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The underdogs from Radnor, Pa., blew an 18-point lead in the title game last year and vow not to let it happen again.
LAURA TUCKER | Special to The Roanoke Times
Cabrini’s Aaron Walton-Moss says the ball will be in his hands if the Cavaliers need to hold a lead.
LAURA TUCKER | Special to The Roanoke Times
Cabrini coach Marcus Kahn says he’s still not over last season’s loss to Whitewater.
Thursday, March 21, 2013
The Cabrini College men’s basketball team returned to scene of the crime Thursday at the Salem Civic Center.
The underdogs from Radnor, Pa., don’t count on being the victim of a second case of grand larceny.
Three hundred and 70 days after squandering an 18-point lead in the final 15 minutes and losing 63-60 to Wisconsin-Whitewater in the NCAA Division III championship game, the underdog Cavaliers will attempt to keep their program online for its first national title when they face Amherst (Mass.) College in today’s 5:30 p.m. quarterfinals.
While its perpetrator last year, Wisconsin-Whitewater, didn’t make it back to Salem this time, Cabrini (25-5) is bent on making amends by winning two games on the trip and advancing to the national title game that will be played Apr. 7 in Atlanta.
“What happened to us last year here was tough,” fifth-year coach Marcus Kahn said. “If I stop and think about it, I’m not really over it yet, to be honest.
“I think that’s the driving force behind the run we’re making this year. We want to get back and finish that off. So we’re trying to make that happen for us here, with getting back and getting to Atlanta and having a second shot at it. It’s few times in life that you have a second chance and we’ve got it now. This is a special deal.”
Nothing against Whitewater, but Cabrini seemingly had the Warhawks cooked like an Italian sausage through 25 minutes of last year’s title game. Then the oven exploded for the bunch from the Philadelphia suburbs as Whitewater went on a 26-8 spurt in an 11 1⁄2-minute span to knot the game.
Down 63-60 with 14 seconds left, the stunned Cavs missed two 3-pointers in the waning seconds and saw their long-shot dream extinguished.
“Definitely looking back, that was a game we should have had,” Cabrini senior guard Fran Rafferty said before his team hit the civic center floor Thursday for practice.
“Up 18 ... that’s a lead you’ve got to expand on and not let it shrivel away. The one thing we learned is that you’ve just got to finish games out, just close the deal.”
Too many tweets — from referees’ whistles, not the social media variety — that fateful evening killed the undersized upstarts. The quick Cavaliers got caught with their hands in the cookie jar too many times on defense. Five minutes into the second half, Whitewater was in the bonus foul situation and it helped fuel its incredible comeback.
“As I looked back on it the next couple weeks afterwards, I wish I would done this or maybe called a timeout here,” Kahn said. “The foul trouble, I think, was the biggest factor in that. We put them in the bonus right away in the second half and we didn’t get into it until three minutes to go.
“That hurt us, that put us on our heels. John Boyd and Fran Rafferty, who were having two of the better games, both fouled out.
I know it was tough deal getting on that bus [home] the next morning, knowing how happy everybody could have been.”
Forget about sour grapes. The hardened club out of tough-town Philly isn’t crying foul. Now, Kahn’s bunch is just glad to be back for more scrapping.
“We’ve got to get the job done this time,” Cavs sophomore star guard Aaron Walton-Moss said. “Last year, it was a really good game. I wouldn’t say that we choked after being up 18.
“If we get an 18-point lead this time, the ball will definitely be in my hands I know it all the time. We’re going to make sure of that ... I’m going to make sure of that! No letdowns this time, no excuses.
“At the end of the day, we’re just trying to win and keep moving on until you can’t play anymore. I think we can win the championship.”
The contest will match Amherst’s size versus Cabrini’s quickness. The Lord Jeffs (27-2)won their only national crown in 2007 in Salem, denying ODAC member Virginia Wesleyan a second straight title.
“Every game we play we’re the undersized team and teams want to ram it down our throats,” Kahn said. “We’ve fortunately got guys who can hang in there long enough and we can get our run going. When it comes crunch time and it comes down to win or lose, our guys are used to dealing with this on the playground somewhere. They have a grittiness about them, a toughness that when it comes time to go they go.”
Win today and do it again Saturday versus the survivor of today’s 8 p.m. quarterfinal between North Central (Ill.) College (27-3) and Middlebury (Vt.) College (25-3), and Cabrini will head to Atlanta for the title game.
“Hopefully, we’ll have a better taste in our mouths leaving Salem this time around,” Rafferty said.
St. Thomas (Minn.) College (29-1), which finished atop the D3hoops.com final regular season poll, will face Williams (26-4) in today’s noon opener. Mary Hardin-Baylor (25-5) will meet St. Mary’s (Md.) College (27-3) in the 2:30 p.m. quarterfinal.
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