Even though the Pomona-Pitzer men’s basketball team had their NCAA run cut short after coronavirus concerns caused the organization to cancel the tournament Thursday, the Sagehens certainly still experienced some March Madness.
With 2.8 seconds left in Saturday’s NCAA Tournament game against the Emory Eagles, things were looking dire for P-P.
The Eagles had just hit a layup to go up 70-68, meaning the Sagehens would have had to travel the length of the court and score to tie or win the game.
Head coach Charles Katsiaficas called timeout. He drew up a play to get the ball past half-court so that the team could call another timeout before attempting a game-winning shot. The Sagehens executed.
During the second timeout, Katsiaficas drew up another play, one that the Hens practiced extensively but had rarely ever used in a real game.
James Kelbert PO ’20 floated the ball to the opposite side of the court, as Jack Boyle PZ ’20 sprinted to the corner off a back-screen and caught it. After pump faking a closing-out defender, Boyle shot the ball as he was falling out of bounds.
The ball sank through the net as the buzzer sounded.
The Sagehens bench erupted, as the team took down the Emory Eagles — ranked No. 12 nationally — on their home court.
Initially, however, some of the players were concerned that Boyle may have stepped out of bounds before taking the shot.
“I was very worried that [Boyle’s] feet were out of bounds. I didn’t think they were, I didn’t see them go out of bounds but I knew that it was very close, and there was a referee right there,” said Adam Rees PO ’20, who recorded a 14-point, 12-rebound double-double in the victory. “Once I realized that he was actually saying [the basket] was good, then it was just so exciting.”
Boyle, who scored 14 points in the win, said he had a good feeling about the shot, so he took it.
“I caught [the ball], the [defender] flew by me immediately, and then after that I felt like I had a clean look at the basket,” he said. “I just let it fly, and it felt good, and when it went in, I couldn’t believe it.”
Boyle said he’s heard from people both around the 5Cs and at home, praising him for his game-winning shot.
“I feel like I’ve been walking on clouds,” Boyle said. “Hitting a shot like that, it’s something I think a lot of basketball players at any level dream of.”
The Hens’ star player Micah Elan PZ ’20, who was recently named SCIAC Player of the Year and broke the P-P career scoring record, added 20 points to lead all scorers in the win, including a number of clutch shots down the stretch.
“Nothing phases us — there’s nothing out there that can make you nervous when you’ve been there so many times before,” Elan said. “We know at the end of the day if … our team can put ourselves in a position to win with the experience that we have, we always feel confident in each other.”
While the Hens won the game in spectacular fashion, many of the players cited how prepared they felt in their ability to execute Katsiaficas’ play.
“Coach has just prepared us for any situation, so when it got to that moment, in the most important part of my career as a basketball player, we were ready for it,” Rees said.
The game-winner would have sent P-P to the Sweet 16 — where they were set to play Elmhurst College in Elmhurst, Illinois — had the tournament not been canceled.
Just yesterday, as the team was on a plane ready to take off for Chicago, they received news of the tournament cancellation.
The plane had already left the gate when the NCAA released the news. The team immediately informed a flight attendant of the situation, who then relayed the information to the pilot, who let the team off the plane.
“I totally understand the reasoning behind the NCAA’s decision to end all sporting events, but it is still incredibly disappointing,” Rees said via message. “All of this happened in such a blur, but I am still so proud of our team, and I loved my four years playing for the Pomona-Pitzer basketball program.”