Michael Bullock (@thebullp_n)
CARLISLE — Still stinging a bit as they wandered into the Kline Center Wednesday night — three-game skids can and will have that lingering effect — Moses Romocki and his Dickinson teammates knew they were getting to that point in the season where they had to have one.
And that meant cranking up the energy level while getting stuck in at the defensive end of the floor.
Especially since the next team on the Red Devils’ testy schedule was not only a backyard rival — but also the 21st-ranked team in d3hoops.com’s latest poll.
Well, with a smallish yet active student section lending all sorts of support throughout the 40-minute grind, the determined Red Devils got the result they came looking for — and it was quite satisfying.
Closing out the festivities by pocketing the game’s final seven points, Dickinson rallied for a 55-50 victory over No. 21 Franklin & Marshall in a gritty Centennial Conference affair that featured plenty of defensive-generated perspiration being poured at both ends.
Romocki finished with a game-high 15 points to lead Alan Seretti’s Red Devils (9-7 overall, 5-4 in Centennial Conference), who moved into a tie for fifth place in the 10-team circuit with Muhlenberg. Dickinson also picked up a double-double from Justus Melton (12 points/11 rebounds), 10 points from Jon Stenger and a terrific all-around effort from Mike Hinckley (5 points/6 boards/3 assists).
“Obviously, we were disappointed, dropping three in a row,” admitted Romocki, a 6-5 senior from Creedmoor, N.C. “We knew we had to have this one — it was a must-win game for us — but it was an easy one to get up for with them being a natural rival of ours.
“We just stayed the course, fought hard and fortunately got the result. So it was good.”
Brandon Federici and J.C. McGrath netted 14 points apiece for Glenn Robinson’s visiting Diplomats (13-3, 7-2), who led for much of the game and appeared poised to collect Robinson’s 944th career victory when the third of Federici’s four treys fell through the net with 9:39 to go.
At that point — thanks to a 10-2 burst — F&M was up 44-35.
Dickinson just continued to scrap, taking just its second lead at the 2:39 mark when Bryce Allen (8 points/6 assists) knocked down a trey from the high left wing after Romocki gave up a corner jumper.
That lead was short-lived, however, as Federici connected from I-81 to push the Diplomats back in front with 96 seconds remaining. Moments later, the contest was locked up at 50-all once Stenger dropped in a finish at the rim after Melton’s penetration pulled the defense to him.
Soon, Dickinson was back in front to stay (52-50) after Allen’s baseline drive set up Romocki’s layup with just 29 seconds to play. Out of a timeout, F&M’s Matthew Tate immediately flashed into the paint and tried to put up a contested runner from the right side that bounced off the far side of the rim.
Melton was able to tip the ball toward the boundary, where Allen latched on and drew a foul.
Allen made the back end with :09 showing to stretch Dickinson’s lead to three (53-50), but F&M couldn’t connect at the other end as Daniel Osley missed a chance and Romocki caressed the carom. Romocki promptly sank two freebies to extend the hosts’ lead to five.
The must-have result that Dickinson sought was safely tucked away.
Yet without a strong collective defensive effort — Romocki was terrific man-up on Federici, limiting him to 4-for-13 from the floor, although Stenger and Melton pitched in at times when the Red Devils switched on screens — Dickinson might be trying to pick itself up yet again. Getting on the floor to win 50-50 balls and winning the board battle (37-34) also were important in collaring a result.
“We have struggled recently the last three games, given up a lot of layups and teams were shooting a high percentage, primarily because we were pressing the whole game,” Seretti said of the switching man his Red Devils used, aside from several defensive looks in a 2-3. “It was a great effort.”
Especially since Dickinson limited the Dips to just 31.4% shooting from the floor (16-for-51).
Everything mattered to a Red Devils squad down several players to injury (Elijah Wright and Chris McNeal) as they took on their nationally ranked neighbors.
Federici obviously was one F&M performer Seretti’s bunch wanted to keep a lid on — if they could. Same for the burly Tate, who came in averaging 13.6 ppg and left having scored five.
“We knew he was the one guy they have who can really get it going and light it up, so we wanted to stay on his hip and not let him get any easy looks off and make everything difficult,” Romocki said of his matchup with Federici, who has is bearing down on F&M’s career points lead. He also has a good chance of finishing his career as the Centennial Conference’s all-time leading scorer.
“We knew if we kept him in check, we’d have a pretty good chance. That was the one thing we talked about all week was team defense,” Romocki added. “We hadn’t been defending the ball well the past three or so games and that’s why we dropped three in a row.
“So that was the focus this week in practice and the results paid off.”
“Those two have been playing against each other for four years and they’ve had some great battles,” Seretti added. “The way we’ve been defending recently, switching off on a lot of things, we don’t get to match up on guys all that often. But Mo took it upon himself to get that matchup whenever he could.
“Jon and Justus Melton have enough length that they could switch off on Brandon and get in his way. We lost him in transition for one 3 and then he banked one in (after Stenger swatted one back to him),” continued Seretti, who also lauded Sam Lorenzo and Ryan Devine for their work off the bench. “He took 11 of them and made four. I can’t complain about anything defensively.”
While Hinckley didn’t shoot particularly well (2-for-8) — he had one trey rim out and another stickback do the same — the 6-1 junior from suburban Philly’s Episcopal Academy did several other things well. Such as rebound, find teammates and defend (3 steals) during his 26-minute stint.
“He’s definitely one of the best ballhandlers we have,” Romocki commended. “He’s really smart and he’s really creative with the ball and he’s good at finding his teammates.
“We put a lot of trust in him and it pays off.”
In Hinckley’s case, hustle meant points on the offensive end and stops at the defensive end.
Same for Romocki and the rest of the Red Devils, who just kept digging in.
“We really wanted to take it one possession at a time,” Romocki said. “We knew they’re a team that can get hot quickly and go on a run, but we really wanted to take our time on offense one possession at a time and keep defending.”
And that mindset may have difficult to remain attached to when F&M opened a 22-11 lead midway through the opening half on Tate’s triple. Dickinson, however, refused to yield to their nationally ranked adversaries and went to the break down by just three (27-24).
Melton scored the final five points of the half for the Red Devils.
“That was huge,” Seretti said. “To close the half and get it to three was enormous.”
Ironically, the Red Devils polished off their satisfying win by making three of four late looks at the foul line — even though they only canned nine of 18 attempts overall.
Yet even though Dickinson turned back F&M, the Red Devils must go on the road Saturday to meet No. 15 Swarthmore. The Garnet came into Wednesday’s action sharing the Centennial Conference lead with F&M, but have it all to themselves after squeezing past Haverford in OT.
“They’re another good one,” Romocki said.
“To get a win, they’ve got to feel confident about being able to beat anyone,” Seretti added.
“And that’s what you’ve got to build off of.”