SMITHFIELD, R.I. – For Bryant, the third time was the charm. Not that it was as simple as that, but the end result said as much, and it could easily have not been the case for so many reasons that may or may not make sense right now.
“Honestly,” said senior guard Dyami Starks, “I looked at (Joe O’Shea’s) face, and he looked bewildered, like, ‘Did I hit that?'”
Starks was recounting the final seconds of regulation – what could have been the final seconds of Bryant’s season once again, in their home gym once again, in the quarterfinals of the Northeast Conference Tournament once again. Seconds earlier, he put up a shot from well behind the three-point line that was off-line. The ball bounced off the rim and went away from it, with precious seconds ticking off the clock, hope of keeping the game alive, keeping the season alive, fading with each tick.
Then Dan Garvin tracked the ball down right in front of the Bryant bench, and head coach Tim O’Shea had one idea with about three seconds still remaining.
“I’ll be honest with you, I was like, ‘timeout,’ and they didn’t give me the timeout,” the Bryant mentor recalled.
Garvin got the ball got to the coach’s nephew, senior Joe O’Shea, the one whose facial expression Starks noticed. It was almost intercepted, but it got past the Sacred Heart defender, and with the time still ticking towards three zeroes, he got a shot off.
“It’s kind of a blur right now,” Joe O’Shea admitted when asked about The Shot.
It’s certainly a good thing they didn’t get the timeout.
This is the third year since re-classifying to Division I that Bryant has been eligible for the conference tournament, and they have made it all three times. They have finished in the top four in the conference all three times, thus hosting quarterfinal games each time. The first two times around, they dropped tough ones, losing to Mount St. Mary’s in a game where the surging Mountaineers just played better in the second half and then losing a heart-breaker to Saint Francis last year that was there for the taking. Before The Shot went up, it looked like the Bulldogs might drop one again, and to the only team to beat them twice in the regular season.
Instead, they were alive. It had Starks thinking back to an earlier time, before the tough tournament losses. It was a time when he thought of better things to come with Joe O’Shea, who like Starks transferred to the school and at the same time.
“The first thing I thought of was when we first got here as redshirts and that was the year we won two games,” Starks reflected. “We had to sit on the bench all year long and watch that. We just knew that when we got our shot to play that we would be impact players, and that’s as big an impact as you can make.”
Bryant would need a second overtime to finally pull this one out 91-85. There wasn’t much drama in the final seconds by then, though there was plenty in between. The Bulldogs finally had their first conference tournament win, and it took everything they had to get there.
The Bulldogs didn’t play well in the first half, but were within striking distance as they trailed 38-30 at intermission. They didn’t get their first lead until well into the second half, aided by second chances (they had a big 22-9 edge in second-chance points). Starks didn’t have a good shooting night. Garvin had a bit of an uneven game, better than last year’s quarterfinal but not his best game as he fouled out. Bosko Kostur, at times a difference-maker this season, also fouled out.
The games of a lifetime came from Joe O’Shea (23 points) and Shane McLaughlin, the latter of whom has grown tremendously into a solid point guard. McLaughlin’s toughness and basketball I.Q. were never in question, and it showed on Wednesday night with 18 points and five assists with just one turnover in all 50 minutes. McLaughlin got in the lane often to get chances at the basket for himself or others.
“He’s a tough kid,” Tim O’Shea said of his point guard. “I call him the NEC’s Bobby Hurley, because he’s a New Jersey kid, he’s tough as nails, and he’s not a great shooter but he makes big shots. He’s really good under pressure. I don’t have to say much in terms of what to run, I just let him make the calls. I have a lot of trust in him.
It took all that and more for the Bulldogs to finally win their first Division I postseason game. Now they have to get past the thrill of it for what lies ahead – a trip to Robert Morris, where they won earlier this year. Maybe this win is indeed just the start of something.
“Games like this are what start to give a program some tradition and start to really establish you, in the state at least, as a Division I program,” Tim O’Shea reflected.
The third time was the one where Bryant got a postseason win. It was an instant classic, a game where they had to overcome a lot and almost looked like they might lose it. It could easily have turned out much like the last two years. Then they didn’t get the timeout, the loose ball somehow found the coach’s nephew and then the bottom of the net. It wasn’t simple, and the reasons may not appear to make sense right now, but they’ll take the win all the same.