An unprecedented 2021 men’s basketball season came to an abrupt end last Saturday with a 92-84 loss in the Patriot League quarterfinals to sixth-seeded Bucknell. Lafayette earned the three seed after going 5-1 in their regional mini-conference during the regular season.
Although it was a disappointing end for the Leopards, senior guards E.J. Stephens and Justin Jaworski went out on a high note. Jaworski earned a spot on the All-Patriot League First Team, and Stephens became Lafayette’s 47th player to score 1,000 career points, with 22 points in the finale.
“We came up short in the playoffs, but I think everybody’s relatively happy with the way they played up until that game,” said sophomore forward Neal Quinn. “It was hard to lose, but overall I’m proud of the way we fought that battle.”
Lafayette got off to a hot start in their third game this season against the Bison, opening up an early advantage after defeating Bucknell twice in early January. The Leopards took a 15-8 lead following a pair of three-pointers from Jaworski and sophomore forward Leo O’Boyle, but the Bison were quick to respond.
Over the next four minutes, the Leopards’ advantage increased to nine after Stephens made a layup plus a foul and hit the free throw to complete the three-point play.
Stephens added his name to the Lafayette history books just a few minutes later, scoring his 1,000th career point on a quick move to the basket and a layup. Stephens ends his senior season with 1,017 points and an All-Patriot League Second Team nod.
“If anyone deserves it, it’s E.J.,” said sophomore forward Neal Quinn. “He put in the time and he stuck with it, he was under-recruited and turned into a star in the league. It’s pretty much what we do here at [Lafayette], we’re a bunch of misfits with few offers and we come together and we show what we’re capable of.”
The score sat at 30-24 with 8:41 left in the half before Bucknell began to make their way back. The Bison ripped off an 11-0 run over the next four minutes to retake the lead 37-32, and went into halftime with a 46-37 advantage.
“Their surrounding cast hit a lot of shots,” Quinn said. “We had a really bad stretch the last couple minutes of the first half. We just dug ourselves too deep a hole.”
Coming out of the locker room, Bucknell pushed the lead to 15 in the first minute plus until Stephens cut the lead down to 10 with a three and a layup at the 15:59 mark.
The Leopards and Bison battled back and forth over the next 10 minutes but Lafayette did not make a significant push until the four-minute mark.
With under four minutes left, the Leopards went on a 7-3 run behind four free throws from Stephens and a three-pointer from Jaworski which cut the lead to 80-76. The Leopards had the ball, down four, with under two minutes remaining, but a turnover and a few more free throws by the Bison sealed the game.
Jaworski’s 28 points on the night landed him in the 10th-place spot in Lafayette history with 1,484 career points.
“I committed to Lafayette when I was a junior in high school. I talked to Jaworski a lot, and all of the older guys were leaders to me for the last three years,” Quinn said. “Seeing them go, now I realize I’m [going to be] a junior, and I’m going to be that guy for some kid in high school right now. This time of the year is always hard, but I’m grateful that I had the chance to play with those guys.”
Although the names on the jersey change each year, the goal often remains the same. The Leopards have not won a Patriot League title since 2015.
“My hope for next year, like every year, is to win the championship,” Quinn said. “Bringing a championship [to] Lafayette has been my goal ever since I got here, and I think it’s every player’s goal. A lot of the honors are something they give to you. I’d rather go out and take the championship.”