The West Chester men’s basketball team ended their memorable season Friday night when they lost in the semifinals of the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) Final Four to the defending champs Edinboro University. You could first feel the tension in the atmosphere for the night’s game during the bitter cold walk to Hollinger Field House through the parking lot of Lawrence Dining Hall. Whether it was the stretch of people standing in line from the entrance of the gymnasium through the streets, or the dozens of college students chanting “Dub-C-U,” the anticipation for the night’s spectacle only grew as the gymnasium reached its full capacity. It was an excitement in West Chester basketball that the university had never seen.
It was the first time in their history that the Golden Rams reached the Final Four, but they had to win on Tuesday night in the quarterfinal round to get there. In an important game against East Stroudsburg, West Chester started with a hot hand, getting off to an early lead.
The offense was moving the ball well in the quarterfinal game, and getting many lay-up opportunities. The Golden Rams defense stifled the East Stroudsburg attack, creating many turnovers and fast point breaks. No fast break assault was more exciting than when Golden Rams forward, Azim Jones, stole the ball at half court and galloped the rest of the distance to the net, slamming the ball through the rim with the authority to bring the crowd to their feet and force a bewildered East Stroudsburg to use a time out.
The Golden Rams held on to their strong lead throughout the second half, winning 88-76. While this victory propelled West Chester into the semifinals, it was a cake walk compared to their game on Friday night against PSAC defending champs, the Fighting Scots of Edinboro University. In their last match up earlier in the season, Edinboro defeated the Rams, 65-40.
Edinboro University started the game with an early lead (13-6) on Friday night, but West Chester was able to recuperate before the end of the first half, with the score 31-30 in the Fighting Scot’s favor.
Edinboro jumped ahead by as many as seven points midway through the second half, but they were not able to pull away from the Rams. Every time they were primed to increase their lead, West Chester’s Shawn Werdt hit a three-pointer to keep his Rams close. Shawn Werdt finished with 19 points, shooting 3-for-4 from three-point range and Donnell Butler led the Rams in scoring with 22.
The game stayed close all the way through the end when the Golden Rams had their last chance with the ball. With 19 seconds left and trailing by two points, head coach Dick Delaney sketched out what would be the team’s only hope to advance to the finals.
The ball was in-bounded to the Golden Rams and found its way into the hands of Donnell Butler. Edinboro’s defense was tough, every bit aware of the importance of the game’s final few ticks. With three seconds to go, the Fighting Scots defense forced Butler to shoot up a prayer from the three-point line, but it was blocked by Edinboro’s Justin Moore. The crowd went silent as the clock ticked away its final seconds. Edinboro won 62-59.
“It was a game both teams led and couldn’t get away from each other,” said head coach of Edinboro University, Greg Walcavich. “A play, or a call, here or there, and the outcome changes completely.”
After the game, Delaney refused to make any comment on officiating for the night’s game. Throughout the tournament, the officials made a commitment to strictly enforce the fouls, except for Golden Rams’ last shot.
“It all came down to one shot,” said Butler. “It was probably a foul and could have won the game for us.”
While the players were understandably disappointed, they accomplished something no basketball team at West Chester has ever done and created a reason to be excited for next season. Finishing the 2005-2006 campaign with an 18-11 record, the Golden Rams hope to return to the championship scene again next year.