Men’s Basketball Cruises to Sweet Sixteen

Midway through Saturday’s game against MIT, Cam Wiley ’19 sized up his defender, sent him lurching to the right with a crossover, then snatched the ball back to his left and drained a step-back three. In any other game, this would be one of the highlights of the night. But on Saturday, threes were so easy to come by that the daring move by Wiley faded into a blizzard of jumpers.

Earlier, on Friday evening, the Garnet dispatched Mitchell College as expected, cruising to a 90-73 win. The Mariners did put up a fight in the early going, leading by two midway through the first half. But Swarthmore clamped down shortly after, ending the half on a 8-0 run capped off with a buzzer-beating, half-court heave from Ryan Ingram ’21. The Garnet settled in, and held a sizeable lead for the rest of the game.

MIT was supposed to be a far tougher challenge. Coming in ranked No. 12 nationally, with a championship in the formidable NUMAC under their belts, they were easily the most daunting opponent Swarthmore had faced this season.

The Engineers, however, failed to live up to the expectations from the start. Swarthmore began the game with an incredible stretch of offense.The Garnet jumped out to a 17-7 lead by the first timeout, and the lead never dipped below thirteen points after that. They were up by 25 at halftime, leading by 40 with eleven minutes to go in the second half.

Swarthmore’s offense was, in fact, historically good: the thirteen threes that opened the game broke the DIII record and tied the NCAA record for consecutive threes made. Guard Conor Harkins ’21 led the way by shooting 100 percent for the night on sixthrees. Three other Swarthmore players, all guards, made multiple treys: Ryan Ingram ’21, George Visconti ’22, and Wiley. Overall, the team shot a jaw-dropping 82 percent from three and 72 percent overall (no, those numbers aren’t backwards), both Centennial Conference records.

The Engineers simply could not stop Swarthmore — the threes seemed to come as easily as layups for the Garnet. The performance from outside also set up scoring inside. When MIT committed to running Swarthmore off the three-point line, the Garnet would simply dump the ball into the post. Forwards Zac O’Dell ’20 and Nate Shafer ’20, bigger and stronger than anyone the Engineers could throw at them, scored easily as extra MIT defenders watched helplessly, afraid to abandon their man and give up the three.

Head coach Landry Kosmalski claims that he was unaware of the of ruin his team was unleashing on MIT.

“I don’t always know what’s happening during the games because I’m watching other stuff … I didn’t put [it] together until after the game, because I didn’t look at the stat sheet at halftime … I’m watching other stuff, making shots is a bonus.”

It must have been a titanic act of concentration for Kosmalski, because everyone else in the gym was acutely aware of Swarthmore’s dominance. Tarble Pavilion was the loudest it has been all year as Swarthmore fans displayed a decidedly un-Quaker bloodthirst. Chants and heckles rained down on a bedraggled MIT squad, and Public Safety officers had to intervene to keep fans from spilling onto the court. Sawyer Lake ’20, a proud member of Swarthmore’s rowdy front-row cheering section, said “My thought was that [since] we were up so much, people would leave, or lose intensity, but we were up by so much, we just wanted to destroy them.”

Visconti led the team with 22 points, closely followed by Wiley with 21, Harkins with eighteen, and Shafer with sixteen. Wiley, who also had five assists, passed the 1,500 career points mark on a driving layup early in the second half.

Following these two wins, Swarthmore is less of a sprinter racing toward the finish line than a runaway freight train. In their win streak of twelve games and counting, their average margin of victory has been twenty points. The Garnet are peaking at the exact right time; MIT was both their highest ranked opponent and their season high in points. They still have to win another to match their Tournament performance last season — reaching the Elite Eight — but the team, mostly made of players with last year’s trip under their belts, looks to be executing on an even higher level. Wiley believes there is more going on than experience, however, saying “Experience certainly helps, but our team spirit and cohesiveness is why we’re playing at such a high level.”

The Garnet head north to Amherst for their next matchup, against sixth-ranked Randolph-Macon College. Kosmalski figures they’ll be a tough challenge. “They’re a very physically tough team, a very mentally tough team, they’re going to defend us really well … offensively they’re going to attack us.” Randolph-Macon does boast the nation’s fourth-ranked defense, but after this weekend, stopping the Garnet looks like a tall order for anyone.

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