COURTESY OF HOPKINSSPORTS.COM
The men's basketball team finishes their season with a loss in the second round of the NCAA Tournament.
A sea of white flooded into the stands of Goldfarb Gymnasium as the Hopkins community sported “white out” apparel to support their 12th-ranked men’s basketball team this past weekend.
After a 61-57 victory against the Swarthmore College Garnet in the Centennial Conference Championships, the Blue Jays received not only an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament but also hosting privileges.
“It was a great weekend and an awesome opportunity for us to host the first two rounds of the tournament,” freshman guard Conner Delaney said. “The crowd was great both games as they have been all year. It was a tough way to go out but it was a great experience for us.”
The Jays hosted the La Roche College Redhawks, the MIT Engineers and the SUNY Brockport Golden Eagles, with their first opponents in the NCAA Tournament being the Redhawks on Friday evening.
Neither Hopkins nor La Roche came out with offensive dominance, as the score was only 29-25 in favor of Hopkins just over six minutes into the second half. However, with the crowd roaring, junior guard Michael Gardner and senior forward Kyle Doran shifted the momentum, knocking in back-to-back threes within 30 seconds.
Delaney quickly followed with a shot of his own and a pair of free throws, improving the Jays’ advantage to a 14-point lead. The Redhawks’ junior Ryan Norkus found an opening for a layup to end La Roche’s three-minute scoring drought, but Hopkins still comfortably led 39-27.
Norkus sparked an 8-0 run for the Redhawks to cut their deficit in half, the score now reading 39-33 with just over eight minutes left in the game.
After La Roche’s eight-point run, the court saw some back-and-forth action, as the Blue Jays still held onto their 12-point lead with 6:22 on the clock.
Ranked second in the nation in scoring defense, the Jays continued to shut down La Roche’s offense, keeping them scoreless for the next five minutes.
Redhawks junior Zach Gould attempted to stop the bleeding with just under two minutes left in La Roche’s season, but Hopkins stayed dominant, as Gardner, Doran, Delaney, junior forward Daniel Vila and senior guard Jesse Flannery all contributed to the Jays’ scoring spree.
La Roche, averaging 78.4 points per game, only recorded 39 points in Friday night’s game, as the Jays’ defensive efforts proved to be too overbearing for the Redhawks.
Additionally, La Roche’s 39 points were the fewest the Blue Jays have allowed in an NCAA Tournament game in program history. The final score of the NCAA first-round game was 52-39.
That same night, the MIT Engineers defeated the SUNY Brockport Golden Eagles 81-67 in their first-round matchup, giving the 19th-ranked Engineers a shot at the Jays the following night.
Saturday’s night game started off with 11 lead changes during the first 10 minutes of the half, with neither team able to build up a lead of more than three points. However, back-to-back three pointers by the Engineers ignited an 8-0 run, as Hopkins trailed 27-18 with five minutes left in the half.
With baskets from Flannery and freshman guard Joey Kern, the Jays fought back to keep the game within three. The Blue Jays continued this 11-0 run with offensive efforts from Vila and Gardner. The score was 29-27 in the Jays’ favor as both teams headed to the locker rooms.
The Blue Jays brought their 11-point momentum into the second half, taking a 33-29 lead after Gardner and Delaney each put in a pair of free throws. However, two consecutive three-point plays gave the Engineers a two-point advantage.
Only 67 seconds later, Hopkins took back the lead after Vila and Kern each drove to the basket, giving the Jays two consecutive layups. With another MIT basket, the score was tied, and for the next nine minutes of play the lead continued to bounce back and forth.
After a three-pointer from Delaney and a pair of free throws from sophomore forward Harry O’Neil, the Jays regained the lead with under five minutes left, the score reading 49-46, in favor of the Blue Jays. However, the Engineers did not stay complacent, as a pair of free throws catalyzed a 7-0 run for MIT.
Doran, knowing that this game could be the last of his career, responded to MIT’s run with a four-point run, tying the game up at 53. However, MIT came out on top during the last 80 seconds of play, going on a 9-1 run to finish out the NCAA second-round game. The final score ended up being 62-54 in favor of the Engineers.
Delaney reflected on the legacy of the team’s two seniors, Doran and Flannery, and the impact they have made on the program moving forward.
“They showed all of us how to play and compete the right way, and they always set an example of how to play hard. Both of them were so instrumental for our success this year, and they brought our team close together,” Delaney said.
He continued, discussing next year’s season.
“We are going to miss them next year, but they are leaving the team in a great spot,” Delaney said. “We have a lot of talent returning next year and we have a great group of incoming freshmen who will help us out right away, so I expect to continue to compete for championships.”
As Flannery took his last dribble down the court, the clock ran out to end the Blue Jays’ season. The crowd stood, chanting “Hop, Hop, Hop,” to commemorate the men’s basketball team’s season, which consisted of multiple nail-biting double-overtime victories and a Centennial Conference Championship title.
By winning their first game against La Roche, Hopkins made it to the round of 32 for only the second time since the 2006-2007 season. The win in the first round also gave them a 14-game winning streak, which put them only three games short of the longest winning streak in program history.
“Even though we did not make it as far as we could in the NCAA Tournament, we still had a great season,” Delaney said. “Centennial regular season and Tournament champs with a first-year head coach when we were picked fifth in preseason. I could not have asked for a better first season. Loeffler is a great coach, and playing for him this year makes me so excited for the next three.”