The University of Hartford Hawks dominated the Niagara Purple Eagles for a good 35 minutes. They had a lead as large as 21 at the 15:14 mark in the second half.
Things were looking up for Hartford, who had come off two hard losses on their road trip. Seven Hawks hit shots from beyond the arc, four ended in double digits, and for the first time in his career, John Carroll had a double-double, with 17 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists and no turnovers. His last career high was 16 points, also against Niagara, a year ago.
Carroll had simultaneously the best and worst night of his basketball career.
He was on a roll, and would have probably hit the 20 point mark if things kept going the way they were. But tragedy struck. As he hit the ground hard in a defensive play, he came up clutching his knee. From my perspective, it looked like a possibly ACL tear, and with the reaction of both Head Coach John Gallagher and their trainer, it doesn't seem to look optimistic. "They're going to get an MRI right now, but they don't think it's optimistic. That was the line I heard, but I am optimistic. That's the way I'm sort of born... We'll go get the MRI and just go from there."
I'd like to say that Carroll's injury was the catalyst that caused Hartford to blow their 21 point lead, but it wasn't. However, it was a wakeup call for the other players to kick it to another level. With their go-to big man out of the game, others had to step up. And they definitely did.
George Blagojevic has become their rising star freshman, coming in with a team high 18 points, with 4 for 4 from the free throw line and hitting 2 shots form beyond the arc. Jack Hobbs wasn't far behind with 13 points, hitting all four of his free throws and all three of his three point shots. Evan Cooper even stepped up with 11 points, also hitting all four of his free throws. He also had a clutch offensive rebound in the final 48 seconds, which helped take significant time off the clock, keeping their lead in tact and the ball away from Niagara.
Now with Carroll's condition up in the air, HC Gallagher is looking toward Blagojevic for more time on the court, "I think the way I've played throughout my whole career, through basketball back home in Australia...I'm used to these pressure games, I'm used to these situations, so I was happy being part of it." he said "Every game's a big game."
With a string of injuries that includes Carroll, Cleveland "Pancake" Thomas sat out the game with a muscle strain and TreVaugh Wilkerson wasn't even dressed due to hurting the injury that kept him out of the lineup last year. With two MRI results to wait for, Gallagher has to figure out who is going to get more time on the court to fill the gaps.
Hartford returns to their home court for their second of three home games, to face off against North Florida on Friday at 7pm.