The Pi Kappa Sigma Cobras (1) made the playoffs this year, coming in last among playoff teams as the sixth seed in the American League. The Cobras entered the playoffs with a record of 6-4 and were not favored to win in their playoff opener Monday night against the Alpha Theta Pi Razorbacks. But the Cobras proved that they must not be underestimated when they beat the Razorbacks 63-62 in an exciting back-and-forth game.
Alpha, who entered the playoffs with a record of 7-3, was coming off a heartbreak loss to the Z Tornadoes last week. The Tornadoes beat the Razorbacks on an improbable buzzer-beating layup, coming at the hands of senior Noah Dargy. A win against the Tornadoes would have granted Alpha the number two seed. Losing to Z still allowed Alpha to claim the number three seed in the American League and therefore the “easiest” team in the opening playoff round.
Alpha, who started the year with a very strong roster, has suffered several roster woes this season. Earlier this year, the Razorbacks had two of their big men suffer injuries in the same game, which severely limited their ability down low, both on the offensive and defensive ends. Freshman Matt DeHart missed a few key games earlier in the season, including a loss to the Cobras (1) team just a few games into the season. Most recently, Alpha lost sophomore Jadan Kashi who has also played a big role in their regular season success. Through it all, however, Alpha still found a way to adjust, win games and take the third overall spot.
Alpha and the Cobras (1) met earlier this year in a game which ended 30-27 in favor of the Cobras. Alpha, however, who was missing DeHart as point guard, had just lost two key men and shot poorly from the floor. The Cobras did not play particularly well in the first meeting either, but mounted a late-game comeback that gave them the three-point win over Alpha.
On Monday night, it was win or go home. The previous regular season games now meant nothing as each team had to fight to move on to the next round, where the winner would face the Z Tornadoes just a few days later. Alpha came out calm and composed, but ready to play. The Cobras looked energetic, aggressive and desperate for a win, having lost three of their last five regular season games.
The game started with each team trading baskets. Five and a half minutes into the half, the Cobras went up by four after a jump shot by sophomore Clark Retcher, prompting an Alpha timeout. Junior Blake Counts, who had a quiet offensive night, tallying just nine points, scored his only first half points as he sank a 3-pointer shortly after the timeout, putting the Cobras up 17-10 with their biggest lead in the game yet.
Alpha sophomore Stephen Bruce responded, scoring the next seven points for Alpha to tie Pi Kappa. Bruce had 14 of Alpha’s first 17 points and recorded 21 of Alpha’s 25 total first-half points. Pi Kappa sophomore Josh Harm helped spur the Cobras’ offense, scoring 13 of his 15 in the first half. After four more points from sophomore Micah Mortensen and a strong defensive stop to end the half, the Cobras found themselves up nine heading into the break, 34-25.
The second half began much like the first, with each team trading baskets once again. Bruce scored first for Alpha, while Cobra freshman Ben Gorsline responded with a three on the opposite end. Bruce then nailed a three of his own before Pi Kappa’s Counts converted an old fashioned three-point play, coming from a layup and resulting foul shot which he made. To keep with the tide, Bruce then found his way to the basket again, before Alpha freshman Aaron West also hit a layup underneath to close the gap to six, 40-34.
It seemed that every time Bruce struck for Alpha, the Cobras had a response. As Bruce went to work on the offensive side, the Razorback defense could not hold off the oncoming Cobra offense, which consistently held a lead before jumping ahead by 10 after a Gorsline floater off the glass with 12 minutes left to play. Gorsline provided consistent offensive support during the game, but was plagued by foul trouble, which limited his playing time. Even so, Gorsline was the leading scorer for Pi Kappa, recording 17 on the evening.
Alpha called a timeout to regroup and calm down, but the Cobras kept up the offensive effort. Mortensen converted out of the timeout before Bruce hit his fourth 3-pointer of the night. The Cobras then called a timeout, and Mortensen also scored afterward, hitting two free throws. At this point, Alpha locked down on defense and went on a 12-2 run to come within one, 53-52, with seven minutes remaining.
The Cobras then slowed the game down and began to play smarter offense and stronger defense. Just as it seemed that the Cobras might pull away, 61-55, with three and a half minutes left, Alpha fired back. West converted for two, Bruce hit a free throw and DeHart grabbed an offensive rebound before scoring off a floater to bring Alpha within one again, 61-60.
Bruce, who had an outstanding game with 42 points on the night, then came up huge for Alpha with a steal and resulting layup to give Alpha the one-point edge, 62-61, with under two minutes to play. The Cobras quickly inbounded the ball to Harm, who had been scoreless in the second. Harm quickly made his way down the floor before putting in the game-winning jumper to push the Cobras ahead 63-62.
Neither team would score in the final 1:38. The Cobras missed four free throws, giving Alpha a chance to win at the end. Alpha called a timeout with eight seconds left, as the audience thought the ball would end up in the hot hands of Stephen Bruce. Bruce was denied the ball, however, and a missed Alpha three gave the Cobras their seventh win of the season, 63-62.