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October 2, 2014

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March Madness Takes Over as Comets Dazzle in NCAA Tournament

Exciting Game-Winning Three-Pointer Propels Men's Basketball Team into Spotlight, Postseason's Sweet 16

Update: March 18
The UT Dallas men’s basketball team completed its winningest season in the program’s history, making it all the way to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Division III Tournament before losing to the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, 81-63. read more

 

Original story: March 11

On a campus better known for its world-class chess team, UT Dallas is buzzing about the men’s basketball team.

More than 1,300 people attended the Comets’ dramatic, second-round NCAA Division III National Tournament game on Saturday in the Activity Center. Comet fans witnessed a classic with a rousing finish. Junior guard Nolan Harvey’s three-point swisher at the buzzer propelled the team past Whitworth University, 78-77 in overtime, to advance to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Division III National Tournament.

Harvey's game-winner came at the end of a 6-0 run by the Comets; they trailed Whitworth 77-72 with 27 seconds left to play. His shot prompted an exuberant response from a packed house. Fans wearing orange and green screamed and poured onto the court, lifting him onto their shoulders.  

“I let it go and it felt really good. But I was already falling down so I didn’t see it go in. When I heard the crowd yelling, I couldn’t believe what just happened,” said Harvey, a geophysics major.

“Seeing how happy the crowd was made me feel good. They piled on top of me. At one point, though, there were five or six people on me, and I thought I was going to die. I couldn’t breathe. Then I thought, ‘Well, it was a good way to go out,’” Harvey said.

 

UT Dallas Police Chief Larry Zacharias is a regular fixture in the stands. He described the crowd as the largest turnout in Comet history.

“The atmosphere was electric,” Zacharias said. “It was great to see them chip away at Whitworth’s lead. They never gave up. And nothing was better than Nolan Harvey’s buzzer-beater for the win in overtime. It was the best game I’ve ever been to, and I couldn’t be more proud of the guys. On to the Sweet 16!”

This will be UT Dallas’ third trip to the NCAA’s Sweet 16; the last visits were in 2009 and 2010. The team made it to the national quarterfinals in 2009.

This season, the Comets ranked 16th in Division III, and will return to action at 5 p.m. Friday against No. 3-ranked Wisconsin-Whitewater, playing in Stevens Point, Wis. The game will be streamed live.

Meanwhile, No. 1 University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point will face Emory University in the second game on Friday. The winners of Friday’s games will face off Saturday in the Elite 8. If the Comets win Friday, it would be the second time UT Dallas has made it to the Elite 8.

Regardless of the outcome, the Comets set a school record this year for their best season in history, with 27 wins so far. The Comets won the American Southwest Conference title on its home court earlier this month. The team then opened the NCAA tournament last Friday with an 85-70 victory over Chapman University, followed by the dramatic overtime win over No. 12-ranked Whitworth.

The players’ accomplishments are all the more amazing because they do not receive athletic scholarships to play. They also boast an average GPA of 3.14 on a campus where the average SAT score for entering freshmen is typically among the highest of any Texas public university.

That means the Comets play for the love of the game, carving out time for practice from their rigorous academic programs. All played high school basketball and wanted to continue playing in college.

Team members practice two hours a day, six days a week, from November through March, and then play two or three games a week. They take just seven days off during winter break before they’re back on the court.

“We have a lot of smart kids on our team. They know how to prioritize,” said senior forward Kyle Schleigh, an accounting major who is averaging 24.5 points per game and 6.5 assists. “We play just for the love of the game, and we really bond as a team and make lifelong friends.”

Despite it being the weekend before spring break, the Comets drew some of the largest and most enthusiastic crowds of the year.

“The crowd was phenomenal, and it had a huge effect on our guys. It made all the difference in the world,” said head coach Terry Butterfield.

Fans posted video clips of the winning shot as the buzzer sounded. Fans took to Twitter to share the videos with local sports media and ESPN. The Athletic Department’s YouTube video has received more than 5,000 views and has appeared on local television broadcasts, including NBCDFW

“That was the craziest game I’ve ever been involved in — hands down,” Schleigh said. “I’m excited to play the next round. There are only 16 teams left [in the country.] It’s a huge honor.”

Butterfield, who has led the Comets to at least 20 wins each of the past six seasons, was already reviewing videos of the weekend games early in the week, preparing for the next round.

“I don’t know if there’s any way to process this. We feel extremely fortunate to move forward to the round of 16, and we will have to be even better on the road,” Butterfield said. “We have to play harder, play smarter and be more together as a team than Whitewater.”

Media Contact: Robin Russell, UT Dallas, (972) 883-4431, robin.russell@utdallas.edu
or the Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, newscenter@utdallas.edu.


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