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Garnet fall in first ever trip to the Elite Eight

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For the second consecutive season, Garnet men’s basketball qualified for the NCAA tournament and made the most of it this year with a deep run to the Elite Eight, the national quarterfinals. After convincing road wins over New England College and Wesleyan University while on the road at Wesleyan, the Garnet triumphantly returned to Tarble Pavilion to, somewhat surprisingly, host the third and fourth rounds of the tournament. This marked the first time the Garnet had ever made a Sweet 16 (third round) appearance, after being eliminated by Christopher Newport during the second round of last year’s tournament, their first ever appearance under head coach Landry Kosmalski. Kosmalski, a member of the Davidson College Class of 2000, was one of the best-big-men in program history and served as an assistant coach while current NBA star Stephen Curry played at Davidson. Heading into the Sweet 16 game, Coach Kosmalski, in his sixth year with the program, had already bettered his program record win total from last season, and with an offense firing on all cylinders, the Garnet looked poised to continue padding that number.

In the first Sweet 16 game on March 9, Springfield College took down Hamilton College in a 92-90 overtime thriller. The game to follow, between the Garnet and Plattsburgh State, would be nowhere near as close, as the Garnet routed the Cardinals 93-63 in front of a packed house, in spite of it being the last day of classes before spring break. Zack Yonda 18, the fantastic senior guard and career 1,000-point scorer, showed that he was not yet ready to say goodbye to Tarble Pavilion as he led the Garnet with 19 points on 5-7 shooting, including a trio of three-pointers. Nate Shafer 20, the sophomore big, was unstoppable in the paint, going an incredible nine for 10 from the floor and recording a near double-double with eight rebounds. Zac O’Dell ’20 was similarly dominant down low, scoring 15 while grabbing 10 boards. Cam Wiley 19, who eclipsed 1,000 career points during this postseason campaign, added 14 while dishing out five assists.

The Garnet had a significant advantage in size, and that showed in their domination of the paint, out-rebounding the Cardinals 40-32 and outscoring them 54-20 in the paint. The Garnet were able to effectively shut down Cardinals’ star Jonathan Patron, holding him to 12 points on 5-14 shooting, a far cry from the 24 points per game he averaged all season. The crowd seemingly got to him as well, as Patron was called for a blocking foul midway through the second half before storming off the court and slapping the scorer’s table, for which he was assessed a technical.

Indeed, the game was never close as the Garnet held a 22-5 lead less than halfway through the first half and a 41-27 lead by halftime. At various points in the second half, they led by as much as 32. With their 30-point margin of victory, the Garnet maintained their streak of outscoring their opponents by at least 22 points throughout the tournament.

But there was little time for celebration as their win set up a national quarterfinals appointment with Springfield College the next evening, a school of 3,600 from Springfield, Mass. On paper, the Springfield team did not seem to present as much of a threat as some of their previous appointments. Springfield was unranked and only 21-8 heading into the game, while the Garnet had handily defeated no. 15 Wesleyan and no. 16 Plattsburgh State.

However, it was the sleeper team in that ultimately knocked the Garnet out of the tournament, securing the Pride their first ever appearance in the tournament’s Final Four.

It was clear from the beginning that this game would be a more difficult one than their previous tournament games, as the Garnet had shown an ability to score at will from all levels. Points came at a premium early in the first half as Springfield led 8-7 a third of the way through the opening frame. The Garnet were eventually able to find a rhythm as sharpshooter Conor Harkins ’21 scored seven straight near the midway point of the half, and the teams traded baskets until Yonda connected on a triple and an and-one layup to push the Garnet’s lead to nine. The Garnet looked to go into the break up nine, before a putback buzzer-beating layup by Heath Post gave the Pride some momentum back as they headed to the locker room.

The Pride opened up the half with a 14-2 run through the first eight minutes to retake the lead. The Garnet were able to retake the lead with just under eight minutes remaining as Ryan Ingram ’21 ran the floor to hit a three in transition. However, the Pride began to find their range from three-point territory as Cam Earle connected on three over a five-minute period while Jake Ross and Andy McNulty each hit one to push the Pride’s lead back up to seven with just over a minute left to play. The Garnet were forced to start intentionally fouling, but they were only able to connect on one of their shots the rest of the way while Springfield hit seven of eight free throws to secure the win and the berth in the national semifinals.

While scoring in the paint had come so easily to them earlier in the tournament, they struggled in the paint against the likes of Jake Ross, last year’s National Rookie of the Year, and Heath Post, who both grabbed double-digit rebounds. Ross also scored 23 playing without a single break, while Post added 18. On the Garnet’s side, O’Dell was held to 4-10 shooting while Shafer only managed to connect on one of his seven field goal attempts. For only the second time all season, the Garnet were out-rebounded 39-32. In the second half they were only able to connect on 31 percent of their field goal attempts while Springfield heated up and ultimately maintained their reputation as a giant-killer, having previously knocked Cabrini College and Albright College out of the tournament. 

The Garnet were treated to a standing ovation by the home crowd as they concluded the best season in program history, finishing 25-6 and advancing to the Elite Eight for the first time ever. The team sadly bids farewell to superb senior captains Yonda, Robbie Walsh ’18, and Jim Lammers ’18.

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