It was a game there for the taking.
Two days after losing the NCAA East Region Division II men’s basketball tournament final to host Southern Connecticut State University, 78-72, in New Haven, Conn., St. Anselm College head coach Keith Dickson and his team are still dealing with the disappointment and pain of knowing they had a chance to close out Tuesday’s game with a victory.
The Hawks led at halftime, 32-25, and owned a nine-point lead with 15 minutes to play. And while no one will or should question just how talented the 30-2 Owls are, they weren’t clicking on all cylinders Tuesday. Dickson noted that in his post-game interview saying the Owls were “extremely vulnerable” and didn’t “play anywhere near their best game.”
So what Tuesday’s game basically came down to was what the Hawks do best, shooting the ball. The Hawks were the second-best NE-10 team in field goal percentage team this season at 47-percent, but unfortunately for them, they couldn’t hit the open shots to salvage their season. The Hawks finished the game at 40-percent, 31 for 77 including 7 of 31 in three-point attempts.
Starters Mike McCahey (3-for-14, 0-for-7 three-pointers) and John Nielsen (1-for-9, all three-point shots), two terrific scorers all year, couldn’t buy a bucket to save their lives Tuesday.
“That’s really the story,” Dickson said Wednesday. “The strength of our team is shooting the ball and we ended up missing too many open shots. They (Owls) weren’t hitting their shots either, but they did help themselves with 19 offensive boards.”
Dickson explained St. Anselm’s drought was so obvious that the Owls shifted gears and played a zone match-up in the second half.
“Anyone who has followed us over the years knows most teams won’t play zone against us because we can shoot the ball really well,” said Dickson. “The frustrating part is we came into the game thinking we had to play our best game to beat them. It turned out we didn’t have to, because they didn’t play well. So it came down to us just doing what we normally do, how we normally play to close out this game and we just couldn’t do it.”
In a few weeks Dickson said the team will have time to reflect what it accomplished this year and realize how successful a season it was for them. The Hawks finished 22-8 overall and finished first in the Northeast Division for the second straight season.
“This was really a two-year run we had with this group,” said Dickson. “We went 23-6 last year and we spent some quality time together during a foreign tour to Spain last August. This is one of the most special groups I’ve ever had, a group you looked forward to seeing in practice every day. They really worked hard and I was proud to coach them. For the seniors especially, it’s never easy to say goodbye because they gave us so much over the years.”
Dominic Borelli, Dino Mallios and John Nielsen depart the program which reached the East Region final for the fourth time under Dickson.
“Dominic really stepped up and played his best basketball this week in the tournament,” said Dickson. “I’m not sure we make it to the finals without him (16 points, 14 boards) against Bloomfield. John was a role player and back-up until this year. He was the best shooter in the NE-10 and just had a terrific season. Dino became the face of our program the last two years. I’ve had many terrific point guards in my 28 years here and I would mention Dino among the best of them. He’s right up there on the list.”
Right now Dickson said the team is healing, just thinking of what could have been a trip to the Elite Eight. “It’s been a couple of tough days, but we’ll move on like we always do.”
And given Dickson’s track record, there’s a very good chance the Hawks will return to the regionals next year.