A.J. Williams missed the back end of two free throws with 10 seconds left. That set the stage: two points would force overtime, three would end the Cavs’ season.
Greg Lewis teed up a three from the corner with under five seconds left. But the shot rattled off the iron and floated into the waiting hands of DeLeon Floyd, finishing off an 80-78 win for the Cavaliers over No. 16 Hampden-Sydney College in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Saturday, March 2.
“From the day it was announced and we saw the draw, I think that instantly put a chip on our shoulder,” fifth-year head coach Marcus Kahn said to CabriniAthletics.com after the game. “Not only are we going on the road, we have to play a ranked opponent. I think that definitely fueled our fire.”
The Cavs had hosted the first round of tournament play for two straight seasons. This season, they instantly hit the road. But Kahn referred to last season’s run when talking about the mentality. It is never about the opponent or the location, it is about playing the best basketball at the right time.
“That certainly was not our focus,” Kahn said. “We took that mentality, we have to be road warriors now. The majority of our guys have been battle-tested through stuff like this. We’ve played in some fun atmospheres.”
The Tigers held an early lead in the game before Jeremy Knowles found his shooting touch. Knowles hit three straight three-pointers in two minutes to give the Cavs a nine-point lead.
But a 17-7 run at the end of the half by the Tigers cut the lead to three at the break.
The two teams traded points in the early stages of the second half but the Cavs would eventually open up a sizable lead. Williams hit a three with 12 minutes left in the game to extend the Cavs’ lead to seven. The lead hit double digits on a jumper by Fran Rafferty with eight minutes left.
The 10-point lead would hold with under four minutes to play on a lay-up by Floyd.
But just as the Cavs appeared to be well on their way to a win, the Tigers cut into the lead and made the game close.
A free throw by Harrison George cut the lead to seven. Two more foul shots by Lewis trimmed it to five. George hit two more to cut the lead to three with a minute to play.
A lay-up with 42 seconds left by Leon Hargrove cut the lead to the slimmest of margins at one. The Cavs couldn’t score on the ensuing possession but corralled an offensive rebound to get to the foul line with 10 seconds to play.
That’s where Williams increased the lead to two before putting the ball in the hands of the Tigers on a missed foul shot.
The Tigers stormed up the floor to find Lewis with a shot for the win in the corner. But Lewis missed and the Cavs survived.
“That was our whole focus, keep the ball out of the paint,” Kahn said. “Our guys did a great job of setting the tone that you can get it to the post but you have to work to get it to the rim.”
Three Cavs posted double figures in points with Knowles leading the way with 24. Knowles hit six three-pointers in the game and was 8-for-16 from the floor.
Aaron Walton-Moss added 16 points along with 13 rebounds and six assists. Rafferty also posted 12 points.
The Cavs will advance to the second round where they will face Ohio Wesleyan University Battling Bishops, who are ranked 21st in the nation. The game will be played at Ohio Wesleyan on Saturday, March 9, at a time to be announced.