Cavaliers return to Sweet 16 with thrilling overtime win

By Kevin Durso
March 4, 2012

The men’s basketball team narrowly escaped elimination from the NCAA Division III Tournament with a 90-88 overtime win over the Hobart College (N.Y.) Statesmen in a second round game held at the Nerney Field House on Saturday, March 3.

A crowd of 793 raucous fans was on hand for the game that featured the No. 5 D-III team in the nation against a huge underdog in unranked Hobart. The action-packed thriller was a classic March Madness game and came down to the final second.

“We had some grit,” head coach Marcus Kahn said. “I think that just shows why we win here. There’s just no quit in our team.”

Cabrini opened up the game with cold shooting from the floor. They hit one of their first ten shots and fell into an early hole, trailing by as much as 13 with 10 minutes to play in the first half. The Cavaliers managed to cut the lead to eight at the half but still trailed 45-37.

“The message was to take a deep breath, realize where we are and focus on the situation,” Kahn said. “Don’t make it bigger than what it is. It’s an eight-point game with 20 minutes to go against a good team. We’ve been in that very situation a lot.”

Kahn referred to a game in last year’s tournament that played out in a similar way, with his team down by a sizable margin at halftime. He had his reasons that the results this year played out differently.

“Last year’s team didn’t quite have the grit we had,” Kahn said. “There were some heads hanging in the locker room last year. We’ve got players, and at times that’s what separates winning the game from losing it.”

Cabrini cut the Statesmen’s lead to three within the first five minutes of the second half. Seven minutes in, junior guard A.J. Williams tied the game with a three-pointer.

After shooting just 37 percent from the floor in the first half, Cabrini gradually improved in the second half. The Cavaliers converted 57 percent of their shots in the second half, with several of them coming from the same players: senior guard Cory Lemons and freshman guard Aaron Walton-Moss.

“My team needed me to step up,” Lemons said. “Coaches and players have faith in me and I just got it going.”

Lemons led the team with 25 points and Walton-Moss, who followed a career night against Castleton State in the first round, finished with 22 points and a team-high 13 rebounds. It was his third straight game with a double-double.

“I’m always confident,” Walton-Moss said. “It’s not hard to put the ball in the rim. I’m just in the right place at the right time.”

With regulation winding down, free throws would decide the fate of both teams as fouls took their toll. A total of 54 fouls were called in a very physical, grinding game for both sides.

Late in the first half, tempers flared over a jump-ball call. Hobart’s bench cleared in an altercation, leading to the ejection of Hobart junior forward Sean Peer and senior guard Greg Stern.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” Lemons said. “I looked up and their whole bench was on the court. I’m glad our bench didn’t retaliate.”

The Cavaliers had not lost on the Nerney Field House court in nearly three years but needed a clutch shot to avoid their first home loss since 2009. Junior guard Jeremy Knowles knotted the game at 84 with a three-point shot. A last-second shot by Lemons missed to send the game to overtime.

In the extra session, the Cavs had to overcome another deficit. With seconds left on the clock, Cabrini trailed by one with Walton-Moss shooting two free throws. He made both to give the Cavs the lead with 13.6 seconds left.

Lemons would come up with a steal on Hobart’s final possession to seal the victory. The crowd roared as Walton-Moss hit another free throw and Hobart’s last-gasp heave down court missed wide right.

“I love it when there are a lot of people in the crowd,” Walton-Moss said. “Sometimes we just come out too lazy in the first half because we think the other team might be nervous. They showed us they weren’t nervous and that’s why we had to step it up in the second half.”

The Statesmen were led by junior guard Stefan Thompson, who scored 22 points. Three other Statesmen players scored in double figures as well.

The Cavaliers advance to their second straight Sweet 16 with the win and will face Eastern Connecticut State University on Friday, March 9. The game will be played at Middlebury College in Middlebury, Vt., and opening tip-off is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. More information about Friday’s game can be found here.  

“We definitely proved tonight that we’re not just some players,” Kahn said. “We proved that we’ve got grit.”

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Kevin Durso

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