Colgate Men’s Basketball’s victory against Bucknell, which took place on Wednesday, March 13, was a historic one. The final score, 94-80, sent Colgate to its first NCAA tournament since 1996. The Raiders were set to face the University of Tennssee Volunteers in Columbus, Ohio. The March Madness first-round game took place on Friday, March 22 at 2:45 p.m.
Once the NCAA tournament selection committee penciled in Colgate as a No. 15 seed, Tennessee was selected as a No. 2 seed in the South Region. Well known Vegas bookmaker Micah Roberts predicted the Volunteers to win by 17.5 points. Despite the loyal Colgate fans, the majority of experts and viewers did not expect much from the Raiders.
To understand the difficulty of performing this upset, one would just have to look and see the history of these matchups. Overall, No. 15 seeds are 8-128 all-time against No. 2 seeded teams, which translates to a 5.88 winning percentage. The team knew they did not have an easy task in front of them.
Even though the Raiders did not have history on their side, they still felt confident they could pull the game off for a number of reasons. Although Tennessee had its star players in power forward Grant Williams and small forward Admiral Schofield, they still had some weaknesses that Colgate could exploit in the game.
The Volunteers allowed a lot of offensive rebounds; according to kenpom rankings, they are 266th among Division 1 schools in that category. They did not force many turnovers on defense (only 18% of possessions), their scoring distribution was very two-point heavy (55% of their points) and they didn’t defend the three-point shot very well either. Their lineups were also fairly top- heavy with not many bench players averaging too many minutes. The Volunteers were almost always in a man defense (only played a zone twice this year), so the Raiders hoped to win each of their individual matchups and crash the offensive boards.
Some of Colgate’s strengths played toward these weaknesses, which was very beneficial for the Raiders. The Raiders had the 13th best three-point percentage (39.1%) of all Division 1 schools and were a solid offensive rebounding team as a result of their tall lineups. Colgate’s biggest weakness was their high turnover rate, but because Tennessee was not too adept at forcing turnovers, the Raiders were looking good in that category. And overall, they were super confident heading into this game, looking for their 12th straight win.
All of the analytics and data definitely means something, but once you get on the court, the numbers are of secondary importance. The flow of the game could be dictated by the crowd, the health of the players, the coaches’ game plan, and team focus.
The game began poorly for the Raiders, as Tennessee started the game on a 9-0 run within the first two minutes. The raiders’ players have never played on a stage like this in front of over 19,500 fans at Nationwide Arena. But after the slow start, the Raiders cut into the lead. For a majority of the half, the lead was consistently around five to eight points in favor of the Tennessee Volunteers. However, after a quick run from the Volunteers, the Raiders headed into the halftime locker room down 12 points (42-30). Throughout the half, star sophomore point guard, Jordan Burns hit four threes and he wasn’t done yet.
Starting the second half, Colgate came back with amazing momentum. The Raiders seemed more comfortable on the court, slowly cutting the lead until they were one point behind the Volunteers. With 12:09 remaining in the half first-year guard Tucker Richardson, the Patriot League rookie of the year, put Colgate ahead with two perfect free throws to make it 49-48. After the Volunteers took the lead, Richardson hit another three-pointer to give Colgate another lead, this time of two points. The end of the half was all Burns. He took over by hitting three after three and layup after layup. Colgate was down by just three points with 4:25 remaining (60-63), but couldn’t hold on after Admiral Schofield managed to hit three three-point shots in just those last few minutes.
The Raiders ended up losing by seven points, with a final score of 70-77. Burns ended up with 32 points including eight three-pointers) while Richardson added 10 points. Overall, it was a valiant effort by Colgate and they almost pulled off a historic win.
No matter the result, it was a very successful year and even though they will be losing vital senior pieces (Dana Batt, Sam Lindgren, Francisco Amiel and Malcolm Regisford), the Raiders look poised to return to the NCAA tournament next March.
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