AMHERST, Mass.—For the first time in the history of Swarthmore College Men's Basketball, the Garnet are bound for the NCAA Division III Final Four. No. 6 Swarthmore eliminated No. 14 Nichols College 69-65 on Saturday night in the Elite Eight on the campus of Amherst College.
With the win, the Garnet have punched their ticket to the Final Four in Fort Wayne, Indiana on March 15, and will be vying with Christopher Newport University for a chance to play in the National Championship game on March 16.
Swarthmore (28-3) has now won a program-high 14 straight games.
Junior forward Zac O'Dell again asserted himself in the paint, finishing with 20 points on 9-of-12 shooting while grabbing nine rebounds and blocking three shots. Freshman George Visconti posted 17 points and four rebounds and hit a team-high three 3-pointers. Conor Harkins sank 10 points and hit the team's final two free throws with three seconds left to seal the win for the Garnet.
Swarthmore led from the very first basket and amassed a 19-point lead in the first half. Swarthmore jumped out to a 13-4 to lead to open the game. Back-to-back layups by O'Dell gave Swarthmore a double-digit lead with 7:38 to play in the first half. The Garnet then darted out on an 8-0 run featuring a mid-range jumper from Visconti and a pair of threes from Ryan Ingram and Harkins that extended Swarthmore's lead to the largest it would be all game, 29-10.
The Nichols Bison then began to chip away at Swarthmore's lead with an 11-0 run. The Garnet struggled to find the basket and were mired in a four-minute scoring drought that was finally stopped by a 3-pointer from Justin Tucker off the bench with 25 seconds left in the period.
Coming back out onto the court from halftime, the Garnet pushed the lead back to 17 with an 8-0 run off of three baskets all assisted by Wiley. Harkins splashed a 3-pointer off an assist by Wiley and then came up with a steal on the other end. The steal led to Wiley finding Visconti for a good 3-pointer. Wiley gathered a defensive rebound on the other end and fed Visconti for the fastbreak layup which put Swarthmore up 46-29 with 15:10 to go in the game.
Nichols hung around, staying within striking distance. An 8-0 burst by the Bison capped off with a triple with 4:41 to play made it a two-possession game and had Swarthmore clinging to a 61-56 lead.
Swarthmore ended a three-plus minute scoring drought with a free throw from Nate Shafer with 3:08 to go. The Bison pulled within four points, but the Garnet got some breathing room with three straight free throws from Wiley. Wiley however was dinged with an offensive foul with 1:16 to go. The foul was his fifth and the Garnet were forced to finish out the game without their senior floor general on the court.
Nichols trimmed Swarthmore's lead down to two, 67-65, with just 38 seconds left. The Garnet milked almost all of the 30-second clock and fired off a 3-pointer to avoid the violation. Tucker's 3-pointer rimmed out but Harkins snagged the rebound and drew the foul with three seconds left. Harkins, who leads the team with an 86.2 percent average from the free-throw line, was just the man the Garnet wanted to go to the stripe with the game on the line. He knocked down both attempts to secure the win for the Garnet and the trip to the Final Four.