Mark Wiedmer: Davidson suffers a first-round loss that's tough to take

Mark Wiedmer: Davidson suffers a first-round loss that's tough to take

March 22nd, 2013 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports - Columns

Davidson forward De'Mon Brooks drives during practice for the second round of the NCAA college basketball tournament in Lexington, Ky.

Photo by Associated Press/Times Free Press.

LEXINGTON, Ky. - Davidson junior forward De'Mon Brooks slapped the Rupp Arena court as hard as he could late Thursday afternoon. Slapped it in frustration. In anger. In hurt.

Most of all, worst of all, in hurt.

Roll the game clock back 10 seconds and the 14th-seeded Wildcats were this close -- make that thisclose -- to shocking third-seeded Marquette in the second round of the NCAA basketball tournament East Regional.

They had a one-point lead. They had the ball. Marquette had no more timeouts. What could possibly go wrong?

Said Davidson coach Bob McKillop of that moment, the moment just before Brooks threw the pass that teammate Nik Cochran couldn't quite catch: "We had a full glass ... the highest of highs ..."

But then the pass somehow eluded Cochran's firm grasp as he raced up the court's left sideline, right in front of McKillop and the rest of the Davidson bench.

"I thought [Cochran] had it," McKillop said. "But I didn't realize the spin on the ball."

Turns out that spin caused Cochran to misjudge it. The ball sailed. Attempting to keep it in play as the game clock ticked toward seven seconds, then six, Cochran surmised, "I had a hand on it, but I guess I stepped out of bounds."

Yet even that might have worked out OK for the pride of the Southern Conference, given that the Eagles had no timeouts remaining to help draw up a winning play that would have to travel at least 60 feet.

But the officials decided the 5.5 seconds remaining at that time might not be right. They stopped the action to review the ball sailing out of bounds, eventually putting 6.7 seconds on the clock.

Marquette coach Buzz Williams understandably took advantage of the unexpected break to conduct an unofficial timeout, pulling his team together for at least two minutes.

"Unfair advantage," McKillop would declare later, but only after being asked about it. "Maybe [in that situation] they shouldn't let them huddle."

As if to fully support McKillop's stance on the importance of basically receiving a timeout the Eagles didn't have, Williams said, "It definitely helped. I would say it probably helped emotionally more than strategically. I mean, our guys knew what we were going to run, but it probably helped us to calm down some."

McKillop knew what was coming. He told his team Vander Blue would get the ball and drive down the middle of the court to the basket.

"We got their 5-man [Jake Cohen, who led the Wildcats with 20 points] to stand up a little bit," Williams said. "It was a foot race to the basket."

Whether or not Blue won the race, he won the game. He laid a soft shot off the glass with his left hand, just beyond the 6-foot-10 Cohen's outstretched hand. Two points for Marquette. A 59-58 lead for the Eagles that would become a 59-58 win precisely one second later, when a last-ditch Wildcats pass was picked off at the horn.

"He's blocked that shot in the past," McKillop said of Cohen. "He almost blocked that one. A step here or a step there. We had a full glass ... 20 seconds later, the glass was empty."

It shouldn't have come down to Brooks' pass or Blue's shot or a stolen timeout. Davidson led 49-40 with 6:26 to play on a Cohen jump shot. When Cohen delivered the next Wildcat points on two free throws, four minutes and one second had rolled off the clock and the Eagles were within three points.

But even then the really nutty stuff was more than a minute away. Having hit one of 12 3-pointers the entire game, Marquette hit all three it launched in the final 63 seconds to outscore Davidson 9-4 in a 52-second span and pull within 58-57 with 11 seconds to go.

At that moment, knowing Brooks -- a 77 percent free-throw shooter for the season -- had missed six of 11 against them, the Eagles were going to foul him.

"I went to foul [Brooks]," Marquette guard Junior Cadougan recalled, "and I guess he overthrew the ball. It was crazy."

A locker room away, it was awful, and for no one more than Brooks, the junior from Atlanta who was second in scoring (13.8) and first in rebounding (6.2) for the Wildcats this season.

Yet manfully answering every question aimed his way, he said, "We had it for 39 minutes and 55 seconds. If I could take anything back -- the missed free throws, mainly that pass. I should have thrown it in a straight line."

It probably should have ended differently. With Davidson on top. With the true mid-major Wildcats facing the higher mid-major Butler Bulldogs in a round-of-32 Cinderfella showdown.

Instead, at least for Davidson, if not the entire Southern Conference, March's madness turned to sadness, an empty glass replacing cups that were running over 6.7 seconds earlier.