Seattle’s CenturyLink Field is known as being one of the loudest sports venues in the world. Tarble Pavilion just might have given it a run for its money this past Friday and Saturday as the Men’s Basketball team competed for and won the Centennial Conference championship for the first time in school history. Tarble was filled to capacity as students crowded the arena to watch Swarthmore’s blowout win over Ursinus College in the semifinals and their hard-fought win over Dickinson College, securing the trophy along with their first conference championship.
Now the Garnet is participating in the NCAA championship tournament for the first time in program history. They secured an automatic berth because of their conference win. They were selected to host the first two rounds of the tournament for their pod of four, which includes the College of Staten Island, Christopher Newport University, and Morrisville State University. The basketball team will have the chance to play at least the first two rounds for the national championship in front of their home crowd.
The Semifinal game against Ursinus started out fairly close, with Ursinus trailing by four points early in the second half. At that point, the Garnet began to turn it on, unleashing a scoring barrage that saw them go up by 21 points with six minutes remaining. The Garnet settled down to hold on to a comfortable 86-66 win over the visiting Bears amidst an electric Tarble Pavilion crowd. The Garnet were able to get many players involved in that game as six players scored in the double digits and center Robbie Walsh ’18 recorded his first double-double of the season with 11 points and 10 rebounds.
However, point guard Cam Wiley ’19 led the Garnet in the championship game, scoring 28 points and shooting over 60% from the field and from 3-point range. This performance secured him the tournament MVP award, to go along with his unanimous selection as All-Centennial Conference First Team and Centennial Conference Player of the Year award. This game was one of the most hard-fought for the Garnet all season. Dickinson led at the half by four after going on a hot streak to end the period. Halfway through the second half, they extended the lead to 11 points. But the Garnet showed off their resilience, going on a 12-0 run to regain the lead, holding that lead for the rest of the game.
Wiley was especially impressive down the stretch, hitting a handful of three-pointers to keep Dickinson at bay and drawing chants of MVP every time he touched the ball from the raucous Swarthmore crowd. As the clock ran out, students had to be restrained so the Dickinson team could leave the court before the Swarthmore student section rushed the court and mob the basketball team.
Starting shooting guard Zack Yonda ’18 said, “To win the first Centennial Conference title in school history in front of our home crowd is something that myself, and people around here will never forget. To do it with a group of guys who I plan to know for the rest of my life made it even more special.”
Wiley, who started the season as a reserve, saw his play time and statistics balloon after his freshman season in which he only played 14 games. This year, he was second in the conference in points per game and 8th in assists per game. Yonda contributed 13 points in the final’s win to cap his junior campaign which saw him break the career 1,000 point mark and be named to the All-Centennial Conference Second Team.
The Garnet faced tough matchups all year leading up to this conference tournament.
“Being the preseason #1 seed in conference, every team that played us was an underdog, and because of that we got everyone’s best shot night after night. Additionally, we played much better competition in our non-conference schedule this year to better our chances of getting an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament,” Yonda said.
But the Garnet constantly fought through adversity, including the loss of point guard Matt Brennan ’18, to earn the first-seed in the conference, the right to host the tournament, and eventually the championship win.
“Since long before I arrived, every guy on the roster and every coach on the bench has been sacrificing themselves for the good of the team. The product of all that sacrifice is our unparalleled cohesiveness, our undying passion, and a spirit that earned us the title of Centennial Conference champions,” forward Nate Shafer ’20, the Centennial Conference leader in blocks, said.
Head Coach Landry Kosmalski, in fifth season at Swarthmore, has truly been a game-changer for the Garnet. He has coached them to consecutive 22-win seasons, as well as their first ever NCAA tournament berth. He now leads the Garnet into uncharted territory, as they compete in their first ever NCAA tournament. Kosmalski is also now a back-to-back recipient of the Centennial Conference Coach of the Year Award, and with him at the helm and plenty of young talent coming in, the Garnet look poised for success now and in years to come.
Yonda put it best, “For the first time in decades, Swarthmore men’s basketball is on the map and here to stay!”