Being the visiting team at senior day is never an easy task. The emotions of the players combined with the increased attendance make the already difficult challenge of winning on the road even more perilous. After proving this by upsetting the regionally ranked, Centennial Conference regular season champion Franklin & Marshall on their own senior day, Swarthmore took to the road the following Saturday, and managed to overcome Haverford’s home court advantage, winning 76-60.
With this win, Swarthmore finished the season with a 6-12 record in the Centennial Conference. While this mark is not up to the standards that Coach Landry Kosmalski expects from his teams in the future, it was nevertheless a significant improvement from last season’s 3-15 mark. The Garnet’s record was a bit misleading as well, as Swarthmore was also a better team than the numbers alone showed. The team consistently played competitive basketball, and challenged the Conference’s elite teams.
In fact, on several occasions this season, Swarthmore came tantalizingly close to improving on its 6-12 mark. The Garnet lost four games in overtime this season, and as Kosmalski pointed out, different endings in those games could have resulted in an entirely different season. This fact was encouraging to the first year coach: “We lost four hard-fought games in overtime and if we had won three of those games we would have made the playoffs. So we made significant strides as a team and are very close to being the consistently successful program we want to be. We will take that momentum with us going into next season.”
The last of these overtime games, played against McDaniel last Wednesday at Tarble Pavilion, was particularly special for Swarthmore. Although the final result was not in Swarthmore’s favor, nobody in attendance that night will likely ever forget the way in which the game was sent into overtime. Trailing by three points with six seconds left in regulation, Swarthmore inbounded the ball from under its own baseline. With point guard Jordan Federer ’14 covered tightly, forward Will Gates ’13 was forced to inbound to forward Joe Keedy ’14. As Keedy dribbled upcourt, Gates trailed a few feet behind. Stopping just outside the three-point arc, Keedy passed the ball backwards to Gates, who proceeded to sink a 35 foot three pointer as the buzzer sounded. Not only did the shot force overtime, it also gave Gates sole possession of the College’s career scoring record, surpassing the previous mark of 1,671 points set by Matt Gustafson ’05.
To break a scoring record is an impressive feat; to break that record on a game-tying buzzer-beating three pointer in the final home game is the stuff of Hollywood and legend. The moment was not lost on Gates. “I’ve hit a few game winners in my life, but nothing has come close to that shot. I don’t think I’ve ever been that pumped in my life,” he said.
Gates continued to shine during Saturday’s win at Haverford, tallying a team-leading 25 points and 6 rebounds. Gates’ performances last week were sufficient to earn him the honor of Centennial Conference player of the week, in a fitting end to the Willseyville, N.Y native’s career. Gates’ effort helped ensure that his fellow seniors Jordan Martinez, Andrew Greenblatt and Eugene Prymak concluded their careers on the court. After the game, Gates reflected on his experience on the team, saying, “It’s been a great four years. We’re as close as any team you’ll come across.”
Swarthmore’s performance on Saturday was its most dominant of the season. The Garnet never trailed, shooting 49% for the game. Along with Gates, Swarthmore was led by Jay Kober ’14, who tallied 17 points to go along with 5 rebounds and 4 assists and Karl Barkley ’15, who scored 10 points and pulled down 6 rebounds. Though they did not make their mark in the box score in the same way as Gates, Kober and Barkley, Federer and Sean Thaxter ’16 were instrumental in Swarthmore’s victory. Federer excelled in his role as distributor, consistently finding the open man and dictating the pace of the game. Thaxter excelled on defense and also made some nifty passes, showcasing impressive court vision for a forward.
The strong ending to Swarthmore’s season left players and coach alike brimming with confidence about 2013-2014. “We made significant strides as a team and are very close to being the consistently successful program we want to be,” Kosmalski said. Federer lauded Kosmalski for “changing the culture around the program.” He continued, “We are putting in the work everyday in practice and it is really translating into more wins.” Kober agreed, adding that the team will work “extremely hard” this offseason in order to “implement everything we work on diligently in practice,” so that it translates into success on the court next season.
In the words of Federer, “The future is bright for Swarthmore basketball.” After the Garnet’s strong finish to this season, Franklin & Marshall, Haverford, and the rest of the Centennial Conference undoubtedly agree.