Monday,
October 20, 2014

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Comets' Sweet Season Ends With a Loss in Wisconsin

Men's Basketball Team Ignited Fan Interest, Media Attention During NCAA Division III Tournament Run

 

Editor's Note: Communications Manager Robin Russell and The UTD Mercury Sports Editor Parth Sampat contributed to this report.

It was a sweet ride, while it lasted.

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, on Friday.

Despite the outcome in Wisconsin, the Comets’ season was a success. They won 27 games, claimed the American Southwest Conference title and generated lots of buzz at UT Dallas, a campus better known for its world-class chess team.

During a dramatic second-round tournament game on their home court March 8, more than 1,300 fans witnessed a rousing finish that catapulted the Comets to the Sweet 16.

Junior guard Nolan Harvey’s three-point swisher at the buzzer propelled the team past Whitworth University, 78-77 in overtime.

Harvey’s game-winner came after the Comets 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, who is a regular fixture in the stands, 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.”

The players’ accomplishments are all the more amazing because they do not receive athletic scholarships to play. They also have 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 averaged 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.”

Fans posted video clips March 8 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 7,000 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.  

Road Trip to Wisconsin

Comet fans, players’ families and the UT Dallas Cheerleaders and Power Dancers followed the team to Wisconsin, where they played at the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point’s Quandt Fieldhouse.

The delegation from UT Dallas included President David E. Daniel; Dr. Calvin Jamison, vice president for administration; NCAA faculty representative Dr. Kurt Beron; and interim athletic director Bill Petitt.

The big head signs of the players that had captured the crowds’ delight at home games were brought along to cheer the team on.

“I’m very excited [for the team],” said Bill Nash, father of senior forward Carter Nash, a finance student. “They worked very hard this year, and I’m glad they made it.”

The game was a tough one for the Comets, particularly for the seniors. The team got off to a good start, but was unsuccessful in getting the win. The Comets trailed Whitewater by 14 points at halftime.

The Comets reduced the WarHawks’ lead to only five points in the second half, but Whitewater pulled away from UT Dallas.

“We are obviously disappointed,” head coach Terry Butterfield said. “At the end of the night, [Whitewater] was the better team tonight, and my hat’s off to them, and I wish that our quality of our play was a little better.”

Schleigh, UT Dallas’ record holder for most career points, was disappointed with the loss.

“We knew they were a strong team coming in to (the game),” Schleigh said. “We had a good plan. … For me personally, I couldn’t find the rhythm and get it to go.”

The game was streamed live to fans back home. It was UT Dallas’ third trip to the Sweet 16 in six seasons.

Media Contact: Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, newscenter@utdallas.edu


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