ESSEX — With two key starters and a reserve missing due to grades, Anne Arundel Community College coach Mark Amatucci had been counting on havingboth Jamal Harris and Lester Lee on the floor in yesterday's men's basketball game against Essex.
Much to his dismay and astonishment,the coach found out hours before tip-off that Harris, a freshman from Southern High in Baltimore, would not be able to play because of a delinquent bill for upcoming spring semester classes.
That would turn out to be the first of two unwelcome surprises onthe day. The second would come a couple of hours later, when the Pioneers wound up getting stung by the 3-9 Knights, 61-47.
"I think it was a case of us having too many distractions off the court," Amatucci said.
"I just don't understand Jamal's situation. The semesterhasn't even started yet, and they're (administration) not letting him play? It took me totally by surprise. I just don't understand it."
AACC (9-4) could have used that extra body in the lineup, as it wound up playing seven of its eight eligible players, including Lee (South River), who scored 10 points and grabbed three rebounds after a two-year layoff.
"Lester did OK, especially for his situation. He just needs to get his wind back," Amatucci said.
"Going into the game, he had been practicing all week at the four (power forward) spot,but then after what happened, he had to switch to the three (small forward) spot."
The visitors fell victim to an early second-half letdown, after taking a 21-17 halftime lead.
Essex outscored the Pioneers, 15-6, during the first 5 1/2 minutesof the fatal stanza, taking the lead on a driving layup by Craig Andrews (19 points) at the 14:25 mark.
The Knights would go on to stretch the lead into double figures, at 47-37, with six minutes remaining -- as the Pioneers couldpull to within only six two minutes later on a free throw from Andy Srebroski (nine points, four rebounds).
"That was the best defensive game we've played all year," said Essex coach Jerry Phipps. "We just played a lot better in the second half, especially after scoring just 17 points in the first half."
A James Sharps dunk, a Srebroskilayup, a 15-footer by Lee and a follow by Mike Davis (four points, eight rebounds) enabled Anne Arundel to take its biggest lead of the game, at 12-6, at the 11:54 mark of the first half.
Sharps (six rebounds) led his team in scoring with 11 points.
Swingman Ray Osborne was held to just eight points, while taking on his new assignment as point guard.
Mike White led the Knights with a game-high 20 points, while Steve Perry chipped in 10 in a winning cause.