After a Capital Athletic Conference victory on Feb. 26 and subsequent NCAA victories in its first three tournament matches, St. Mary’s ended its run in the championship with a loss to Middlebury College that, despite being unfortunate, was a landmark game for the Seahawks as its first entry in the Elite Eight of men’s basketball.
The Seahawks began the race for the National Collegiate Athletic Association championship with a conference victory on Feb. 26, defeating the Wolverines of Wesley College 97-65 with a strong victory in the CAC championship game. Wesley, No. 2 in the conference, began the game with a 0-7 lead over St. Mary’s before sophomore guard Chris Hutchinson made the first score for the home team.
With exceptionally strong performances by senior center Sam Burum, junior guards Mikey Fitzpatrick and James Davenport, and senior guard Alex Franz, the team held a 47-20 advantage over the visitors by halftime, and held their victory with a 50-45 performance in the second half to bring the final score to 97-65, St. Mary’s.
Now automatically entered in the NCAA championship with other top-performing colleges in the country, the Seahawks faced their first-round competitors less than a week later. St. Mary’s handed visiting Medgar Evers College a 72-55 loss on March 4, but with a game much closer in score compared to the previous week’s Wesley game.
Competing shot-for-shot with the Cougars, the Seahawks held a slim one-point advantage by the 36-35 halftime, and after a few minutes into the second half, Medgar Evers came up with a 44-42 lead. This spurred the College into action, and after a 21-0 run by St. Mary’s in a nine-minute time frame, the Seahawks held a lead that was not challenged by the 72-55 conclusion.
In the second NCAA championship round and fight for a place in the Sweet Sixteen, St. Mary’s took on 2010 Final Four contestant Randolph-Macon College in another game on the home courts. This time, St. Mary’s did not start slow at the starting buzzer, taking a 12-2 lead that never switched in favor of the Yellow Jackets.
Ending halftime with a 34-21 lead, the Seahawks continued a strong performance into the second half, ending the game with a 68-53 victory after a 34-32 second-half performance. Burum scored 15 points during the game, followed closely by Franz’s 13 and first-year center Christian MacAuley’s 12.
St. Mary’s made the eight-hour bus trip to the University of Rochester, NY, on May 11 to face Buffalo State College in a fight for the Elite Eight sectional finals position.
While being on the away court of the Louis Alexander Palestra, the Seahawks did not slow their stride against the Bengals, taking a 40-32 lead by halftime that culminated into a 85-74 victory after a 45-42 second-half performance.
While the 40-32 halftime score was a struggled, back-and-forth exchange of leads between both teams, a three-pointer by junior guard Deon Queen with 58 seconds on the clock spurred the Seahawks to push forward to a 8-0 scoring lead, an attitude that held in the second half as St. Mary’s sealed its first-ever entry into the NCAA Elite Eight.
Unfortunately for the Seahawks, their run for the NCAA championship was halted after a disappointing loss to the Middlebury Panthers the following night in Rochester, as a 27-25 lead in the first half sank into a 40-23 performance by the Panthers that gave Middlebury the 65-50 win it needed for Final Four entry.
While Franz scored 16 points during the game and Hutchinson 10, it was not enough to hold a second-half victory. Middlebury lead in rebounds, assists, turnovers, and bench points despite being closely followed by the College, and moved on to a close 57-59 loss to the University of St. Thomas Tommies at the Salem Civic Center in Salem, VA, in the semifinals race.
The Seahawks impressively ended the 2011 season 25-6, with 14-2 conference and 15-0 home-game spreads and the first-ever Elite Eight achievement.
The team will return to the courts next Fall in the hopes of progressing even further in the 2012 NCAA Championship.