As the final seconds on the clock witnessed the formalities of a decided game, the dominant story of the 2013 NCAA Division III Men’s Basketball Championship was not Amherst’s second national title. It was the story of an unranked University of Mary Hardin-Baylor team and its crusade to Atlanta.
After two losses in the three opening games of what would be their national championship campaign, the Cru would regroup to forge a regular season record of 17-2 and place themselves in the American Southwest Conference fi nal. The loss to conference rival, Concordia University, in the ASC championship robbed the team of an ASC title, but perhaps in exchange unknowingly gave UMHB the drive to orchestrate a championship run.
With the best record in the conference, the Crusaders earned a fi rst round bye in the NCAA tournament. Almost two weeks after their ASC title defeat, the Cru came after Concordia with a vengeance by unleashing 117 points on the Tornados to win by 25 at home at its Crusader Arena.
With the momentum of a huge and high-scoring second round win, the UMHB basketball program punched its ticket to the NCAA Sweet 16 and tied the best run by men’s basketball in school history.
By then defeating Whitworth University, ranked sixth in the nation, UMHB began its Cinderella story.
In an interview after the game that elevated the team and school to its highest accomplishment in the sport, Head Coach Ken De-Weese talked about the feeling of the victory as indescribable.
He would go on to commend his team on the poise they exemplified when the Pirates took the lead after a successful shooting spree by Whitworth.
“There was one timeout there where I was talking to them saying, ‘we need to do some things out there,’ and they said, ‘Coach, we’re going to be fine,’ and they were,” DeWeese said.
And that is the way the team handled the next two matchups again, with poise.
A trip to Salem, Va., produced two more victories for the Cru with one against St. Mary’s College of Maryland in the Elite 8 stage. With just more than a minute left to play, only one point separated the two teams in a game that would end 69-66.
There was the more impressive win that resonated around Division III; a Final Four victory that catapulted the small school into the national spotlight and the tournament final. The unranked UMHB program surprisingly knocked the number-one-ranked St. Thomas out of the tournament.
The Crusaders overcame many obstacles to line up against Amherst College April 7. They are the first team in the conference and in the state to reach the Division III National Championship, and players exchanged blows with teams who have done it before.
Within the first three minutes, Amherst took a double-digit lead that set the tone for the entire game. In those three minutes, the Crusaders were still trying to wrap their heads around playing in a professional facility on national television.
Experience took the upper hand in the opening minutes of the championship game, and it was evident. While the Cru drove hard to the baseline and took uncharacteristic shots at bad angles, Amherst, which reached the championship game back- to-back in 2007 and 2008, was setting screens and calling plays.
It wasn’t until about halfway through the first half that UMHB regained the poise that their coach lauded them for.
Unfortunately for this fairy tale, however, the shoe didn’t fit, and the Cinderella story ended in Philips Arena, 18 points shy of a national title.
So the real story of the DIII Championship game was written even before tip-off.
“You win some, you lose some, but no one can take away the fact that #CruBasketball made history this year,” the freshman from the Woodlands, Layton Zinsmeister, tweeted shortly after the game.
UMHB has made a name for itself in the realm of Division III basketball, and 2013 has provided a foothold to perhaps one day return to the big game dance.