LANCASTER, PA – The fantastic late-season run by the York College men's basketball team came to a halt on Friday night in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament as the ninth ranked Franklin & Marshall Diplomats earned a 72-50 win in Lancaster, PA. The loss not only ended the Spartans' season but also closed out the storied career of Spartan head coach Jeff Gamber who announced at the beginning of this season that he would retire at the end of the campaign.
The Diplomats improve to 26-2 and advance to face Western Connecticut State in the second round of the tournament on Saturday evening. The Capital Athletic Conference champion Spartans conclude the season with a mark of 18-11.
The Spartans stayed close with the talented Diplomats through the opening stages of the first half. The opening seven minutes of the game featured one tie and four lead changes as the play was back and forth. The Green and White took a 9-8 lead on a Paul Kouvaris lay up with 12:57 left in the stanza.
The Diplomats scored seven of the next nine points to forge a 15-11 lead. Junior Jeremy Skoloda canned a three, drawing York to within one with 10:59 showing on the clock. The Dips pushed the lead back to six before Mitch Kemp hit a deep three with 8:41 remaining in the half, drawing York to within three at 22-19.
The Diplomats clamped down defensively on the Spartans, as York would manage just six points over the final 7:47 of the first half. On the other hand, Franklin & Marshall scored 19 points, turning a three point lead into a 16-point halftime advantage.
F&M shot 50% in the first half and when they did miss, they collected nine offensive rebounds. The Dips out-rebounded the Spartans 24-14 in the first half. That rebounding margin was huge in the hosts being able to forge the big halftime advantage.
The Spartans showed signs of life in the second half, cutting the Diplomat lead to 12 on a Julian Watson lay up with 15:26 left. The Spartans forced the Diplomats into a tough shot late in the shot clock from All-American Georgio Milligan. Milligan's three hit the back of the rim and bounced into the bucket for a game-changing triple. That three kick started an 11-2 run, turning a 12-point Diplomat lead into a 21-point margin.
York would not get closer than 18 the rest of the way as their impressive run to the NCAA Tournament came to an end.
Milligan led the Diplomats with 22 points, nine rebounds, six assists, three steals, and two blocks in 33 minutes of work. He was 10-for-21 from the floor including 1-for-4 from three. Hayk Gyokchyan contributed 17 points and three rebounds while Matt Porter contributed 14 points and five rebounds. Ed Early was the fourth Diplomat in double figures with 10 points.
Kouvaris powered the Spartans with 16 points and seven rebounds in 34 minutes of play. Kouvaris was 8-for-15 from the floor as he finished his career with 1,305 points, good for 12th on the all-time scoring list. Kouvaris' career point total finished one point short of tying Scott Bortner for 11th on the list.
Watson added eight points and four rebounds for the Spartans. York's 50 total points was the lowest offensive output of the season. The previous low came in the February 1 54-52 loss at St. Mary's.
The Diplomats shot 50% for the game including 4-for-9 (44.4%) from three. The Diplomats also went 4-for-9 from the free throw line in the game. York shot 35.6% from the floor, not a surprise since the Diplomats are the top defensive field goal percentage team defense in the country. York was also 4-for-9 from three while they made four of five from the free throw line. The five free throws was a season low and just the second time this year that York has attempted less than double figures in free throws in a game.
The Spartans were out-rebounded 42-31, their largest rebounding deficit of the year. The Green and white did manage to take care of the ball against the swarming Diplomat defense as they committed just 12 miscues in the game.
Gamber was proud of the Spartans' efforts in the game.
"I am extremely proud of my guys, especially the seniors," said Gamber. "They did some special things for the school. We knew we had a tough situation here going against one of the top teams in the country on their floor. Give F&M credit, they played great. Their size really made it difficult for us to get things going offensively."
The 36-year Spartan mentor allowed emotion to creep in as the clock counted down to triple zeroes.
"It was emotional in the last 30 seconds," said Gamber. "Up until the reality of it, it was about preparing practice, doing video and getting the team ready to play. This isn't about me, it's about the York College basketball team. We tried to get them prepared to play. It hit me at the end."
Gamber reflected on his run at York College.
"It's a great institution with great people," Gamber said of the College. "I have told recruits forever that I am one of the lucky people in the world, I don't have a job, I have a life. My life has been being the York College basketball coach."