The most accomplished season in UT Dallas men's basketball history came to a heartbreaking end Saturday night in the "Elite Eight" of the NCAA Division III Championship Tournament as Guilford College (NC) rallied from 12 points down in the final five minutes of regulation to defeat the Comets 64-59 in overtime and earn a trip to the national "Final Four."
The tragedy was that the historic berth into the nation's top Division III showcase was within the Comets' grasp - even in the game's final seconds. UT Dallas led throughout regulation and had its biggest lead at 12 points (50-38) with just 5:27 left in regulation, but the Comets could manage just five more points the rest of the way against Guildford's hard-pressing defense. Meanwhile, the Quakers were able to piece together a run that got them back in the game, but still needed an off-balance, 3-point prayer at the buzzer from guard Clay Henson to tie the game and send it into overtime.
The three-pointer at the buzzer, coupled with UT Dallas's inability to score in the final five minutes, put the momentum firmly on Guilford's side of the John Carroll University court, and the Quakers cruised in the extra five-minute period to the five-point win, outscoring UT Dallas 9-4.
Until the final dry spell, the Comets seemed firmly on their way to becoming one of the prestigious four finalists at the NCAA Division III Final Four Championship Tournament, set for next weekend in Salem, Va. UT Dallas had built up what looked like an insurmountable lead late in a game that featured two of the country's best defensive teams, and had consistently kept Guilford from climbing back in the game.
In the first half, the Comets built as much as a nine-point advantage (21-12 @ 8:18), and still led Guilford (a team that was averaging over 70 points per game) at the half, 26-20.
As they had been doing much of the post-season, the Comets were able to fight off every Guilford challenge as the game progressed. When the Quakers got to within four early in the second half (26-22), the Comets went on a 14-8 run to move back out to a 12-point edge (40-28) with 14:00 left. UT Dallas then kept the margin between 9-12 points throughout the next nine minutes until the final 12-point lead at 5:27.
That's when a desperate Quaker team turned to the full-court press to try to force turnovers and keep the Comets from getting to the basket. The strategy worked. It was a slow process, but Guilford whittled away at the lead, scoring nine unanswered points over a four-minute stretch to pull within three (47-50) with 1:50 left. UT Dallas's Brandon Greene followed with a three-point shot that gave the Comets a six-point lead at 1:25, but that basket turned out to be UT Dallas's last successful shot from the field in the game's final five minutes.
Three straight offensive rebounds led to a layup by Guilford's Tyler Sanborn with :11 left to get the Quakers to within one at 53-52. UT Dallas's Scott Rodgers was fouled immediately and hit a pair of free throws with :10 left to put UT Dallas back up by three, but Guilford had one more chance and got the miracle 3-pointer from Henson at the buzzer to send the game into overtime.
The Comets' season ends with a 26-5 record, the team's best in program history. Guilford advances to the NCAA Division III Final Four with a 25-5 mark.
UT Dallas was led in scoring by Jimmy Witten, who had 16 points. Only Rodgers (10 points) was able to join Witten in double figures in the low-scoring game that featured both teams shooting around 40 percent. Sanborn paced Guilford with an 18-point, 13-rebound night.
Guilford dominated the boards, out-rebounding UT Dallas, 44-30 and got 18 points off offensive rebounds.