No. 4 men’s basketball ousted in NCAA first round

Dorian Debose | Staff Reporter

Down three points with four seconds left, the entire season was on the line for the Washington University men’s basketball team. Senior guard Kevin Kucera searched for an open Bear from the baseline, when fellow senior guard Jake Knupp broke away to the three-point line to catch the inbound pass. Knupp immediately touched the pass to sophomore guard Matt Nester in the corner, who buried the game-tying shot. Wash. U. appeared to be headed to overtime.

But with 1.6 seconds left, Aurora University’s Max Vickers grabbed the ball under the basket and launched a 75-foot bomb to guard Marcus Myers. With Wash. U. still in celebration mode, Myers collected, turned 90 degrees and knocked down an off-balance shot all in one motion to end Wash. U.’s season in shocking fashion.

While a No. 1 seed has never beaten a No. 16 seed in Division I, Wash. U. was on the wrong end of history Friday at the Field House; stunned as a top-four overall team in the first round of the NCAA Division III’s 64-team tournament.

The shot ended what had been a close and exciting game. From the outset, it had been a game of runs and big shots. Wash. U. started the game on an 8-0 run, but once Aurora broke the seal on the bucket, the scoring was back and forth for much of the first half. The Bears rebounded well and capitalized off a few turnovers to push the score to 18-8, the largest lead the game would see. Aurora then responded with a run of their own. A few layups and shots from deep by Pat Kramp and Ty Carlson went unanswered to give them a 20-18 edge.

Nester had never scored more than 11 points in his two-year career. But with the Red and Green hapless from three 10 minutes into the first half, combining to go 0-for-7, Nester made his mark at the best possible time. He immediately drilled three consecutive shots from beyond the arc to end Aurora’s 12-0 run, and by the end of the half, had already set a career high with 12 points. The tying three at the end of regulation would make it 15.

Meanwhile, on the other end, Aurora senior Matt Dunn was responding to Nester’s shots with his own personal run—a layup, a triple and another layup. At the end of the exchange, the score was tied, 27-27.

The teams continued to battle as the first half wound to a close. Wash. U. gained a small edge heading into the second half, 39-43.

Senior forward Andrew Sanders put up impressive stats in the game’s first act and beyond. Sanders, with 13 points and 6 rebounds in the first half, finished the game with 21 points, 8 rebounds and 4 steals, playing in every single minute of his final collegiate game.

Freshman Jack Nolan dribbles the basketball in the Bears’ first round NCAA game against Aurora at the Field House Friday. The Bears, who lost just one game in conference play this season and secured a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, went down against a No. 16 seed in the tournament’s first round.Grace Bruton | Student Life

Freshman Jack Nolan dribbles the basketball in the Bears’ first round NCAA game against Aurora at the Field House Friday. The Bears, who lost just one game in conference play this season and secured a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, went down against a No. 16 seed in the tournament’s first round.

The second half was a battle between two teams that were both connecting on their shots and playing well. Aurora managed to gain a small lead, but senior center David Schmelter tied the game with a steal and an electric dunk on the other end.

With under five minutes left, senior guard Kevin Kucera made a layup off an offensive rebound to give the Bears a 69-63 lead. Aurora roared back from the deficit with a 3-pointer from Garrett Hoffman and another to tie it from Carlson. Freshman guard Jack Nolan responded with a three of his own.

Nolan provided a valuable chunk of scoring for the Bears off the bench, putting up 18 points on 7-13 shooting, including four three pointers.

In the last minute, a foul allowed Carlson to give Aurora a 74-77 lead. On the other side, Nolan hit a quick shot from behind the arc to tie it. A series of fouls allowed Marcus Myers to get to the line and give Aurora a three-point lead in the waning seconds of the game. Nolan tried to answer this, but his shot was no good. An offensive rebound by the Bears led to a tie up, with possession pointing in Wash. U.’s direction with five seconds left. They had time for one last play.

The inbound pass to Knupp drew defenders away from Nester, who nailed a 3-pointer to tie the game at 80. The Bears seemed ecstatic. With no time left to try anything but a heave for the basket, Myers ran to the other end of the court, Wash. U defenders trailing him. The inbound pass found his hands; and before he could set his feet, Myers leapt towards the basket and released a final shot that pierced the basket and the Bears’ playoff dreams.

Dunn and Myers carried much of the load for Aurora, combining for 45 of the team’s points between them. Aurora’s offense went as they went.

“Their impact on the game is a very difficult thing to contain,” head coach Mark Edwards said. “They penetrate, and they can shoot and score. And if they’re on, it becomes very, very tough. That was a pivotal point.”

Nolan and Nester did much of the work answering Dunn and Myers in terms of scoring. Knupp and Kucera combined for just five points on 2-of-14 shooting.

The game marks the end of an era for the Bears. All five senior starters for the Bears will move on after guiding the program to two consecutive UAA championships. Replacing Sanders, Schmelter, Knupp, Kucera and forward Matt Highsmith is sure to be a challenge as the team moves forward. Edwards, however, expressed confidence in the program’s ability to rebound and continue to compete at a high level.

“There were a lot of people on that bench last night who didn’t get in the ball game who are going to be very capable players” Edwards said. “Those guys will step up when given the opportunity. That’s what [our seniors] did.”

Wash. U. finished the season at 22-4, reaching its high-water mark as the nation’s No. 2 team ahead of its season-ending pair of losses. The Bears have still not advanced past the second round of the NCAA Tournament since winning the title in 2009.