The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

The Oldest College Newspaper in Pennsylvania

The Lafayette

After nail-biting win against American, men’s basketball falls to No. 1 seed Colgate in League Championship

The men’s basketball team celebrates its Sunday night win against American, which sent it to the Patriot League finals. (Photo by Rick Smith for GoLeopards)

The men’s basketball team (11-22, 7-11 Patriot League) advanced to the Patriot League Tournament final for the first time since 2015 after one of the most exciting games Kirby Sports Center has seen in recent years. Including a blown 21-point lead, a last-second three, a four-point play and a windmill dunk, the double-overtime game had it all as the Leopards defeated American University 84-76. The Leopards, underdogs against No. 1 seed Colgate, carried the energy with them to Hamilton, New York, where they ultimately lost by 18 points in the Patriot League Championship.

In the American game, the entire team had career-defining performances, but the star of the show was senior captain forward Leo O’Boyle in an MVP performance with 23 points. He hit six of nine three-pointers attempted and posted a 50 percent field goal percentage, while also making all five of his free throws.

Each starter spent over 40 minutes on the court, as the team’s depth was affected by injuries. 

The game started well for the home team. American shot poorly in the first half, recording 23 percent from the field and 30 percent from three-point range. On the other hand, Lafayette could not miss, especially from deep, shooting 50 percent from the field and 61.54 percent from beyond the arc. 

Leo O’Boyle reached 1,000 career points with just over seven minutes left in the first half, a feat accomplished by only 47 others in program history. Quite fittingly for the long-range specialist who wears the No. 33, it was a three-pointer that pushed him past the mark. 

“That was the loudest I have heard Kirby in my four years here,” O’Boyle said. “To get my 1,000 points and a championship berth in my last home game is like a dream. This was all a part of the plan along the way, to get a championship in my four years.” 

At the end of the half, the score was 33-17 in favor of the Leopards. 

After hitting four consecutive three-point shots to extend the lead to 19 in the second half, it seemed like the game was destined to end in a Lafayette win. Like many college basketball games in March, however, nobody could’ve predicted its ending. 

To the home crowd’s dismay, multiple turnovers and a late 10-0 run saw American bring the game to just one point at 58-57. The Eagles then took their first lead since the opening basket by way of a jumper in the paint. The Leopards were down by one with 49 seconds left to play, and the atmosphere in the arena had completely changed. 

“I felt like they came back in the game because of our own mistakes,” sophomore guard TJ Berger said. “They stepped up and made some big plays, but we were giving up lots of offensive rebounds and carelessly turning the ball over. We knew if we cleaned that up, we would win the game. So that’s what we focused on when they took the lead.”

Senior captain Leo O’Boyle’s parents wear matching shirts reading “You can’t spell Leopards without Leo.”
(Photo by Rick Smith for GoLeopards)

In a game like this, Lafayette definitely did not want one of its best players to be sitting on the bench. Sophomore captain and starting point guard CJ Fulton was notably missing from the game due to a lung injury. After having played against Lehigh in the quarterfinal, his absence came as a surprise to most people in the crowd. However, he remained a leader on the side and could be seen and heard constantly cheering on his teammates.

“I was gutted that I couldn’t play, but I tried to make sure I was being a good teammate on the sideline,” Fulton said. “It was pretty stressful, but the guys played great and showed a lot of resilience after American made the comeback.”

Sophomore center Justin Vander Baan drew a crucial shooting foul with 22 seconds left but missed his first free throw. The fate of the season rested on his second free throw, and he sank it. 

The Leopards headed into overtime with a rejuvenated crowd. However, when the Eagles seized a five-point lead with 23 seconds left, the game seemed to be over once again. 

But Lafayette refused to give up. After freshman forward Josh Rivera sunk two free throws, the team called a timeout and huddled up. They had to foul to stop the clock. 

Then, a miracle happened: the ensuing free throw hit the rim and bounced out. Given the “one and one” nature of non-shooting fouls and the bonus rule in NCAA college basketball, this meant that Lafayette could grab the rebound and try to get a basket. 

Berger, standing in the corner, darted past his defender and found himself under the basket with the ball. The team needed three points to tie the game and save the season. Berger found O’Boyle in the corner and the stadium went silent as he pulled up. Seconds later, the 2,000-person crowd erupted as his shot fell effortlessly through the net.

“Our coaches told us in the scouting report that American really likes to collapse on drives,” Berger said. “So when I was driving on the baseline I was looking to find an open man in the corner, and Leo was there and ready to knock it down, like he was all game.”

“I saw TJ cut backdoor and my defender sunk in. After that, I knew I had to make that shot,” O’Boyle said. “I didn’t want to go home just yet, and luckily I sank the shot.”

The second overtime saw the Leopards back at their best. After a layup from junior forward Kyle Jenkins, O’Boyle added to his personal highlight reel with an and-one three in the corner. Once he knocked down the free throw, their lead was extended to six and the momentum was once again in their favor. 

Immediately, an “MVP” chant began to reverberate inside Kirby Sports Center. For O’Boyle, who was not named to an All-League team, it was pure poetic justice. 

“I feel as if I was disrespected, and I believe I play the game the right way,” O’Boyle said. “I have been going out trying to prove the league wrong and leave my mark this postseason.”

The exclamation point came in the form of a fast break windmill dunk from Josh Rivera. 

“I always envisioned getting a windmill dunk in front of the home crowd,” Rivera said. “That was the right time to do it. It was a statement dunk.”

When the final buzzer finally sounded, the crowd stormed the court, meeting in the center in an enormous embrace. 

“Having a home-court advantage in the playoffs is huge,” O’Boyle said. “When you have the support of the students like we had the other night, it increases your chance of winning drastically. I cannot thank them enough for all the support on Sunday.”

Inside the team locker room, the energy was just as high. However, the team knew that the biggest game of the season was yet to be played.  

“The locker room was electric for sure,” Berger said. “Coach McGarvey has really stressed for us to stay in the moment during this conference tournament, and part of staying in the moment is celebrating a big win. After last night, though, we regrouped and have been focused on the task at hand, which is going up to get a win on Wednesday at Colgate.”

Lafayette traveled just three days later to face Colgate for the Patriot League Tournament Final. The shots that were falling for the Leopards in the semi-final weren’t in Hamilton. After shooting an unheard-of 50 percent from three-point range against American, they shot just under 16 percent in the final. 

After keeping the game to within one for five minutes, Colgate embarked on a 21-9 run. While Lafayette tried its best to battle back, the Raiders never took their foot off the gas, taking a 41-24 lead into the break.

The Leopards kept shooting, but their attempts just seemed to keep missing the mark in the second half. Colgate cruised to their third straight Patriot League Championship win with a final score of 79-61.

While the basketball season has come to an end, the performances, run and unforeseen court storming of the 2022-23 Lafayette team leave a lasting legacy in the form of amazing memories for thousands of students.

“The atmosphere was amazing even though we lost. It was really such a good time. Lafayette really did show up and I was so happy to see it,” sophomore Josh Weintraub said after attending the championship game. “I’m excited for next season.”

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About the Contributors
Eric Ponieman
Eric Ponieman, Assistant Sports Editor
Roll Pards!
Charlie Berman
Charlie Berman, Sports Editor

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