Heartbreak in Milwaukee: Colgate Men’s Basketball Narrowly Falls to Wisconsin in the NCAA Tournament

Slotted to tip off in the final game of the Round of 64, all eyes were on the 14th seed Colgate Raiders as they aimed to upset the third seed and Big Ten champions Wisconsin Badgers. All was going according to plan; the score tied at 28 apiece heading into the half. For the Colgate faithful, however, it was an all too familiar scene. Just a year prior, the Raiders looked poised to knock off the Arkansas Razorbacks after a strong first half, in which they led by as many as 14 points. They ended up losing that game by a lopsided margin of 85-68. Against Wisconsin, Colgate was defeated 67-60, the Raiders’ third first-round exit in the past three NCAA Tournaments. Perhaps this was the most painful of those three losses; Wisconsin was a team that they could beat. The underdog Raiders were among the trendiest upset picks of the entire tournament, according to Yahoo Sports

Though the Raiders did not accomplish their goal, they fought valiantly under the brightest lights, and standout performances by senior guards Nelly Cummings and Tucker Richardson gave the team much-deserved national recognition. Cummings and Richardson combined for over half of Colgate’s scoring in the game, adding up to over 35 points. Cummings finished with an eye-opening stat line of 20 points, six rebounds and six assists. He shined in the first half with 14 points, including a game-tying layup at the buzzer. 

“We were really confident the whole game and going into halftime, I think the score was tied, so we were very excited about the opportunity in front of us. But like you said, some shots didn’t fall down the stretch and they made some shots, so the result is what it is,” Cummings said. 

Meanwhile, Richardson posted 15 points and seven rebounds. He caught fire in the second half with four 3-pointers for 12 points. However, all of his second-half points came in the first five minutes, with Wisconsin turning up their defensive pressure as the game neared its climax. 

“I was definitely feeling it for a little bit there, but I’m not trying to take any shots that aren’t the team shots. I think I even forced a couple after that I probably shouldn’t have. I think that they locked in a little bit more onto me, but nothing too crazy. Just wanted to keep playing in the flow of the game, I guess,” Richardson said of his second-half performance. 

This matchup was entertaining for the experienced and novice basketball fan alike. Colgate led Wisconsin for nearly half the game (19 minutes and 59 seconds), whereas Wisconsin held a lead for just over 14 minutes. It was constant back-and-forth action, neither team leading by more than two possessions for almost the entire game. Colgate’s defeat can be attributed to two causes, both of which occurred in the second half. First, Johnny Davis, a First Team All American and Big Ten Player of the Year, erupted late in the game, scoring each of the Badgers’ last 14 points. He accounted for 25 points in the game. Though Davis was stagnant at times, the future first-round pick in the 2022 NBA Draft willed his team to victory. 

”I feel like I’ve done it before, but my teammates have a lot of confidence in me – so do the coaches – to close a game out,” Davis said of his heroics in his postgame presser. 

The second killer was a 10-0 run by the Badgers, combined with a scoreless drought from 10:40 until 3:33 of the second half for the Raiders, that ultimately put the nail in the Colgate coffin. The Raiders, who ranked second nationally in 3-point field goal percentage and seventh nationally in 3-point field goals made, were true to their long-range identity. Colgate made six of their first seven 3-pointers in the second half, culminating in a shooting effort of 10 for 22 from beyond the arc in the game. Evidently, this was enough to keep the Raiders within reach but was not enough to win the game. 

“Wisconsin amped up their defensive intensity a little bit more,” head coach Matt Langel said. “Tucker got loose a couple of times. They weren’t going to let him get loose anymore. The game got a little bit more physical, as you would expect from a Big Ten champion in the guts of a close game.”

Though the Raiders have yet to win an NCAA Tournament game, they have proved themselves capable of competing with some of the nation’s best teams. Even with the departure of beloved seniors Nelly Cummings, Tucker Richardson, Jack Ferguson and Zach Light, Colgate Basketball hopes to continue its dominance of the Patriot League. And, perhaps sometime soon, the Raiders will add their own touch of madness to March. Langel is confident his group can do just that. 

“I’m immeasurably proud of this group. I told them in the locker room I’m no less proud of them for their performance tonight than when we won the championship in front of our home crowd to get this opportunity. I think this experience is one they’ll remember,” Langel said. “For the guys coming back, it will only add fuel to the fire to continue to do what they’ve been doing, working hard to prepare themselves to compete for championships. And again, I think if you’re consistent enough in your approach and continue to knock on the door, eventually luck favors the prepared and things go your way. So that’s what I know our guys coming back will continue to do.”