lambert (Cumberland, R.I.), Andrew Lyell (Portsmouth, R.I.), Ryan McLean (Plymouth, Mass.) and Jerrann Wright (Cincinnati, Ohio) brought leadership and a great work ethic to the program.

Over the course of the year, the Bulldogs would face Northeast Conference opponents 14 times, posting a 6-8 record including three-straight road wins over St. Francis (Pa.), Monmouth and Quinnipiac. The win streak was the tail end of a stretch that saw Bryant win five of seven games, including a, 57-55, buzzer-beater win over the Blackbirds of Long Island who finished in a tie for second in the conference.  The Bulldogs also knocked-off Fairleigh Dickinson at home, while defeating Quinnipiac twice during the year.

After falling in their first two games including the first Division I home game for the team against Albany, the Bulldogs would win their first DI game in the consolation match-up of the Tyler Ugolyn Columbia Classic over future NEC opponent, Quinnipiac, 59-50. The tournament proved to be the coming out party for junior forward Cecil Gresham (Bloomfield, Conn.), who averaged 23 points per game during the tournament, going for 21 in the win over Quinnipiac while hitting five-of-six from three-point land as he grabbed All-Tournament accolades.

Gresham would prove to be the main offensive force for the Bulldogs, leading the team by averaging 13.4 points per game while hitting 57 threes on 36.1 percent shooting from behind the arc for the year. He was also the leading rebounder on the team, pulling down 4.7 boards per game. The junior ranks fifth all-time in made three-point field goals with 128, while scoring 884 total points.

The 6-3 forward came up big against big time opponents, averaging 15.8 points and four rebounds per game against BCS schools, starting with 19 points against second ranked UConn on six threes. He also had a 14-point second half performance against Boston College, including 5 three's and seven more rebounds to finish with a team-high 19 points on the night. After scoring a game-high 24 points against Providence, Gresham showed his dominance against the New England Big Three (UConn, BC, Providence) averaging 20.7 points and five rebounds per game while hitting 13 three's. He was reward for his efforts, earning an honorable mention to the All-Independent team.

The team started the 2009 portion of their schedule with a 1-11 record, but would finally see relief on the horizon with 11 home games remaining out of their final 17 contests. The squad started 2009 off with a bang with one of their more impressive wins of the year in a, 69-58, comeback victory over Yale. Trailing, 34-19, at the halftime break, the Bulldogs came out firing on all cylinders, outscoring Yale, 50-24, in the second half on their way to the win. Nick Pontes (New Bedford, Mass.) had 15 points, all coming in the second half, to help the comeback effort, while Chris Birrell (Scituate, R.I.) added 14 and Lambert put in a game-high 16.

Birrell was solid all season, leading the team with 95 assists while showing himself to be a great rebounding guard, averaging 3.6 per game. The junior dished out a career-high 10 assists in a win against Monmouth on Feb. 5, and finished the year with a team-high 50 steals.

His back-up, freshman Sam Leclerc (Fayette, Maine), also had a solid season, appearing in 27 games while making three starts. He averaged three points per game while handing out 30 assists in a total of 429 minutes. Leclerc's season was highlighted by a 12 point performance at Maryland, as he drilled four threes and grabbed three boards. The freshman led the team in three-point shooting percentage, hitting on 38.1 percent from the outside.

A walk-on when he came to Bryant in 2005, Lambert improved every season and worked himself into a starting role in his junior and senior seasons. The Rhode Island native finished sixth all-time in made three-point field goals with 126, leading the team this season by knocking down 62 total for the year. Lambert hit six threes on three different occasions this year, going 6-for-8 against Long Island, 6-for-10 against NJIT and 6-for-17 against Saint Francis, PA. The 17 three-point attempts were the second most ever by a Bulldog in a single game. The senior was 12-for-21 from downtown in a three-game stretch in January, scoring 16 against Yale, 18 versus LIU and 11 at Brown.  He hit for 20+ points two times, putting in 21 against NJIT and 22 at Saint Francis while leading the team in scoring on four different occasions. He finished his career taking 378 or his 411 total field goal attempts from behind the arc, accounting for  91.9 % of his shots.

After losing their next four, Bryant then went on their best stretch of the season by rattling off five wins in their next seven tries, with all five victories coming against NEC opponents. A , 56-43, home win over Fairleigh Dickinson started the streak. After falling on the road to NJIT, the Bulldogs won another impressive game, taking out Long Island, 57-55, on a buzzer-beater by Lyell off a great dish from Adam Parzych (Lindenhurst, N.Y.). Lyell had seven points, five rebounds and five assists in the game, and became one of the most consistent contributors to the team this season as he averaged 26.33 minutes per game. He finished second on the team in rebounds, averaging four per game to go with 4.3 points.

After seeing sparing minutes at the beginning of the year, Parzych became a sixth-man for Bryant down the stretch. He found the scoring touch in Bryant's three-game road win streak, registering 17 points against Saint Francis (PA), a career-high 21 at Monmouth and 19 against Quinnipiac (17 in the second half), good for a 19 ppg average during the stretch. Parzych scored 17 points, all coming in the first half including 14-straight to start the game in a home loss to Wagner. The Bulldogs went 5-6 when Parzych played 20+ minutes. He became the main threat off the dribble for the black and gold, attempting 50 free-throws over the final six games, converting on 40 (80 percent free-throw percentage). The sophomore averaged six points per game, including 12.9 over the final eight contests.

A loss to the NEC Champions, Robert Morris, started the road trip, but Bryant quickly bounced back with a, 65-60, win against St. Francis (Pa.) in another second half comeback, this one spurred on by Lambert and Parzych. Parzych knocked down a big three down the stretch, draining a 30-footer to put Bryant up four with less than 30 seconds remaining. Gresham then led the charge in a win over Monmouth, scoring a season-high 27 points, hitting 10 field goals, three of them from behind the arc, in an 83-71 victory over the Hawks.

It would be Pontes in the final game of the road trip, tallying 21 points against Quinnipiac, including eight-straight at one point in the second half. The junior proved to be one of the best inside scorers in the Northeast Conference, finishing the year second on the team in scoring at 7.7 points per game while shooting 44.5 percent from the floor. The 21 points tied a career-high, as Pontes went through one streak during the season of seven-straight double figure scoring games.

The Bulldogs made a statement with their final win of the season, beating NJIT, 70-46, at the Chace Center, gaining revenge for a loss earlier in the year with their biggest margin of victory. Gresham led the offensive charge with 14 points, while Wright contributed 13 and Birrell added 12. Bryant came out firing in the first half, shooting 56 percent from the floor while hitting four threes to take control of the contest, with a 16-point halftime lead. Wright scored in double-figures in three of his final four games as a Bulldog, scoring 11 points and grabbing eight boards against Wagner before putting in a season-high 15 points against Sacred Heart in the season finale.

O'Shea will have the challenge of replacing his four senior leaders next year, already getting four commitments to wear the black and gold as freshmen next year, along with the addition of redshirt sophomore Papa Lo (Thesis, Senegal). With an eight win season under their belts in their first year of DI play, Bryant will look to continue to improve until becoming full members of the Northeast Conference in 2012-13. The Bulldogs will get set to play a full slate of NEC games in the 2009-10 season, with 18 games against their future conference opponents.

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