While students were away at home, the men’s basketball team was busy making history on the hardwood. After being on the bubble for the NCAA Division III tournament, the Eagles made a historic run through the tournament, winning two games, including an upset of the No. 1-ranked team. 

Emory advanced all the way to the Elite Eight, which is the furthest the program has gone in the tournament in school history.

On Thursday, March 6, the Eagles found out that they had made it off of the bubble and into the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive year. Emory even received a first-round bye, advancing immediately to the second round where they faced off with Centre College (Ky.)

“We were ecstatic after finding out we got in, but we quickly refocused as we had work to do,” senior McPherson Moore said.

Coach Jason Zimmerman said that the team was grateful for the opportunity to play in the tournament, knowing that there were other deserving teams that did not make it.

“We knew we were good enough to make the tournament,” Zimmerman said. “Our strength of schedule really helped us, as we played the toughest strength of schedule in the country going into last week.”

With the first-round bye, the Eagles faced off with the No. 19 ranked 24-4 Centre College Colonels, who were tournament champions of the Southern Athletic Association.

It was the first ever meeting between the two teams, and Emory rose to the challenge, playing what Zimmerman called “one of our best games of the year,” eventually defeating the Colonels 72-62, advancing to the Sweet 16.

Emory won both halves, playing solid defense on one end and scoring enough without scoring leader Jake Davis, who sat out the game.

A balanced offensive effort, featuring five players with double-digit points led by Moore’s 16, was enough to put away the Colonels, who battled back throughout the game.

Emory held Centre to 33.3 percent shooting for the game, while the Eagles shot 41.1 percent from the floor. Zimmerman praised the team’s focus throughout the game.

“It was a close game, but we stretched it out around the four-minute mark and went up by double digits,” he said. “It’s just a testament to our guys and to how locked in they were that game.”

With the victory, Emory advanced to the Sweet 16, which was one of the team’s goals. There, they faced a formidable foe on its home court, the No. 1 ranked 28-1 University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point.

Zimmerman thought that the squad was prepared for the challenge, saying, “They are very talented team, but I didn’t think we’d be overwhelmed by them as a team because we played so many tough squads on the road.”

In what may have been the most exciting game in program history, Davis and the Eagles defeated the Pointers in overtime 76-73.

It was a huge upset for the Eagles, after which they advanced to the Elite Eight.

In the first half, the Eagles went up seven early on, but led by All-American senior Tyler Tillema, the Pointers got back into the game, and the two teams were tied at the half.

“He took all of our momentum away,” Zimmerman said.

Down eight with more than half of the second period, the Eagles refused to give in, battling back and going on an 8-0 run to knot the game up at 55.

Later on, the Pointers made a big three with less than a minute remaining to go up 64-61.

Zimmerman called a timeout and set up a play for University Athletic Association leading scorer, Davis.

Davis hit a contested three to tie up the game with 21 seconds remaining, which effectively sent the game into overtime, after UW – Stevens Point missed a potential game-winning shot.

Davis was not done for the night. In overtime, the two teams were tied at 73-73 with 29 seconds left in the game.

In a play that had three or four options according to Zimmerman, junior Michael Florin fed Davis who was coming off a screen from junior Alex Foster.

Davis drilled the game-winning three, upsetting the No. 1 team in the country and sending the Eagles into a celebration.

“It was a special game because our guys hung in,” Zimmerman said. “We could’ve folded down eight, five minutes to go, but we didn’t. I don’t know whether that was our best basketball, but it was our toughest.”

One of the best parts of the upset was that it came on the road in a hostile environment.

“There are 3000 people against you and only 30 for you,” Zimmerman added. “To win a game like that, to hear that silence, there’s no better sound than silence in a place like that. To hear the silence in the gym and then the jubilation in the locker room was a special moment for Emory basketball.”

Davis finished with a team-high 26 points for the game, while Foster scored 20 points and junior Josh Schattie added 12 points.

After celebrating the big upset for about an hour, the Eagles prepared for their next opponent, the No. 3 ranked 26-4 University of Wisconsin – Whitewater Warhawks.

Playing less than 24 hours after the hard-fought win, the Eagles played tough, especially in the first half. Nonetheless, they were unable to keep up with the hot shooting Warhawks, dropping the Elite Eight game 74-51.

Each team struggled to score in the first half, but Emory went into the half on a 10-2 run, giving the Eagles a 26-25 halftime lead.

The second half was a different story, as the Warhawks quickly found their stroke while the Eagles were unable to find theirs.

UW – Whitewater shot 72 percent from the floor in the second half, scoring 49 points while the Eagles only scored 25.

Davis was the only Eagle in double figures, scoring 14 points in the losing effort, which was the final game of his illustrious Emory career.

The game also marked the final game of two other Emory seniors, Moore, the team’s second-leading scorer this season, and Stephen Simmons.

Davis concluded his Emory career second in all-time scoring with 1,870 points, only trailing the leader by five points.

Davis is also the winningest player in Emory history, going 78-27 over his four-year career.

While the loss ended the season earlier than the team would’ve liked, Zimmerman is very proud of the Eagles’ season.

“We didn’t win the championship, but we got to two title games – the Sweet 16 is a title game and the Elite 8 is a title game,” he said. “We made it further than any team in Emory history has ever gone.”

Moore attributed the team’s success to their attitude.

“I think our teamwork and the relaxed atmosphere on the team allowed us to accomplish our goals,” he said. “In the face of adversity, we did not cower but instead came up with big plays throughout the year.”

In his final evaluation of the season, Zimmerman praised how the program has continued to progress every year.

“We’ve been talking about raising the bar, continuing on the ladder of evolution, and every year our group has done it. That’s something really special.”

– By Ethan Morris

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