Ten days ago, life was grand for the Johns Hopkins basketbal team. The Blue Jays had a 15-1 record, were ranked No. 13 among the nation's Division III teams, and were looking ahead to their third straight NCAA tournament berth.
Now, coach Bill Nelson's squad is re-evaluating. Hopkins was routed by visiting Widener, 64-51, last night, and the Blue Jays' third loss in their past four games also was their second straight in the Middle Atlantic Conference Southeast Section. Hopkins began the evening with a one-game lead over Washington College.
The Blue Jays' descent began with a 19-point loss Jan. 30 at Franklin & Marshall, a perennial MAC power. The Blue Jays were still ranked No. 20 in the nation Tuesday, but a day later they lost by nine at Ursinus, which had just two previous wins. Hopkins has scored just 93 points in the two sectional losses.
Last night, Hopkins fell behind by 18 in the first half, and never got closer than 10.
"I'm really, really concerned," Nelson said. "We've got guys from big-time high school programs, but no one is showing leadership right now. They're waiting for something to go wrong, and it usually does. I have no idea why we're playing so uptight. It's almost like we're afraid to fail.
"I've never had anything like this happen to a team."
Losing for the first time in 12 games at the White Athletic Center, a streak dating to last February, Hopkins was cold from the field against a Widener team that didn't give it many uncontested shots. The Pioneers, who appeared to be headed to a rare losing season for veteran coach C. Alan Rowe, now have won five of six to climb back into the MAC Southeast race. Last night they edged past .500 (11-10 overall), playing with an intensity that Nelson envied.
Widener got 21 points from freshman guard Chris Carideo, Division III's top free-throw shooter. Senior forward Brian Duffy, who shared MAC Southern Division Player of the Year honors in 1990-91 with Hopkins' since-departed Andy Enfield, had 17 points and 12 rebounds. Duffy, wearing goggles, missed three games early in the season, including a Dec. 12 home loss to Hopkins, with a bruise in his right eye.
Hopkins' field-goal percentage was the key statistic -- the Blue Jays made 35 percent (7-for-20) in the first half, and 31.8 percent (14-for-44) in the second half. Sophomore wing Luke Busby was the lone Hopkins player to score in double figures, getting seven of his 11 in the second half. Sophomore center Frank Grzywacz had seven points and a game-high 13 rebounds. Senior forward Jay Gangemi, who last week became Hopkins' No. 2 all-time scorer, was 1-for-11 from the field.
Widener used runs of 12-3 and 14-3 to pile up a 30-12 lead with 3 minutes, 42 seconds left in the first half, the latter run starting and ending with three-pointers by Carideo. The Blue Jays held the Pioneers scoreless for nearly six minutes midway through the second half and climbed to within 40-30, but missed four chances to cut the lead to eight.