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It was about as big as a regular season game gets in the New York Collegiate Athletic Conference. With identical 14-4 overall records, 10-1 in the conference, Queens College was meeting Adelphi University for the top spot in the NYCAC.
Placing even more emphasis on the game was the feeling among the league's coaches that only one team will get a berth in the Division II Northeast Regional.
But Queens didn't answer the bell in Wednesday's heavyweight fight, falling 70-54 at a packed and rowdy Woodruff Hall in Garden City, L.I. The Knights have two league losses - both on the road - by a combined 34 points
"We just weren't ourselves...I don't know if it's the game, if it's too big for us," Queens coach Kyrk Peponakis said. "Collectively we weren't ready. We didn't play up to the level we had to play at."
Jamaal Wagner was ready. He had Wednesday's showdown circled on his calendar since Dec. 3, when the Adelphi senior forward and his teammates sat in the cramped classroom that doubles as the visitor's locker room at Fitzgerald Gymnasium for two hours after a 68-60 loss.
In that game, the former Archbishop Molloy standout was saddled in foul trouble, as has been the case so often against Queens in his career. But with starting center Eric Martin out with a possible broken hand suffered Jan. 24 against St. Thomas Aquinas, Wagner knew he had to step up against Queens.
Wagner didn't disappoint. He had 16 points on 7-of-12 shooting and nine rebounds in 33 minutes, including a clutch three-pointer at the first half buzzer to give Adelphi (15-4, 11-1) a 30-22 lead and cap a 9-0 run.
"I tried to play smarter," Wagner said. "In the past I wasn't playing that smart and it was taking me out of my game. But tonight, we just played a good game and I finally stayed out of foul trouble and did alright."
Queens (14-5, 10-2) was also down by eight at the half last year at Woodruff Hall but rallied for a 13-point win.
But last year the Knights had John Sikiric, who is playing professionally in Macedonia and Adelphi didn't have 7-foot center Sean Corrigan. The graduate student transfer from Division I Loyola College scored 12 points in 17 minutes off the bench, including a pair of back-breaking three-pointers in the second half.
"He can do that," Adelphi coach James Cosgrove said of Corrigan. "We needed that."
Adelphi stretched an eight-point halftime lead to 20 with Aaron Cummings capping a 20-6 run with a three-pointer with 8:41 left.
Ben Kenyon and Cummings scored 10 points apiece as Adelphi rebounded from shooting 37.5 percent in the first half to connecting at a 57.7 percent clip in the second half.
Queens went the other way, shooting 29.2 percent in the first half and 22.9 percent in the second half.
Adelphi is known for its hard-nosed defense and that was certainly the case Wednesday as sharpshooter Bradd Wierzbicki was held to 19 points on 5-of-17 shooting, 6.5 points less than his NYCAC-leading average.
"Not good, I'm not happy," said Wierzbicki, when asked to assess his performance. "They threw three or four different guys at me, gave me different looks. It was tough."
Reach Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.
©2006 Community Newspaper Group
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