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St. Michael's College men's basketball ends NCAA run in first Sweet Sixteen battle in decades

St. Michael's College hosted the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA Division 2 East conference in Colchester Tuesday. It was the first time in decades they made it to the round, but were defeated by Southern New Hampshire University in an electric game.
Adiah Gholston
Vermont Public
St. Michael's College hosted a Sweet Sixteen game in the the NCAA Division II tournament in Colchester Tuesday.

The clock struck midnight for the men’s basketball team at St. Michael’s College Tuesday night.

The Purple Knights' Cinderella season ended with a loss to Southern New Hampshire University in the Sweet Sixteen round of the NCAA Division II tournament. Still, the loss couldn’t dampen the spirit of the fans who showed up for the team.

St. Michael’s players pinged the ball around the court within the first few minutes of the game until it landed in the hands of guard Romar Reid — who then made the team’s first 3-pointer of the night.

The Ross Sports Center at St. Michael’s was filled with fans decked out in purple and gold, roaring with cheers. By all accounts, the Center hadn’t seen that much noise in years.

Sarah Leinbach, a St. Michael's senior, said she's been a huge fan of the team since last year — but that didn’t prepare her for their massive improvement this season.

“The turnaround has been incredible. And I think Eric Eaton has really just stepped it up this year. And the boys have really gotten into their rhythm," she said.

Coming into this season, St. Michael's was ranked last in their conference. They hadn’t had a winning season since 2014-2015.

But this weekend, St. Michael's hosted the Division II East regional for the first time since 1960, a privilege reserved for top teams. That’s after the Purple Knights put together a 22-8 record this season.

This is also the team's first appearance in the tournament since the 2000-2001 season. And tonight’s game was their first time playing for an Elite Eight berth since the 1964-65 season.

Adiah Gholston
Vermont Public
Declan McCabe, a professor in St. Michael's biology department, takes an after-game snack from Sherry Pachman, an Adjunct Instructor of Spanish at St. Michael's,
near the faculty cheering section.

Anna Aiken is a St. Michael's senior who spends a lot of free time studying neuroscience. She says the games this season have been a great way to get away from homework and build community.

“For me, the boys obviously do great, but I love watching the faculty that come on campus and seeing like, 'What? My professors are here.' I love how they support the school. And the other game, they did a choreographed dance at halftime," she said.

Declan McCabe, a professor in St. Michael’s biology department, said he’s not the biggest sports fan. But he has been to several St. Michael’s games this weekend because of the fun atmosphere and the cheering section his philosophy colleague Katie Kirby organized.

“She purchased these T-shirts. Some of them say 'score' and different things. And she got these beads, and we've got purple pompoms, and she organized a cheering section," he said.

This electric atmosphere Tuesday night fed the team. St. Michael's was able to keep the game close in the first quarter.

Then the fouls and free throws started piling up.

Every time a Southern New Hampshire player stepped up to the line, St. Michael's freshmen and swimmers Hunter Cook and Calvin Baird bounced up and down in front of the student section decked out in speedos, swim caps and goggles.

“It’s a tradition for the swim team to mess with the team when they're doing their foul shots and all that... We decided to brave it ourselves and try and distract the other team while they're, you know, going through their free throws," Baird said. "It has worked a couple times.”

The game remained close at the beginning of the second half, but Southern New Hampshire slowly pulled away as St. Michael’s couldn’t find the bottom of the net.

Southern New Hampshire won 73 to 61, as fans shuffled out of the arena.

Adiah Gholston
Vermont Public
St. Michael's starter and captain Romar Reid dribbles up the court.

During a press conference, St. Michael’s Head Coach Eric Eaton said for the most part he was happy with how the team played Tuesday — and that this entire season is one to remember.

“Being alongside these kids all year long was one of the joys of my life. I’m excited for the future, but I’m going to sit back and reminisce about what these guys did this year," he said.

As for the future? The coach’s mom, Sharon Eaton, is also a fan — and hopes this year’s success can bring St. Michael’s some attention.

“Small schools are having a tough time right now staying open . and so we’re hoping that, you know, more people will recognize the school. Whether it’s athletics or academics, it doesn’t matter. But we need to build this school up and get more kids coming here," she said.

The team will need to build on this year’s success for that to happen.

Team captain Romar Reid is an outgoing senior. Though his college basketball career is over, he was glad to be a part of this run, and said he hopefully helped start a winning culture at St. Michael’s.

“I went into this program to change everything. It was a very historic season I feel like I'm going to cherish for the remainder of my life," he said.

Is it too early to start thinking about next year?

Have questions, comments or tips? Send us a message.

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