Crusaders cap the season with OT thriller

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Senior guard Victor Garate accepts his senior gift during their senior night celebration in the Maher gym. University of Dallas Photo

With a 2-12 record in conference and and a 9-16 record overall, it is safe to say that the University of Dallas men’s basketball team did not have a great season. But nobody could have guessed that from the looks on their faces after their 101-98 victory over Hendrix College this weekend.

Sunday, Feb. 19 marked the end of the Crusaders’ season, but more importantly, it was a day set aside to celebrate the seniors who were completing their UD athletic careers. The gym was packed with UD fans, family and friends who had come to support, very loudly, the four young men who were playing their final game of UD basketball.

“It was a great atmosphere,” head coach Jarred Samples, who earned his 95th career win for the program with Sunday’s game, said “It was nice to see everyone out to support these seniors at the last game, and for us to find a way to win in overtime, in an exciting way, was also pretty neat. And after the game when the crowd was clapping and the guys were on the court, that’s something that those guys will remember for the rest of their lives.”

“It was a real[ly] emotional experience for all of the seniors,” senior guard Michael Sarrat said. “We’ve had a lot of ups and downs in our careers, but it was great to go out with a win in our last collegiate game.”

Sarrat started on court with fellow seniors Victor Garate, Lorenzo Gonzalez and Tom Kaiser. Sophomore Darrius Colvin rounded out the lineup. Kaiser started the scoring for UD with a jump shot in the first minute, and by halftime, all four seniors had contributed to the Crusaders’ 57-50 lead.

Halftime included a special feature, as the team took the opportunity to honor senior Cedric Ranaivo. Ranaivo, who played for the Crusaders his freshman and sophomore years, was sidelined by a severe injury before the 2015-2016 season, but has nevertheless remained an important part of the team.

“Cedric’s been a big inspiration for our guys,” Samples said. “He’s always positive, he’s always got a smile on his face, and the guys think, if they’re having a bad day or things are tough — we try to talk about [how] Cedric would give anything to be able to do what [they are] doing, so it really changed their mindset, the way they approach things. With the accident, it was one of those things where they told [Ranaivo] he might not ever walk again. So to see how far he’s come and his positive attitude I think has been a huge impact on the rest of the guys on our team. It was nice that we were able to honor him at half time and mention him.”

After halftime, the Crusaders got back to work, maintaining their lead until Hendrix pulled ahead 72-73 on a free throw with 12:18 left on the clock. The Warriors held onto a single-digit lead until Colvin went two-for-two on a pair of free throws at 5:53, making it 88-87 in UD’s favor.

Hendrix’s Gearen Littlefield, who led his team in rebounds and held second place in Hendrix scoring for the game, answered with a layup, however, and the Crusaders trailed by single digits once more until Tom Kaiser tied the game at 96-96 with 39 seconds left in regulation time. Colvin missed on a three-point attempt just seconds before the buzzer, and the game went to overtime.

The atmosphere in the gym was electric in the final moments as, once more, Kaiser came in clutch with a layup. Although Hendrix answered with a jump shot, Sarrat had the final say, cementing the score with a layup and a free throw to carry the team to a 101-98 victory.

The applause and cheering lasted for several minutes as the entire team celebrated. Finally, the five seniors, including Ranaivo, stood together at center court for photographs. All five were visibly moved, only intensifying the celebratory atmosphere.

“The one word that describes my feelings is ‘grateful,’ ” Sarrat, who closed his career with a season-high 23 points and surpassed 200 successful free throws with his final attempt. “I’ve been so blessed to play the game that I love my whole life, and I will never forget my experience at UD. I will miss it, but I also know that I gave my heart and soul to the game of basketball, and it has given me so much more in return, especially when I think about the other seniors and how we are all brothers for life now. [They] have not only made me a better basketball player and teammate, but they’ve made me a better man and for that I am eternally grateful.”

“I enjoyed our last game, especially with Mike, Tom, Vic and Ced,” Gonzalez said, who led the team with seven assists for the night. “I honestly don’t have a lot to say; I just love these guys, and it’s been a great ride. I’m glad I can call them my brothers.”

“As a group, I’ve appreciated the opportunity to coach [these seniors],” Samples said. “They’ve been great representatives of our basketball program on and off the court, and in my mind, they’re always going to be part of our basketball family, and I think they’re all going to have bright futures and be successful. Hopefully some of the things they learned in our program [will] carry over in life: working hard, being great teammates, dealing with adversity. It’s been a pleasure and an honor to coach them for four years.”

 

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