This is what happens when you have it going the way Thomas More basketball has it going right now.
Two top 10 NAIA teams. Standing room only crowd for a doubleheader making so much noise at the end of a beyond-crazy women’s finish against Georgetown that the Connor Center sounded like Rupp Arena as the opener careened into overtime as the No. 2 Saints tried to hold on and survive.
“In small colleges, that’s as good as it gets,” said Justin Ray, Thomas More’s men’s coach. “That gym was so loud, it might as well have been 20,000 there.”
Which may well have been a big part in helping the TMU women survive a near-death experience inside the final second, just as Georgetown did. That’s right – inside the final second, each team had a chance to win – and lose. A game’s worth of drama happened in that 0.3 second that had TMU winning, then maybe losing, and then going into overtime.
And for for the 24th time this season, against just three losses, TMU won. It took two lead changes and three ties in overtime to make it happen. But that’s what a team with two NCAA Division III championships can do.
TMU’s No. 8 NAIA men, not to mention the Saints football team and a great deal of the student body, were cheering them as this went past the men’s starting time. Georgetown’s No. 12 men’s team was also cheering as the game hit extra time.
“It’s awesome to have a following like that,” grad student center Alexah Chrisman, who would cash in the winning score in TMU’s 78-76 victory.
“We play for them,” she said of the Saints fans.
Maybe taking their cue from the women’s game, the 24-3 men, after clinching the Mid-South championship Monday, ended this one early, jumping out 24-9 in the first 9:40 on the way to a 43-20 halftime lead and a final of 85-59 – and remember, that was against the NAIA’s No. 12 team, against a coach with two national championships, against a team that Ray called “the gold standard in the NAIA.” And one TMU has beaten six straight times.
But on this night, when his team “came ready to play,” Ray said, they didn’t want to go through what the women did at the end. So they shot 55.2 percent (16 of 29) the first half while holding Georgetown to 25 percent (8 of 32). And that was pretty much it.
And yes, Ray says, it’s OK to look ahead to the postseason – the league tournament next week in Bowling Green and then the hoped-for host role in an NAIA regional before moving on to the national championships in Kansas City.
But it’s not just the men, obviously. Do the math. Together, the two teams are 48-6, 24-3 each, with two Top 10 rankings. Not many programs, if any, have ever pulled off this double. In the 2019-2020 season with no postseason because of Covid-19, the TMU men were No. 18 in the NAIA, the women No. 20. But nothing like this.
Even if TMU women’s coach Jeff Hans admitted that “we were lucky to get out of here with a win.”
“Lucky” probably describes a bit of it. You’ll never see another one like what happened here. With the score tied at 64 and six seconds left, TMU got the steal they were looking for and with 0.3 seconds on the clock, Kenzie Schwarber, fouled in the act of shooting, would be on the line for two. Hit one and celebrate. This one would be over.
Despite her nerves, Kenzie said, she did just that, hitting the second one. And the celebration was on. Only problem: Georgetown inbounded the ball immediately and TMU was caught with a sub still on the floor. Technical on the Saints for six players on the floor. Now with still that 0.3 of a second left, it was Georgetown shooting two for the win. But only one went in.
The Saints had dodged the proverbial bullet. There would be five more minutes. Chrisman liked her team’s chances “with the scoreboard 0-0 and five minutes to go, I’m confident in this team,” she said.
And rightly so. But with a half-dozen games the crowded final two weeks, it doesn’t get any easier as the Saints close out the regular season at No. 5 Campbellsville Saturday with postseason brackets and seeding on the line, just like for the men.
DON’T FORGET NKU
With the Top Ten rankings for TMU, it’s easy to lose track of NKU but the Norse men have won nine of their last 10 games, including an impressive three straight on the road as the No. 3 Norse now lead the Horizon League in defense, holding opponents to just 66.3 points a game for the season and 61.9 the last 10 games.
But NKU (15-10, 11-5 Horizon League) opens the weekend in Michigan Friday night at Detroit Mercy, the lone team to beat them in the streak. Then it’s off to Oakland Sunday where if the Norse can maintain their No. 3 spot, they can secure a postseason bye and host one of the four quarterfinal games.
Ditto for the NKU women, who at 17-6 (also 11-5 in the Horizon) are off to their best start as an NCAA Division I program. Lindsey Duvall may have had her 37-game streak scoring in double digits snapped Feb. 1 at UIC but her 17.3 points a game is good for third in the Horizon League. Big challenge for NKU Friday night in their final road game of the year at 21-4 Youngstown State, the league’s top team.
GREAT JOB BY TMU HONORING JIM WEYER
He was a player at Thomas More, the baseball and basketball coach at the then-Villa Madonna College when it was a collection of classrooms in buildings along 12th Street in downtown Covington when for 21 years – from 1958 to 1978, sports held the place together without a gym, a baseball field or almost any of the things we take for granted in college sports these days.
And the Rebels were competitive as heck. Much of that a credit to Jim Weyer. He would go on to finish his career as the AD for 22 years at Newport High School in the town where he grew up. As the bridge between Charley Wolf, who would go on to the NBA, and Jim Connor, his own high school coach at Newport Catholic, Jim Weyer made sports matter at the school.
Through his own dedication and hard work, he made sure that sports survived at Villa Madonna. Some two dozen of the Weyer Family were welcomed to the Connor Center Thursday night for the recognition ceremony and presentation of a signed game ball before the men’s game to honor Jim, who died at the age of 85 January 7.
NEW HOME NEEDED FOR HALL OF FAME INDUCTIONS
After 20 years and so many memorable moments hosting the Northern Kentucky Sports Hall of Fame inductions, the Villa Hills Civic Club — just hours after its last NKSHOF inductions Wednesday afternoon — has said goodbye to its role as induction home. The building burned down overnight and in the interim, the NKSHOF will be looking for a home for its final two monthly ceremonies the third Wednesday in March and April.
But no sooner had the news gone out, Covington Catholic High School stepped up and AD Tony Bacigalupo offered the school’s adjacent convocation center on the Dixie Highway in Park Hills as the temporary NKSHOF home. Expect an announcement next week.
TIME CHANGES FOR THE 34TH AT HOLY CROSS
Here’s the latest schedule for the 34th District Boys Basketball Tournament hosted by Holy Cross:
First round is Wednesday evening with No. 4 seed Beechwood against No. 1 seed CovCath starting at 5:30. The gym will then be emptied of fans to open it up for a new crowd for the 8 p.m. game between No. 2 seed Holy Cross and No. 3 seed Holmes. The winners will meet in the championship game Friday night with both teams moving on to the Ninth Region Tournament.
MORE THAN JUST A 1,000-POINT CLUBBER
With his 15 points against Newport Central Catholic Wednesday, Covington Catholic junior guard Evan Ipsaro joined the Colonels’ 1,000-point Club. He’d already scored 437 points as a freshman varsity player at New Richmond High School so the all-state point guard is actually closing in on 1,500 for his high school career.