It isn’t called March Madness for nothing. The NCAA Tournament is a roller-coaster ride with thrills and chills. Triumph and tragedy. Suspense and drama all rolled into 40 minutes.
Just like last season, the Cavaliers found themselves locked in a tight contest in an early round. But the roles were reversed.
They weren’t the team in danger of being upset, they were causing an upset alert.
Last season serves as a reminder of both the excitement and caution Cabrini fans need to take with the tournament.
The exhilarating ride has already begun. The Cavs survived a huge test in the first round, beating No. 16 Hampden-Sydney. But the road doesn’t get any easier. The next team looking to end the Cavs’ season is No. 21 Ohio Wesleyan.
But let this win against Hampden-Sydney be praised. The circumstances were not ideal for the Cavs. They had to travel in the opening round. They faced the 16th best team in the nation. They played with fire. They earned their trip to the second round.
At the very least, they boosted hype and earned another game. Honestly, until game time, it was difficult to determine if the Cavs had what it took to take down the Tigers.
But the Cavs never let the game slip. The lead fluctuated throughout and the Cavs mapped defensively at times.
But their shooting was strongest when it counted. They won the game in all of the right aspects.
They forced turnovers. They won the rebounding game, especially on second-chance opportunities.
For the most part, it was 40 minutes of good, hard-nosed basketball.
As coach Marcus Kahn said, this team has been battle-tested. The seniors and juniors of an experienced bunch have played in front of raucous campuses and on great stages.
That is what creates champions. Players who have will to win can truly accomplish anything, evident by the Cavs’ first-round win.
The Cavs certainly had that. Jeremy Knowles stepped into the spotlight with a team-high 24 points. Fran Rafferty has stepped up in a huge way with consistent strong shooting.
A collective gasp and sigh of relief could be heard when Aaron Walton-Moss suffered an injury in the first couple minutes of the game only to return as strong as ever with 16 points, 13 rebounds and six assists.
Walton-Moss’ performance is amazing in its own right based on numbers alone. But the way he played, perhaps hampered by an early stinger, defines tournament basketball.
It is about drive – a will to win that you cannot learn – and grit. That is the mentality that put the Cavs on the doorstep of a national championship last season. That “chip on out shoulder” – as Kahn called it – is what powered them to an upset win.
But it is more than that. It is doing that night in and night out. It is not being discouraged or hanging your head in circumstances where the odds aren’t favorable.
The odds remain unfavorable for the Cavs. Just like with Hampden-Sydney, they will step into enemy territory at Ohio Wesleyan and be considered underdogs.
But if the heart, drive and grit from this emotional win can be matched, the ride will likely continue and suddenly the team that was completely off the radar before the tournament will become a team to watch.