- Associated Press - Friday, February 25, 2011

RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) - Just a few hours after embattled coach John O'Connor officially announced his resignation, his Holy Family University team fell to Felician College, 79-71, in the Tigers‘ regular-season finale.

“It was the hardest they played all year,” said Holy Family interim Brian Duross, who has been coaching the Tigers since O'Connor was first suspended last week. “We had our ups and downs, but I’m real proud of the way they played. They did what Coach O'Connor instilled in them and they carried it out.”

Duross said that he spoke with O'Connor prior to the game, but would not divulge what was said.

“Coach O'Connor is one of my best friends and we talk all the time,” he said. “But we stayed away from the whole topic the whole day and didn’t address it with the kids. They were excited to take one more shot at winning a game.”

O’Connor resigned one day after appearing on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” along with sophomore Matt Kravchuk, the player O'Connor first pushed from behind, knocked to the floor and subsequently kicked while he was on the floor during a practice last month.

A videotape of the incident appeared on the Internet, drawing more attention than anyone could have imagined.

Holy Family, a private school in Philadelphia, only issued a statement about O'Connor’s resignation.

“After careful consideration, Coach John O'Connor believes that his continuing as the coach of the men’s basketball team at Holy Family University is not in his or the University’s best interests. Therefore, Coach O'Connor has tendered his resignation.”

Requests to speak to players, coaches and school administrators were denied through Tom Durso, the school’s director of marketing and communications.

The Tigers (6-21, 4-13 in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference) trailed most of the game, but rallied for a 57-52 lead with 8:21 remaining on a 3-point field goal from Tim Smith, who had a team-high 21 points and 14 rebounds.

But Devon Young, who scored a game-high 28 points and 12 rebounds, scored 10 over the final six minutes to pace Felician (14-12, 10-8) to the victory.

For Holy Family, Rashaad Sneed scored 18 and Alberto Munoz 17.

“I’m excited about this team’s future,” said the 27-year-old Duross, who was in his first year of serving under O'Connor, a Philadelphia native and a former assistant coach at Division I schools like Georgia Tech, Lafayette and Drexel. “We’ll see what the school wants to do from here on.”

The Tigers seemed to be in good spirits before the game, and actually laughed when the Felician public address speaker announced that O’Connor was the coach. The gym fell silent when the announcement was made, because everyone else seemed to know O'Connor’s plight. Some of the players joked with Duross when the announcement was made.

The comfortable approach carried over onto the floor, where the Tigers played loose and with a ton of energy.

“I knew they would come and play hard against us,” said Felician coach David DeFerrari, who said that he didn’t even mention the O’Connor incident to his team prior to the game. “We went ahead and prepared like it was just a regular game. They played hard and I was concerned that we might look past them.”

While the Holy Family players were instructed not to speak to the media, some of their parents did.

Shawn Smith is the father of the team’s leading scorer, Tim.

“It’s just wrong what happened,” Shawn said. “I think that kind of stuff happens all the time in basketball, especially in those kinds of drills. Coach O'Connor brought the team together and he apologized to everyone.”

Shawn coached Tim at now-defunct Cardinal Dougherty in Philadelphia. He had heard positive reports about O’Connor through his son.

“He’s a very intense coach and that’s why I liked the guy,” he said. “My son is very upset and I think they’re all upset about it. He was a Division I coach and brought some intensity to the program. He was definitely helping these kids. From what I’ve seen and what my son tells me, he was a very fair coach who lived and breathed basketball. He’s the kind of guy I want to coach my son.

“It’s very unfortunate, because all I heard about Coach O'Connor was good, and all the other coaches really liked him.”

John Mushman’s son, Sam, is another key member of the Tigers.

“At this point, it’s all too much,” Mushman said. “To be honest, it’s over and should be over. My son is so disappointed by all of it. I think we all should be looking toward the future now.

“But, losing a guy like that is very tough.”