Gators stun Denison in close finish


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On paper, men’s basketball’s home closer against Denison last Saturday didn’t sound like much. Denison had just secured a playoff spot while the Gators were mathematically eliminated the previous Wednesday with a tough loss to Wooster.

However, what looked to be an unimportant game between the two teams turned into the most inspired and entertaining match up the Gators have seen yet this season. Led by a heroic effort by the Gators’ senior class, Allegheny dropped Denison in wild fashion with a 76-72 win.

“That game was indicative of our season,” Head Coach James Driggs said. “It was a very close game and we made the plays at the end.  There have been some games where we didn’t.”

Allegheny ended their season in front of a packed Wise Center crowd and featured a starting lineup of entirely senior players. Sharpshooter Ryan Stanko led all scorers in the contest, highlighted by an inspired first half where he landed four three pointers and amassed 16 of his 26 total points. The rest of the Gators were near even in their statistical production as Clark Tritto, ’14, John O’Donnell, ’14 and Evan Zabriski, ’17, knocked down nine a piece. Seniors Bobby Theiss and Marco Corona each added eight as well. In total, the senior class accounted for 62 of the team’s 76 points. D’Andre Corbin, ’14, had a game high nine assists while Tritto proved a force in the paint, blocking five shots and grabbing 10 rebounds.

“Denison is a great team and we knew that we had to execute in order to come out on top,” said Stanko. “We stuck to the coaches’ game plan and the hard work came to fruition.”

Stanko credited his confidence on the court for his offensive explosion.

“Personally, I just played with so much confidence,” Stanko said. “I had a great warm up and after I saw a couple go through I knew I was locked in. I was prepared to do anything to help us win but Saturday it came by way of scoring.”

The Gators started out strong behind a flurry of Stanko shots as he scored the Gators’ first eight points in the contest, including a pair of threes and a nifty jump shot to put Allegheny ahead 8-4. Tritto’s ensuing jumpshot and a Theiss layup stretched the Allegheny lead to 10 just five minutes in. From there the Big Red battled their way back slowly, as they used a 6-0 run to make it a 20-19 game with nine to go. Zabriski stretched the Gators’ lead with a three pointer but Denison answered with one of their own to make it 31-30 with 5:31 remaining. The final three minutes were tense as both teams kept knocking down shots. O’Donnell closed out the Gator scoring in the half, nailing a three pointer with two minutes left to make it 41-35. With a last second shot, Denison closed out the half down by one.

Denison took their first lead of the game with a three pointer right after intermission. A pair of Big Red free throws and a three pointer off a Gator turnover pushed their advantage to five, their largest margin in the contest. With 16:55 remaining, Corona landed a layup in traffic to tie the game and O’Donnell’s three pointer put Allegheny back on top. Another Corona layup jumpstarted an 8-0 scoring run for the Gators, bookended by Stanko’s final three of the day to make it 59-50.

Continuing the theme of the day, Denison used a pair of well-placed shots to narrow the gap to one with nine remaining. Corona came up big for the Gators once again, banking in a shot to make it 72-64 with five remaining. With two minutes left in the contest, it looked like a sure victory for Allegheny, but Denison used strategic fouling and great rebounding to bring them to within two with 23 seconds left. Tritto went to the charity stripe with 20 seconds remaining, sinking one free throw while missing the second, putting the score at 75-72. Corona was able to corral the loose ball and was fouled, sending him to the line with a chance to put the game away.

Denison was given a second chance when he missed both shots, but it ultimately would not matter as a Big Red free throw bounced out and Theiss snatched it up with three seconds remaining before being fouled. He went one for two from the line to put Allegheny up by four and squashed any hopes Denison still had. The Gator fans stormed the court as the buzzer sounded, giving Allegheny the win and ending their season at 6-19 overall, 3-15 in the NCAA.

“It was the most fun I’ve ever had on a basketball floor,” Stanko said after the game. “The atmosphere was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, it was truly electric.”

Theiss agreed, saying that it was a great way to close out the season.

“It was amazing,” Theiss said. “We had great contributions by all the seniors and given the situation [no playoff spot], I couldn’t have drawn up a better way to end my career.”

Coach Driggs said he was proud his team was able to end on such a high note.

“I’m happy for the seniors,” Driggs said. “I thought they contributed a lot.  It was nice to see them end their careers with a win.  I just care if we play well.  I wish we didn’t miss so many free throws but again we had some guys make plays.  Tritto and Corona had huge offensive rebounds.  I’m not sure we hang on if we don’t get those loose balls. “

While the Gators graduate six seniors, the squad brings back five players with significant game experience. The Gators return Josh Valentic, ’15, Brandon Smith, ’15, Evan Schweitzer, ’16, Evan Zabriski, ’17 and Sam Shepherd, ’17. According to coach Driggs, the offseason is crucial for Allegheny to make waves next year in the NCAC.

“We need guys to take the off season seriously,” Driggs said. “We have a lot of very motivated kids in all aspects of their lives.  Lots of our guys will have internships this summer.  That’s great and it is part of their development as students and people but they’ve got to find time work on their game.  We have to come back a year better not just a year older.”

AMASA SMITH/THE CAMPUS Head coach, Jim Driggs, talks strategy with less than a minute left in the game against Denison Sat. Feb. 22, 2014
AMASA SMITH/THE CAMPUS Head coach, Jim Driggs, talks strategy with less than a minute left in the game against Denison Sat. Feb. 22, 2014