The ball left senior forward Lowell Ulmer’s hand from three-quarters court with nothing more than a prayer.
Trailing by three, the heave was the final chance for the St. Francis College, Brooklyn Heights, men’s basketball team to send the 2015 Northeast Conference (NEC) championship game against Robert Morris University, Moon, Pa., into overtime.
The ball looked very much on line as time expired. It hit the back of the rim and popped straight up, but it fell to the side.
A crowd that had broken decibel levels all night was rendered silent, while all that could be heard in the Daniel Lynch Gymnasium were the sounds of the Colonials – not the Terriers – celebrating their 66-63 win and their upcoming trip to the NCAA Tournament.
And so the streak continued for at least another year: St. Francis College remains one of five Division I men’s basketball teams to have never reached the NCAA Tournament, with the others being the Northwestern University, Evanston, Ill.; Army, West Point, N.Y.; The Citadel, Charleston, S.C.; and the College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, Va.
However, every new season for St. Francis brings the hope that this will be the year the team makes “The Big Dance.” And with the memories of how last season ended still fresh in their minds, the Terriers have some unfinished business to take care of.
“Losing to Robert Morris in the championship was heartbreaking because everyone had big hopes for us and just to let them down was real depressing,” said senior forward Chris Hooper. “Our families were in the crowd, friends, people from the school. It was depressing.”
“Walking on the court and losing to Robert Morris, it was a bad moment,” said senior forward Antonio Jennifer. “It hurt me deep down inside. I wish we could have won because we worked real hard that season. We pushed to win a lot of tough games, and I felt like it was our year. I’m just prepared, and I don’t want to see that happen this year.”
The Terriers finished last season as Northeast Conference regular season champions, and though the team surely wanted to take that one step further, that was a foundational building block for this current season.
“Walking off the court, my mind went blank,” said senior guard Tyreek Jewell, who scored a game-high 19 points in the championship. “I didn’t believe we made it that far my first year in Division I. I felt like I was a key part of the reason we stayed in the game. I just couldn’t finish it off.”
A tough loss such as the one in the NEC championship can be a motivating factor for a team to want to get back to that same stage the following year. And that’s exactly what’s going on right now in Brooklyn Heights.
“I knew how much work I needed to put in to be the player that I’m trying to be this year and accomplish the same things or more that we did last year,” said senior forward Amdy Fall.
“It (the NEC loss) motivated me real well,” Hooper said. I spent the whole summer here. I didn’t leave. I just worked every day in the gym. And I’m just hoping for a different result this year.”
“I pushed through this summer real hard because I know I had to work on certain areas around the basket better,” Jennifer said. “Just preparing stronger, it just showed me how hard you have to work to be successful.”
Two key contributors from last year’s team – NEC Player of the Year Jalen Cannon and senior point guard Brent Jones – have moved on from the program. But many of the same faces that helped the Terriers reach the title game are back and hungry for an NCAA Tournament berth.
“I feel like we have a chip on our shoulder,” Jewell said. “With the key pieces coming back from last year, we know that we have to step up and be leaders of the team.”
“A lot of people think it can’t be done again because we lost a great player in Jalen Cannon and another great player in Brent Jones and all the seniors we had,” Fall said. “But I think it could be done, it’s very possible.”
Of course, the popular sports cliché rings true here for the Terriers: “One game at a time!”
But even so, the thrill of being part of the first-ever St. Francis team to reach the NCAA Tournament is undoubtedly a motivating factor for this year’s squad.
Contact Jim Mancari via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.