For the third time in the history of St. Mary’s College, the men’s basketball team took the Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) Championship title, defeating Wesley College and earning the chance to shoot for gold in the NCAA Division III Championship rounds.
Prior to post-season competition, the men’s basketball team opened Fall 2009 with three consecutive wins, suffering a non-conference setback to Franklin & Marshall College and York College in the midst of ten victories that set their regular season spread at 14-2 before taking a third loss to Salisbury University. The Seahawks recovered from the loss with nine consecutive wins leading up to the CAC finals.
The Seahawks entered the final round of the CAC Championships with a 14-2 conference record, 23-3 non-conference. The College had played against Wesley, the defending CAC Champions from the 2009 season, during the regular conference season at-home and away. Both times, they narrowly defeating the Wolverines, winning by seven points on Jan. 9 and a narrower two points on Feb. 16.
Ranked 14th in Division III basketball, the Seahawks played the conference championship match at home against No. 3 Wesley, with 448 fans in the audience on Saturday, Feb. 27. The Seahawks made the first score less than two minutes into the game, as junior Sam Burum made a two-pointer, assisted by junior and captain Alex Franz. Wesley managed to hold a 3-2 lead for about 14 seconds due to a three-point score by Kevin Johnson before Burum returned with another two-pointer that set the score to 4-3, Seahawks.
Both teams continued to make consecutive baskets, with the Seahawks maintaining a marginal lead until 16 minutes into the first period, when a series of one-point baskets brought the College to a stronger lead that placed the men’s team 14 points ahead of the Wolverines with 15 minutes left in the second period.
However, Wesley began to turn the game around, decreasing the gap in scores before taking a 65-64 lead over St .Mary’s with 4:42 left on the clock and again with 1:02 left, when Wesley held a 73-72 lead. Shots made by senior Camontae Griffin, Franz, and Burum ensured the win and conference title for the Seahawks with a final score of 80-76. The win marked the third CAC title victory in St. Mary’s history, the first being in 1991 and the second in 2008.
“I believe the strengths of this year’s team are our defense, competitiveness, willingness to win, depth and our championship attitude,” said Griffin. “We stay positive and never lose focus when facing adversity.”
Following the CAC Championship win, the Seahawks were entered into the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division III Championship, and the College was chosen as one of 13 sites for the first and second rounds of the tournament. Coach Chris Harney, in his fifth season with the College, was voted as the 2010 CAC Men’s Basketball Coach of the Year. Additionally, Griffin and Franz were selected for the All-CAC First Team.
“The guys know that we have many talented players, and they are not afraid to rely on each other when the going gets tough,” said Harney, regarding an overtime victory against Christopher Newport University on Feb. 2. “It’s not how you start, but how you finish.”
“There was a tough stretch where it seemed like something new was thrown at us everyday, a lot of adversity,” said junior captain Mike Fitzpatrick, “but we’re hitting stride at the right time and have big goals for the post season.”
The Seahawks entered the first round of the NCAA Tournament on Friday, March 5 with strong support, managing an impressive 88-59 win over Purchase College in front of a 1,053-member audience of students, faculty, family, and community members. The win was followed by a much closer victory over Virginia-Wesleyan College in round two on Saturday, March 6, as the Seahawks stole the Marlins’ one-point lead in the last 35 seconds of game time to leave the College with a 72-69 victory.
Now in the “Sweet Sixteen” of the NCAA Championship, St. Mary’s returns to the court for the NCAA Third Round, which will be held at the College on Friday, March 12, against No. 18 Franklin & Marshall.