Hilltoppers fall to St. Mary’s for Heartland Conference title, season over

Frankie Mgbolu 

Sports Editor

SAN ANTONIO  —  St. Edward’s University’s men’s basketball team suffered a tough 63-60 loss to St. Mary’s University on Saturday for the Heartland Conference Championship.

The season is over for the Hilltoppers as they were not selected to the national tournament. St. Mary’s was selected to the South Central Region.

“I’m upset because we don’t have practice tomorrow. I’m not upset that we lost. I’m upset that it’s over with this group of guys,” Head Coach Andre Cook said after the game.

St. Edward’s trailed in points for most of the game, as they were down 15 with just over 11 minutes remaining. However, the Hilltoppers fought back, cutting the lead to just three points with just under two minutes left.

“It’s unbelievable, that’s what they do. It’s almost like when we’re down 15, we have them right where we want them, as crazy as that sounds,” Cook said.

St. Mary’s committed a traveling violation with 58 seconds remaining, turning over the ball and giving St. Edward’s a chance to tie the game. However, St.Edward’s went on to commit a traveling violation of their own.

The Hilltoppers committed a foul on the Rattlers with 25 seconds left, but St. Mary’s then hit their free throws, sealing the game and the conference championship.

The game was tied 14-14, with 10 minutes left in the first half. The Rattlers went on 9-2 run in the next seven minutes, going up 23-16.

St. Edward’s never got the lead back.

Even with the loss, the second seeded St. Edward’s proved itself to the other conference teams, after being picked to finish ninth in a preseason poll. Cook said it drove the team all season.

“They were counted out all season when they were picked ninth and then, to fight to give themselves a chance at every game, to pull out most of them miraculously,” Cook said.

Sophomore Ramir Burton scored a game-high 23 points, but it wasn’t enough after the team fell behind by double-digits.

“We put ourselves in a hole that we couldn’t get out of,” Burton said. “We’re always know for coming back after long deficits, and it just didn’t happen today.”

Director of Athletics Debbie Taylor says she could not ask anyone else to better represent St. Edward’s because of how they leave it all on the court.

“Obviously it’s disappointing … it’s more disappointing for the guys than anything else because they left their heart and soul on the court,” Taylor said.

Senior Harley Nussman was named to the conference’s All-Tournament team, along with Burton. Nussman is the only Hilltopper graduating this year.

“We went out the right way. It’s the best group of guys you could’ve played with and I wouldn’t change anything about it,” Nussman said.

The goal is certainly the same for everyone: to get back to the conference finals and win.

“I think we just have to work hard everyday,” sophomore guard John Gramlich said. “We’ll be back and hopefully next year we’ll win it all.”

Cook believes his team needs to get stronger to compete with St. Mary’s.

“It’s tough. Mary’s is tough. They’re big, physical, strong guys. If that’s one thing we take from this, we have to get stronger in the offseason,” Cook said.