Men's Basketball Advances to National Championship with Thrilling 81-78 Win
SALEM, Va. – The game was in doubt until the final buzzer. But after 40 minutes, the Cabrini College men's basketball team survived and advanced to the school's first NCAA Championship game. The Cavaliers improved to 31-1 with tonight's 81-78 thrilling win over Illinois Wesleyan University in tonight's first national semifinal at the Salem Civic Center.
The victory sealed a spot in tomorrow's National Championship game where the Blue and White will face the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Warhawks, who defeated MIT 71-56 in the night cap.
Much of the postgame talk centered around a Cavalier who seemingly couldn't miss a three-pointer and one could only find the range for one three. Senior John Boyd had a career night, scoring a career-high 34 points, including a personal high of 7-12 from beyond the arc.
On the other side of the spectrum, junior Jeremy Knowles connected on just one of his four attempts from deep. The one that he made just happened to come with 3.5 seconds to play and won the game.
Neither team seemed to feel the jitters one would expect on such a big stage. The teams took the court hitting shots from all over the field in what appeared to be a high scoring affair. By the middle of the first half, the score was tied at 23.
As the half progressed, it was Cabrini's outside shooting that gave them in the lead. A Fran Rafferty three-pointer keyed a late 8-1 spurt that extended Cabrini's lead to 44-37. Back to back lay-ups by junior A.J. Williams pushed the lead to eight points just two minutes before the break.
The Titans scored the final five points of the half, sending the Cavaliers to the locker room with a 48-45 lead. Though the numbers on the scoreboard looked good, it was Illinois Wesleyan's 14 offensive rebounds and 14 second chance points that most concerned the Cavaliers.
After another Boyd three-pointer and a lay-up from freshman Aaron Walton-Moss, the Blue and White lost the touch. Over the next eight minutes, the Titans took complete control of the momentum with a 16-4 run to take a 66-57 lead with just under nine minutes to play.
The Titan's lead remained at nine with seven minutes to play when Cabrini head coach Marcus Kahn used full court pressure to turn up the defensive intensity. The change paid immediate dividends.
Back to back threes from senior Cory Lemons and Rafferty followed by a Boyd three-point play got the Cavs back into the game with just under five minutes on the clock.
A Rafferty steal led the two Lemons free throws, tying the game at 72 with 3:54 to play. Lay-ups by Knowles and Rafferty gave Cabrini a three point lead with 2:52 to play before the Titans rallied again. Three quick Illinois Wesleyan points set up the dramatic ending. The teams were tied at 76 with just 67 seconds on the clock.
After a missed Boyd three, the senior made a game-changing steal as the Titans tried to move the ball up the court. Boyd found Knowles on the other side of the lane for the lay-up as 78-76 lead with 36 seconds to play.
Illinois Wesleyan responded with 15 ticks remaining with a score-tying jumper. The Titans called a timeout to set up their defense, giving Kahn the chance to diagram a final play.
No doubt everyone in the gym thought Lemons would get the ball and try to create. As the Titans fought to keep the senior away from the ball, Walton-Moss brought the ball up. With a lightening quick cross-over, the rookie broke for the rim.
As the defense converged into the lane, Walton-Moss found Knowles deep in the right corner. As Knowles released the shot, there was no doubt on the result, splash! The crowd erupted as the Titans final half court shot fell short.
Rafferty and Lemons finished with 11 points each, while Knowles added seven. Though Lemons shot just 3-12, the senior handed out a game-high eight assists and grabbed five rebounds.
Walton-Moss posted five points, a game-high eight rebounds, four assists and two steals. Knowles also recorded four steals on the night.
Senior Jordan Zimmer led four Titans (23-8) in double-figure scoring with 19 points, connecting on 5-9 from beyond the arc. Sophomore Victor Davis added 14 in the loss.