John Feinstein: Simon Plays Key Role for American in Victory Over Holy Cross
There wasn't much doubt who the star was yesterday in American's crucial 56-50 victory over Holy Cross at Bender Arena. Garrison Carr had 28 points, 22 of them in the second half, to lead the Eagles to a win that guarantees them no worse than a tie for first place in the Patriot League regular season race.
Others chipped in nicely: Derrick Mercer had 11 points and five rebounds; Brian Gilmore added nine points and seven boards and Jordan Nichols made a spectacular play -- a steal and an assist that stopped Holy Cross's momentum after the Crusaders had cut a 13-point deficit to 49-46 with less than two minutes left.
Coach Jeff Jones expects that kind of play from Carr, Mercer, Gilmore and Nichols. He doesn't expect nearly as much from Bryce Simon -- also a senior, but unlike the other four, no longer a starter.
Simon's stat line yesterday was modest: seven minutes played, two points and two assists. During the tense final minutes, he was on the bench, his arms locked with Steve Luptak and walk-on Stephen Wilson, trying to will his teammates to victory.
"I'd be lying if I told you there aren't times when I get frustrated, when I want to be out there on the court helping my team more," Simon said. "But the way I look at it is, every minute I get to play out there is a minute I appreciate. There were times when I didn't think I would play another minute. I consider myself lucky."
That's a remarkable attitude for someone who has torn the ACL in his left knee three times in less than a year. The first injury occurred in last March's Patriot League semifinal, when Simon went up for a rebound, came down on the leg of an Army player and went down in a heap. He was coming off two of his best games of the season -- 19 points against Lafayette and 12 against Holy Cross -- and already had eight points in 12 minutes when he got hurt.
"I heard the pop," he said. "That's a feeling you never forget. I remember lying there telling myself, 'It's nothing, you'll be okay.' Deep down, I knew better."
He had to watch the championship game from the bench but still got a cut of the net after American's win over Colgate that put the school into the NCAA tournament for the first time.
"It was a bittersweet day," Simon said. "I was thrilled that we won and to feel I'd been a part of it. But having to sit there and watch hurt. I told myself, 'Next year.' "
He rehabbed the knee all summer and was on the court one afternoon early in the fall when he made a cut and thought he felt his meniscus tear. He was right, but he'd also torn the ACL again. More surgery. More rehab. He finally got back to practice in November only to hear what had now become a familiar sound when he made a spin move one day. It was the ACL, again.
"The doctors told me they could do surgery again, and I might come all the way back by next year or I might not," he said. "They couldn't guarantee it wouldn't tear again."
Simon could have redshirted had he opted for more surgery. But he is very close to the other six seniors on this team, and if there was any way to be part of this season -- to go out with them, to maybe get that chance to play in the Patriot League championship game -- he wanted to give it a shot.