SCHENECTADY – Things were looking bleak for the Union College men’s basketball team in the second half of the Liberty League tournament championship game against Hobart.
The Dutchmen were down 53-45 with 11:39 left. A few seconds before that, senior guard Wade McNamara went down with a right leg injury that prevented him from returning. Leading scorer Deshon Burgess was struggling with his shot. But more importantly, the Dutchmen were careless with the basketball.
However, there was still plenty of time for the Dutchmen to correct their flaws. And they did just that. They survived McNamara’s injury, they turned up the defensive pressure and Burgess got hot. He scored the team’s final 13 points as the Dutchmen erased the deficit and beat the Statesmen 71-67 to win the Liberty League title before a raucous crowd of 800 at Viniar Athletic Center.
The Dutchmen (16-10) earned an automatic berth to the NCAA Division III Tournament, which begins Friday. The field will be announced at 12:30 p.m. Monday, and will be streamed on www.unionathletics.com.
It is Union first trip to the NCAAs since 2005, when it won its last Liberty League title. Dutchmen coach Chris Murphy was on that team.
“I had an incredible number of texts, emails and calls of how proud they were of the guys,” Murphy said. “I think it’s a special thing, because it has been a little bit of a while.”
When the final buzzer sounded, the fans stormed the court, setting off a wild celebration.
“It’s huge,” said tournament MVP Burgess, who finished with 33 points and was proudly wearing the basketball net around his neck. “It gets guys on this campus caring about basketball again. It’s a good atmosphere to be in. I’m just proud.”
One person in the crowd madly tweeting during and after the game was former Union basketball standout James
Tedisco, now a state senator.
“Crowd stormed the court for Union Championship @UnionMBB.,” Tedisco tweeted afterward. “Go Union. So proud. Congratulations Coach Murphy and the team! @UnionAthletics.”
It was a back-and-forth first half that ended with Union 35-32. But the Dutchmen struggled in the opening moments of the second half. The turnovers were especially frustrating to them in light of the fact that they only had three turnovers in Wednesday’s 110-108 double-overtime victory over St. Lawrence.
The carelessness with the ball enabled Hobart (16-11) to take that eight-point lead. And with McNamara out with his injury, things appeared bleak for Union.
But that’s when the Dutchmen decided enough was enough.
“The second half was a game of runs, back and forth the whole second half,” said Kevin Weckworth, who hit a 3-pointer with 6:26 left to tie the score 57-57. “Coming out of the huddle, we pulled each other close and said stay together and take it blow by blow, hit them with body punches and just keep rolling.”
Burgess started to find his shot in the final 10 minutes.
“Around 12 minutes left in the game, I said, ‘Deshon, I think you’re forcing it,’ and Deshon said, ‘Come on coach.’” Murphy said. “We had a little talk on the sidelines. He said, ‘Coach, we got to get some action. We’ve got to run some stuff.’ I listened to him and ran some good stuff. Deshon made some incredible shots. [He] didn’t force anything, it came within the offense.”
On the winning basket, the Statesmen gave Burgess room to put up the 3. He later added two free throws to seal the deal.
“I just took what the defense gave me,” Burgess said. “They were sitting on a drive, and I just pulled up at the 3-point line. It was a step back, so I got a little bit of room. It was a good look, and it just went in.”
And it sent Union to the dance floor.
Burgess, McNamara and Greg King were named to the all-tournament team.
Despite missing the final 11:48 of the game, McNamara had a double-double with 10 points and 11 rebounds. All his boards came on the defensive end.
Allen 2-0-4, Ruddy 1-3-6, Drescher 7-0-15, Dougherty 11-2-27, Lucas 0-2-2, Walsh 1-0-2, Lescoe 3-2-8, Fleurizard 1-0-2, Valciukas 0-1-1. Totals: 26-10-67.
King 4-2-12, Laing 0-2-2, Bouton 1-0-2, Burgess 9-12-33, McNamara 3-1-10, Weckworth 3-0-9, McNoble 1-0-2, Liquori 0-1-1. Totals: 21-18-71.
Halftime: Union 35-32. Three-point goals: Dougherty 3, Ruddy, Drescher, Burgess 3, McNamara 3, Weckworth 3, King 2.