The Cavaliers men’s basketball team watched their dream season end a win short of a National Championship, falling to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks in the 2012 NCAA Division III National Championship game, 63-60, on Saturday, March 17, at the Salem Civic Center in Salem, Va.
It was just the second loss of the season for the Cavs, who hadn’t lost in 22 games. Their only other loss was an overtime defeat on Dec. 30 to Centre College. Cabrini’s two losses this season were by a combined five points.
“Obviously disappointing,” fourth-year head coach Marcus Kahn said. “It was a tale of two games, two halves. We played a good game but we didn’t play a good game.”
Powered by senior leadership, the Cavs jumped off to a hot start. After both teams saw early shooting problems, an 11-0 run by Cabrini opened the score up to 21-10. The Cavaliers would stretch the margin to 12 points with 2:16 left in the half and entered the break with a 31-21 lead.
At the start of the second half, things appeared to be going the same way for Cabrini. A couple of early baskets widened the lead to 12 and after a steal and tip-in by sophomore center Jon Miller, the lead hit its highest mark at 18.
The game changed greatly from there. The Warhawks, led by All-American senior forward Chris Davis, slowly clawed their way back into the game.
Davis didn’t have as much of a factor in the game as he usually does – averaging 22.6 points per game during the season. The real player that turned the tide was freshman guard Quardell Young, who came off the bench and netted six points in short order to trim the Cavs’ lead to eight.
“That hurt us,” Kahn said. “That was the tide turning when [Young] ended up being five-for-six from the floor. That’s when we went onto our heels.”
That’s when Davis started to return to the spotlight. Despite finishing with just 12 points in the game, he hit two straight three-pointers to cap a 26-8 run for UWW and tie the game with 3:19 to play.
Another two and a pair of free throws by Davis put the Warhawks in front by four with less than a minute to play. But Cabrini erased most of that lead on a three-point play by senior guard John Boyd. Boyd led the team with 18 points.
“We practice that play in practice every day,” Boyd said. “I just took a bad shot. We had a great run. We came up one game short but we’ve got a lot to be proud of.”
A layup by senior forward Alex Edmunds gave the Warhawks a three-point lead and set up the final play of the game. Cabrini needed a three to tie. Boyd’s three-point attempt fell short and despite grabbing an offensive rebound with under three seconds left, freshman guard Aaron Walton-Moss sailed Cabrini’s last attempt well over the basket.
With that, the dream was over. The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks had won the national championship - the third in their school history - and Cabrini’s run to the title had come up short.
The Cavaliers can still hold their heads high about the season. They set a school record, winning 31 games and finishing with a 31-2 record. They had a first team All-American for all of Division III basketball in senior guard Cory Lemons and had the Rookie of the Year in all of Division III basketball in Walton-Moss.
They also only lose three seniors this offseason in Lemons, Boyd and Greg Zabel. Star players Jeremy Knowles, A.J. Williams, Fran Rafferty and Walton-Moss will all be returning next season. Still, the Cabrini men feel they let this one slip away.
“I’m just thankful to be here,” Walton-Moss said. “We had a very good season. There’s nothing to be mad about. I felt that we had the game won, it’s just our defense slacked at the end of the game. That’s what really let us down.”
Even after a devastating loss, the leader of this team, who’s watched the success of the program he heads grow with each year he’s been a part of it, was still pleased with the type of season his team had.
“The run was incredible,” Kahn said. “I’m extremely thankful to be a part of it. The things these guys have done for this program is amazing.”
Kahn said that being told his team couldn’t reach the achievements they have this season just fueled their run further. It is a run like this he hopes put the program in a better light and he credits much of that to his players.
“We have good kids in this program and make this program special that puts this program on runs like we just made,” Kahn said. “All of the guys in our program would not be there if they were not first good people. And because we surround ourselves with them, it puts us on runs like this. We’re going to continue to do what we do, and we will continue to make runs like it.”
Still, the disappointment of being so close to the title was evident and while coach Kahn provided the words, the disappointment was clearly evident in the players as their dream season ended.
“The stinger in all of it is pretty obvious. We were up 18 on the national champion in the second half and didn’t finish it,” Kahn said. “We’re a damn good team. I think hopefully now we’ve proven it.”