With two key starters missing due to suspensions, the men’s basketball team still delivered on their promises of victory Saturday afternoon, defeating Wesley College in a 79-73 thriller to secure the No. 1 seed in the Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) playoffs.
Junior guard Camontae Griffin, the second highest scoring player in the CAC, and senior center Alex Irmer were stuck watching the game from the stands, both serving one game suspensions resulting from an altercation in an 84-74 win against Gallaudet on Feb. 14.
Despite the setback, senior forward Calvin Wise said, “[the team was] confident coming into the game… We knew players were going to step up big in this game, and they did. They answered the call.”
The flow of the game was familiar to anyone who has followed the Seahawks closely this season. The team was dominant early in the game, achieving a 31-16 lead 11 minutes into the first half.
That lead wouldn’t last though as Wesley immediately turned the score around with a 22-6 run, taking a brief 1 point lead with 3 minutes left in the half. The Seahawks got back into their groove though, and finished the half leading by 5. The second half was a close one, with the Seahawks never leading by more than 9 points. That was all they needed though. They never surrendered the lead again.
The CAC’s leading scorer, Wesley senior Rashawn Johnson, was held nearly 10 points below his season average of 25.3 points per game.
Head coach Chris Harney recognized two of his younger players for their defensive efforts, “I can’t say enough about how big James Davenport, as a freshman, and Mikey Fitzpatrick, as a sophomore, were going up against [Johnson] … They went toe to toe with him.”
With 3 minutes left in the game, and the score 68-67 in favor of St. Mary’s, sophomore Mike Bowden put away huge dunks on two consecutive drives. The Seahawks were up by 5 and the crowd was electrified.
As the game came to a close, Alex Franz was experiencing serious leg cramps, and limped to the bench in visible pain at each time-out.
Franz said, “I was like, ‘just a few more minutes. I’ve just got to push it for these last couple minutes.’ I just knew I had to do it.”
It was a good thing Franz kept fighting because he owned the last two minutes of the game. With the Seahawks lead cut to 2 points and only 45 seconds left to play, the ball went to Franz on the baseline. He eyed up a 3 pointer through heavy defensive coverage, and let it fly. “I wanted that shot,” said Franz. “I knew if I hit that shot, it was over.”
Franz got what he wanted. Ball met basket, and the crowd went insane.
In the final 20 seconds, Franz pulled down two defensive rebounds, and drew a foul. His free throw brought the score to its final tally, and as the clock wound down, everyone in the house was on their feet. At the sound of the buzzer, Franz triumphantly pointed to the fans, as if to say “thank you.”
“The crowd was huge, just huge… I can’t say enough. I love this place,“ said Harney.
“I said it last time we were out here. I guaranteed we were going to beat Wesley at home. We might have been down two starters, but our most important player, the fans, came through for us again,” said Wise.
In the end, four players scored double digits, with Franz putting away a career high 23 points.
Harney credited the win to the Seahawks teamwork. Missing Irmer and Griffin left a big hole for the team but Harney said, “[the team has] 14 guys on the roster and it [was] those other 12 guys. They just stepped up…with a lot of heart and a lot of guts.”
The team has captured the No. 1 seed for the CAC playoffs, which means that they have the opportunity to hold onto home court advantage all the way to the CAC championship.
The winner of the CAC championship gets a spot in the Division III NCAA tournament. The Seahawks are defending CAC champions, and made it to the sweet 16 in last year’s NCAA tournament.
With Saturday’s win the Seahawks ended the regular season on an 8 game winning streak, and with a 21-4 record, the best in program history.
This is the second season in a row that Harney’s squad has broken the regular season wins record.
The Seahawks next game is the CAC semifinal at home on Thursday, Feb. 26 at 7:00 pm.
Said Wise, “We’re going to win it all. We’re going to go to the NCAA [tournament]. We’re ready to do it.”