The Cavaliers finally met their match.
The program on the rise managed to compete with another ranked opponent for a good 30 minutes before finally falling victim to the difficult road to the championship.
No. 2 Amherst College proved to be too tough for the Cavaliers in a 101-82 defeat in the Elite 8 of the NCAA Division III Tournament on Friday, March 22, at the Salem Civic Center in Salem, Va.
“I thought that was two very good teams that went at it from the start,” fifth-year head coach Marcus Kahn said. “One was much more consistent tonight than the other. I thought once we got behind we forced the issue a little bit.”
Amherst opened the scoring but the Cavalier kept the game close. Four minutes into the game, Cabrini took their first lead on a three-pointer by Fran Rafferty. With 15:36 remaining in the first half, the Cavs took their largest lead of the night at three points on a lay-up by Aaron Walton-Moss.
The Lord Jeffs then went on a 14-4 run in the next three minutes to take a 22-15 lead with 12 minutes left in the half.
The Cavaliers would answer with a 9-2 run to knot the score at 24 before Amherst closed out the first half on a 20-6 run in the final 7:15.
“Early in the first half, we hung our heads when we should not have and missed a couple of shots that maybe we normally make,” Kahn said. “We let it snowball at the other end where we had a missed shot. This time of year you have got to get back and do whatever you have to do to get a stop. I thought we let a missed shot end up in an easy basket for them.”
The Cavaliers continually trimmed the Lord Jeffs’ lead down to 11 but could never seem to find the run they were looking for. After a jumper by Aaron Toomey with 16:42 to play, the Cavaliers trailed by 20.
In the next eight minutes, Cabrini managed to cut into the Amherst lead twice. With 8:30 to play, the lead was at nine and the Cavs appeared to have life.
“We had it down to nine and we had the momentum,” Kahn said. “You have got to make free throws at that point in the game and we have to get those stops.”
The Cavaliers shot just 54 percent from the charity stripe in the game, including missing 13 free throws in the second half.
Cabrini also struggled in the rebounding game. For the first time in the tournament, the Cavs were out-rebounded by an opponent. The Lord Jeffs controlled the glass with a 43-33 advantage.
“They have a really good team,” Walton-Moss said. “They out-hustled us today. You see the rebounds, second-chance points and us not making a lot of free throws, it hurt us a lot.”
“That’s the first time in a long time that we’ve been out-rebounded, especially like that,” Kahn said. “We’re pretty good at getting that stop initially. We usually win the battle of the boards and it was obvious in the first half that it was going to be a tough task tonight.”
In the midst of the second-half comeback effort from the Cavs, Rafferty hit a three to bring his point total to 16 for the game. With that three, he recorded his 1,000th career point.
“I think that’s tremendous to finish your junior year in a game like this to score that 1,000th point is awesome,” Kahn said. “We’ll have him back next year and he’s got the work ethic where he’ll move his way up that list.”
But in the end, the Lord Jeffs proved to just be too much for the Cavs. Amherst was led by Willy Workman, who led the Lord Jeffs with 21 points. Four other players scored at least 14 points for the Lord Jeffs, with Toomey and David Kalema each scoring 17 points. Allen Williamson scored 16 points and added 15 rebounds.
“I give them a lot of credit up and down their roster,” Kahn said. “They had guys who stepped up and made plays. They might be deeper than us. I don’t know.
“Workman took advantage of some opportunities and we didn’t. We had some similar opportunities where our guys hesitated and he had no hesitation in his game and when he’s that size and that mobile and can spread you out because he can shoot it is tough.”
Cabrini showed their scoring depth as well. Five players scored in double figures for Cabrini. Walton-Moss led the team with 21 points and added nine rebounds. Rafferty scored 18 points. A.J. Williams added 12, Tim McDaniels posted 11 and Jeremy Knowles finished with 10 points.
In the wake of the loss, the Cavaliers are keeping spirits high for next season, especially after another run that took them back to Salem.
“It hurts but it’s a game,” Walton-Moss said. “For some players, you have many more to come. It always hurts losing but you have to brush it off.
“My plan as long as I’m here is to come to Salem every year. I can’t tell the future but we’ll see when the time comes.”
“We’ve got a good group of guys that made a good run this year,” Kahn said. “I’m extremely proud of the effort that they put out.”