The Emory men’s basketball team made it to the second round of the NCAA Division III tournament before being eliminated by Pomona-Pitzer Colleges (Calif.) off a last-second buzzer-beater on March 7.
Heading into the tournament, the Eagles had accumulated momentum from their previous games.
“We were playing really well,” Head Coach Jason Zimmerman said. “We came off beating [the University of] Rochester and were able to win the [University Athletic Association] championship on the last day of the season. There was excitement heading into the tournament.”
The Eagles faced off against Methodist College (Ill.) in a well-balanced first-round matchup. Emory shot 43.9% from the field while Methodist shot 44.6%. Emory also had one more turnover than Methodist but recorded two more assists. What seemed to make the difference for the Eagles, though, was their work under the basket. The team outrebounded Methodist 45 to 28 and outscored them by eight points in the paint.
Junior forward Lawrence Rowley led the team in rebounding, grabbing 12 boards, and co-led the team in scoring with junior guard Romin Williams, each scoring 21 points. Emory led Methodist 34-30 at the half and maintained their edge for much of the second half. But with only 3:47 left, the Eagles lost their lead after Methodist drained four free throws to tie the game 64-64. However, the tie did not last long. Over the following 96 seconds, the Eagles scored eight unanswered points to extend the lead to 72-64. Although Methodist attempted a comeback, they ran out of time and the Eagles won 74-70. This advanced them to the second round.
Unfortunately, this is where the Eagles’ tournament run ended. Emory had a five-point lead against Pomona-Pitzer at halftime, outscoring them 34-29. Throughout the game, Junior forward Martin Davey led the team in scoring, contributing 20 points, while Rowell led the team on rebounding again with 11. However, Pomona-Pitzer clicked in the second half and ended up scoring 42 points to Emory’s 36.
Both teams recorded similar stats throughout the game, with Emory leading in bench points, fast-break points and assists. The game reflected those stats as the Eagles led the majority of the game until the final 26 seconds. With the score tied 68-68, Pomona-Pitzer had control of the ball to end the game. As the clock wound down to zero, Pomona-Pitzer senior forward Jack Boyle made a wild corner three that lifted Pomona-Pitzer to a 71-70 win and the Sweet Sixteen. It was the third time this season that the Eagles lost on a buzzer-beater.
Although losing in this fashion for the third time was difficult, Zimmerman also sees it as evidence of the hard work his team has put in all year.
“With every buzzer-beater, there’s a hundred plays in the game that led to it,” Zimmerman said. “When you’re playing good teams, it’s going to be close. I mean, we finished with a record of 22-5. It’s clear we worked really hard. We had a really good year.”
Whether Pomona-Pitzer made that last-second shot or not, Emory’s tournament hopes would have been squandered on March 12, after the NCAA announced that the Division III basketball tournament would be canceled because of the concerns over the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Zimmerman thought that abrupt endings are painful, both on and off the court.
“Both are excruciating,” Zimmerman said. “When you put so much time and work and effort into being successful and it ends so abruptly, there really isn’t anything like it. Having the tournament canceled — there’s no closure there.”
Emory finished the season with an impressive overall record of 22-5. With only one senior leaving the team and a large junior class, the Eagles hope to build off of this season, continue to work hard and improve so that they can advance farther than ever in next year’s tournament.