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Davidson suffers downside of March
The locker room felt like a funeral.
Eyes stared at the floor. Except for a few players talking in hushed tones to reporters, the place was silent. Pizza boxes were piled in the corner, but most of the pizza remained uneaten.
Half an hour before, this Davidson team was only 70 seconds away from being on top of the college-basketball world. The 14-seed was up six points on No. 3 seed Marquette and had a free throw to make it a three-possession game with 1:10 left. The team was that close to becoming the first big-time upset of the 2013 NCAA tournament.
But Davidson’s JP Kuhlman missed that free throw, and seven seconds later Jamil Wilson hit a 3-pointer — only the second 3 of the game for Marquette, which ranks 328th in the nation in 3-point field goals per game.
After a Davidson layup, Marquette made another 3, making it a two-point game. After two Davidson free throws came the third 3 in a row for Marquette, again by Wilson, making it a one-point game with 10 seconds left.
Then Davidson inbounded the ball. De’Mon Brooks saw his Davidson teammate, Nik Cochran, streaking toward midcourt. He threw a football pass. If Cochran caught it and took a couple dribbles, the upset was secure.
“I’m right there in the path,” Davidson head coach Bob McKillop said. “I thought he had it. I didn’t realize the spin on the ball. You wanna talk about the highs and lows? As the clock is ticking away, there’s Nik, he’s going to grab that ball, dribble it down to the end of the court. Game over.”
Except as he stretched for the too-long pass, he stepped out of bounds. Referees huddled and put an extra second on the clock, giving Marquette a moment to regroup and 6.7 seconds to score. Marquette’s Vander Blue calmly drove up from midcourt, skirted off a screen and sprinted unimpeded to the basket for an easy lay-up with a second left. Davidson’s inbound pass was intercepted, and Marquette sealed its 59-58 victory.
Or more to the point, it sealed a Davidson loss. A loss that could not have come in a more painful way.
These are the moments we love about March. The game-saving 3-pointers from the most unexpected of places. The buzzer-beaters to advance one more round. The underdog taking the favorite to the limit.
But in the shadow of the excitement and joy of the March Madness stage is the mournful scene of a team like Davidson, which seemed on the cusp of something great before it all slipped away. It’s what makes this tournament the greatest event in all of sports — one misstep and you’re out — but it’s what gives this tournament the most heart-wrenching moments for teams on the wrong end.
It was up to Davidson’s coach to give them a pep talk, and frankly he didn’t have too many words.
“I don’t know that there’s going to be anything that can be done in the next 24 hours, the next 48 hours,” McKillop said. “I’m sure they’ll go through this tournament and watch games and think about what could have been.”
In the locker room, Brooks tugged off his sneakers and then his socks. He was replaying the game in his head. He thought of the moments when he could have ended it: The pass he threw that curved just too far toward the sideline. The front ends of two one-and-ones he missed when his team was up by nine.
“We had it — we had it for 39 minutes and 45 seconds,” he said. He laughed a nervous laugh that bordered on a cry. “Mainly that pass to Nik is what I’m replaying. I should have just hit him in a straight line. If I would have just hit him in a straight line from where he was at, the game would have been ours, basically.”
He paused. The junior talked about how this was bad for him, but it was worse for the seniors, because this was their final game.
“That one hurts,” he said. “I just feel sorry for the seniors. This is their team.”
Next to him sat Cochran, the teammate who’d just missed securing the game on Brooks’ long pass. Cochran is a senior. This was it for him. As he spoke, he looked down, looked up, then looked down again.
“A lot of times in basketball you get another chance,” he said. “There’s always another chance. But for us four guys it’s our last game in this jersey, a team that we love more than anything.”
He looked up from the ground, and his eyes appeared vacant.
Follow Reid Forgrave on Twitter or email him at ReidForgrave@gmail.com.
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