The two teams that took the court on Friday night in the third game of four at the Salem Civic Center possessed such similar qualities. They were eerily similar.
The Cabrini Cavaliers are a team of scoring depth. They had five scorers in double figures on Friday. They make about 50 percent of their shots. The Cavs converted on 48 percent of their shots on Friday.
But the Cavs also win games when they don’t turn the ball over. They win games when they out-rebound opponents. They win games when they are able to force the opponent to become enveloped in the physical game and create foul trouble.
Amherst possessed a bigger team. They were the first team in the tournament that matched the Cavs’ scoring depth. They forced the Cavaliers to make poor decisions and beat them on the boards.
But for the 25-6 Cavaliers, who leave Salem once again with disappointment, there is no reason to hang their heads.
The task they faced to even return to that stage was difficult. For some, playing in Salem is a once-in-a-lifetime moment. Some of the Cavs can claim to two trips.
“A.J. Williams was my first recruit to Cabrini,” head coach Marcus Kahn said after the 101-82 loss to Amherst. “There are guys back home watching the game that would die to have the career he had. I hope that he understands that and when the sadness wears off that he looks back with a lot of pride on what he did for Cabrini.
“Same with Goran Dulac. They were the two guys to make it through that first recruiting class and they made it to Salem twice. That’s pretty darn good and they have a lot to be proud of.”
The Cavaliers didn’t have the pieces they did in their initial trip to Salem a year ago. Past Aaron Walton-Moss, there is no superstar on this team. But they together form a unit just as strong as the unit that came within three points of a national championship.
There was always one fundamental flaw that the Cavs had follow them all season. Free-throw shooting was not kind to this team.
The Cavs elimination from the tournament came at the hands of a 19-point victory for Amherst. 13 points can easily be accounted for in the 13 free throws the Cavs missed in the second half. In total, the Cavaliers missed 17 free throws in the game. Amherst was 19-for-21 from the charity stripe.
“That was very big,” Kahn said. “We shot 37 free throws. We got to the line right away because we were much more aggressive offensively [in the second half.] But when you get there, now you have to make them. It was very frustrating to get there and even a couple where it was an and-one situation to really bring us back to that under-10 point a couple times.”
“They out-hustled us today,” Walton-Moss said. “You see the rebounds, second-chance points and us not making a lot of free throws, it hurt us a lot.”
Truth be told, the Cavaliers were out-played, albeit by a bigger Amherst team that also featured three seniors and two juniors in the starting lineup.
Amherst is making its bid for a title now, especially since they will be losing three key players next season. Cabrini loses five seniors but only one – Williams – was a regular starter. Jeremy Knowles was perhaps the strongest sixth man in the conference and DeLeon Floyd served as a key figure off the bench in the trenches of the paint.
Ultimately, Knowles and Williams couldn’t find open looks from outside and Floyd became invisible in his comfort zone because he was surrounded. At the other end of the floor, Cabrini couldn’t box out the size of Amherst’s forwards and big men.
Size and strength prevailed in this game, just as Goliath beat David this time around. But for Kahn and his program, they remain on the rise, especially after facing a program led by one of the most storied coaches in Division III history. With the win, Amherst coach David Hixon netted his 691st victory.
But Kahn’s program continues to make noise. After beating three ranked opponents just to return to Salem, the Cavaliers are building a resume that will continue to give them good recruits and talent for years to come. And with Kahn at the helm, there is a good chance the Cavs will continue to make future runs.
That is what Walton-Moss instantly shifted his attention to after the loss.
“My plan as long as I’m here is to come to Salem every year,” Walton-Moss said. “I can’t tell the future but we’ll see when the time comes.”
Just like the season before, tip-off on the upcoming 2013-14 season in November can’t come soon enough as the quest for the Cavs ultimate goal begins again.