By Peter McClelland
(Worcester) – The Gordon College Fighting Scots took a major step forward when they qualified for an at-large berth in the NCAA Division III Tournament. Unfortunately the next step forward, winning an NCAA tournament game, will have to wait for another day.
A combination of bad match-ups and poor free throw shooting spelled disaster for Gordon as they lost to Utica College, 71-66, at WPI on Friday night in the first round of the NCAA Division III tournament.
This game went down to the last minute with the outcome uncertain. But during the frantic finish down one Mike Herr (6’5” junior – Lampeter PA) got a good look at a jumper that came up short and later, in the same last minute down three, the Scots were defended so well that they couldn’t even get a tying 3-point shot off.
The loss was a frustrating one for the good-sized Gordon turnout that chose to start their spring break supporting this season’s record-setting team. That enthusiasm must carry over into next season.
Gordon Coach Mike Schauer thought that his team was in trouble even before the game was played. “I figured that we were going to have problems matching up with a couple of kids and unfortunately I was far too correct on that one.” The two players were Ray Bryant (6’4” junior) and Willie Lucas (6’4” senior).
I know you’re thinking that we have taller players than that, and we do. The problem was that each of these players weighed 210 pounds! The Scots had a nightmare trying to keep this twosome from setting up close to the basket.
“We know that if we can get the ball down low to Ray or Willie they can get the ball to the rim or get fouled,” explained Utica Coach Andy Goodemote.
Ray (Bryant) came up huge on the score sheet. He led all scorers with 25 points, all rebounders with 12, and made 9 of 12 free throws. Willie (Lucas) added 14 points and six of those came on consecutive, old-fashioned 3-point plays after Gordon had built its biggest lead, 56-50, with nine minutes remaining.
“Ray Bryant is a special player and the only starter (Aaron Vogelzang – 6’4” senior – Jericho VT) who might have covered him got into foul trouble,” explained Coach Schauer. One thing I noticed was that when Pete Hassler (6’4” senior – Westford VT) got his chance on Ray Bryant the Pioneer’s top player didn’t set up inside nearly as easily.
The Scots shaky free throw shooting was a surprise. “We came in shooting 73% while Utica was 67%,” said Coach Schauer. “In this one they made 76% (22-29) and we only made 63% (15-24).” Pete Hassler and Jerry Logan (6’ junior – Marietta GA) each missed a crucial free throw in the last 1:14. The Pioneers, on the other hand, clinched this one as Justin Cichon (6’1” senior) made four straight in the last 15 seconds.
How about the flow of the game? Utica put together an, 11-2, run early in the first half to build up a, 15-7, advantage. The way Utica could get inside for high-percentage opportunities you had to wonder if we could stay with the team from New York. By this time, 4 ½ minutes in, Aaron already had his 2nd foul.
But the Scots refused to go away and a Justin Kaufman (5’11” sophomore – Redding CT) free throw narrowed things to, 20-18, after 10 minutes and later Justin’s three closed the gap to, 35-34, with 1 ½ minutes left. The Pioneers built that lead up to, 39-35, at halftime.
The Scots came out of the second-half gate flying. A couple of Mike Herr 3’s were included in a terrific start and Gordon had a lead of, 46-41, at the 15:44 mark. “Coach (Goodemote) had told us that they’re one of the best shooting teams we’re going to see and he was right,” Ray Bryant told me afterwards.
But with a high-percentage, inside game like Utica’s you knew that they’d get their points. The big question was whether or not the Scots could maintain their hot shooting.
Utica tied the score at 56 on Willie Lucas’s second, old-fashioned 3-point play. Gordon done? Not yet. The Scots made six free throws in a row and were on top, 62-58, with 4:23 to go. The next seven Pioneer points all came from Ray Bryant as he continued his dominance inside. He carried Utica into the last minute tied at 65. Doug Herring (6’1” freshman) hit a season-on-the-line jumper with 48 seconds left to give Gordon a 2-point (67-65) deficit that they couldn’t recover from.
Tough loss but afterwards I didn’t see a whole lot of sad faces among the Gordon family on hand. “This was a special group of young men to me,” said Coach Schauer. “It wasn’t because we were 23-5 it was the way we were 23-5. At this level no one is going to get wealthy and famous it’s all about the journey and experience and the Lord has been gracious to intersect my life with these 15 young men.”
“I think we can get back here (NCAA’s). We return our top four players. The best teams in our league (Commonwealth Coast Conference) lose their top players.” – Coach Schauer……………………….Several years ago the Scots needed an expert, dribbling point guard. Coach Schauer nearly established a residence in Connecticut but came away with Justin Kaufman to be that point guard that a successful team needs. The glaring need now is for an inside presence. Utica had two of them. In fact they had an injured starter who was 6’4” – 250! With what is already on the roster Gordon is a top CCC team next year on paper. Put a Ray Bryant (6’4”-210) type player on that roster and another NCAA trip could very well happen…………………….Ray Bryant is a 26-year-old former junior college player………………………I wasn’t that impressed with the Utica cheering section. For a while it numbered two but those two had plenty to say! When they started chanting, “Let’s go, Yankees,” I realized that they didn’t even know where they were!……………………..Jerry Logan took off the leg sock (?) and led the Scots with 17 points. He still has the knack of getting fouled going to the basket………………..The Scots (see note on inside presence) were absolutely mauled on the boards – 37 to 20!………………After a season of going to games and hoping for stats and wondering if coaches would speak with me it was sure a pleasure to have the stats brought to me and the coaches as well. In the NCAA’s I think that teams are fined if they don’t cooperate with the media………………..I hope that someone is smart enough to get a piece or two of memorabilia from Gordon’s appearance in the NCAA’s for the showcase. I would think that a program signed by the players and coaches should be in that showcase…………………………..For the team to salute the crowd is terrific. I hope the team members remember to salute their families for somehow getting to so many games in far-off places…………….Endicott lost to Tufts in the first round as well. No CCC men’s basketball team has ever won an NCAA tournament game. Next year?………………….Next year I hope to trail the team around again and try to make sure that you have more than the game score and/or a one paragraph summary of what went on. God bless each of you!