Sunday, March 23, 2003

Merchant's Harvard finale is memorable


Lebanon High graduate pours in 45 points

By Ryan Ernst
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Brady Merchant didn't feel anything particularly special going into his final basketball game at Harvard on March 8, at home against Brown.

Sure, the 6-foot-3 guard from Lebanon had all kinds of family and friends in town for the season finale. He gave his mom a rose and was escorted to center court by his parents. "The whole Senior Night thing," Merchant said. It was a nice way to go out.

But the Crimson were 12-14 going into the contest. The Ivy League has no conference tournament, which means there would be no postseason for Harvard.

Plus, Merchant was coming off a 4-of-13 performance -including 2-of-10 from 3-point range - in a 95-82 loss to Yale the night before.

So for the final time, the career 7.9 points-per-game scorer donned his Crimson warmups and took the floor at Lavietes Pavilion.

It started quickly, with Merchant hitting a 3-pointer 47 seconds into the game. A minute later, it was a long offensive rebound and jumper. His next points came off a steal and two more 3-pointers in 26 seconds. From that point, it was on.

"After I hit three or four, it was kind of like 'All right, if you're open, put it up,' " Merchant said. "I did, and I hit them. From then on, I was shooting everything I could. They kept going in, so I wasn't going to stop at that point."

Not known as a player who can create his own shots, Merchant could see how his teammates were setting him up. Point guard Elliot Prasse-Freeman called play after play for his backcourt mate, and frontcourt players set solid screens to get Merchant open.

A quarter of the way through the game, Merchant was 8-for-11 with 21 points, six shy of his career high. He was already 5-for-5 from 3-point range. Going into the half, the Crimson led 42-37, and Merchant had a chance to reflect on his performance.

"It kind of hit me in the locker room and I thought I was really hitting," he said. "I thought I had about 18 points or so."

That assumption was one of Merchant's few misses of the night. It was by far his worst. At the half, he was 11-of-18 for 28 points, statistics he heard when he took the floor at the end of halftime.

The reason he didn't think his shooting was that hot? Merchant said it didn't feel that hot.

"The shot didn't feel particularly good," he said. "It was just going in. The basket didn't feel as wide as the ocean. I didn't have tunnel vision. None of that."

The second half was more of the same. Merchant made his first five shots from the field. But with just less than seven minutes remaining, Brown took the lead for good.

As time wound down on Merchant's career and on his special night, he took time to reflect.

"I took a look at the crowd and took a mental picture in my head of the whole college atmosphere," he said. "I don't think I prepared myself for the end. I'll really miss it."

With 21 seconds remaining and Brown ahead by what would be the final score of 93-80, Merchant walked off the floor for the first time of the night and the last time in his career. As Merchant came out of the game, the announcer read his line: 45 points, 17-of-29 from the field, 9-of-14 on 3-pointers, three rebounds, two assists. He set school records for points and 3-pointers in a game, and it was the sixth-highest point total in Ivy League history. Still, Merchant has mixed emotions about the night.

"It's bittersweet. Team goals always come first, and we had team goals to make the NCAA Tournament," he said. "People always ask me how I feel about it; it's a tough one to answer. It's nice, but it's not the important thing."

Others

• Withrow grad Ivan Johnson, a senior basketball player at Cumberland, was named Mid-South Conference Player of the Year for the second straight season. Johnson, an NAIA first-team All-American last season, averaged 31 points and 3.9 assists in 2002-03.

• Princeton grad Erica O'Hara, a sophomore at Wilberforce, won the NAIA indoor high jump national title when she cleared 5 feet, 9 3/4 inches at the national championships in Johnson City, Tenn.

• UMass junior tennis player Susan Hyams, a Sycamore alum, was last week's Atlantic 10 Player of the Week.

• Mount St. Joseph junior center Virginia Grace, a Colerain product, was named to the All-Great Lakes Region second team by D3Hoops.com. Grace led the Lions in points, rebounds and blocks this season.

• At the NCAA Division III Indoor Track and Field Championships, Anderson grad Kyle Wolf took sixth place in the pole vault with a height of 16-1 1/4, earning him All-American status.

• University of Cincinnati swimmer Scott Davison qualified for the NCAA Championships in the 500- and 1,650-yard freestyle events with times of 4:24.82 and 15:11.81. His time in the 500 set a school record, and his 1,650 time broke the Conference USA Invitational record.

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E-mail rernst@enquirer.com




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