Buzzer beater puts UM in Elite Eight

There’s magic in Motown, as the University of Montevallo men’s basketball team is on its way to the NCAA Division II Elite Eight, following a buzzer-beating half-court basket by senior Marcus Kennedy on Tuesday to lift the top-seeded Falcons over the sixth-seeded Eckerd College Tritons, 64-61.

Tied 61-61, Mark Plaza took the ball out under the basket, finding an open Kennedy at half court, who then took two dribbles and fired a shot from the edge of the Falcon logo’s wing on the court. With the buzzer sounding, the crowd erupted as the ball lined through the net. Kennedy dove across the floor to the center circle just before being pounced upon by teammates and fans.

“I thought I could possibly die,” Kennedy told Plaza in the midst of the celebration. “I mean it wasn’t hurting that bad, but folks kept jumping on.”

Kennedy, a 6-foot-4 forward from John Carroll High School, carried a .161 3-point field goal percentage into this season, but has sense develop his perimeter game into the most accurate on the team, shooting 27-for-48 this season (.563 percent). While the 46-footer was the longest shot hit by Kennedy in a game, it was not at all rare that the ball was in his hands.

“After practice every day we do half court shots and all of that. What a way to go out to hit a half court shot in his last home game,” Plaza said.

Everyone in an old gold jersey knew the shot was money once it was in the air. Even those on alumni row about 10-feet away from Kennedy, which included his older brother, and former Falcon, Caleb.

“We’ve been doing this since we were little. Me, Marcus and our cousin Reuben (Hollis), who also played here would just go out back in the driveway and shoot half court shots all day. We always called Marcus the luckiest person in the world, because he’d be walking off the court and throw up a hook shot and make it, and every time it never failed. We’d just say that’s Marcus,” Caleb said.

Eckerd started the game with a 9-4 lead after six minutes of play and stretched its lead to 10 points, 23-13 with 8:40 to play in the first half. Kennedy collected four free throws in the final three minutes, while Greg Brown added a lay up and back-to-back 3-point baskets, including one at the buzzer, to cut the Eckerd lead down to 34-33 at the half.

The Falcons pulled ahead in the second half by seven points, 59-52 with 3:54 to play. After a Triton turnover by Craig Hazel, the Falcons looked to take their only double-digit lead of the game, but a 3-point try by Brown bounced off, resulting in a basket by Andre Moss on the other end of the floor to spark a 7-0 Eckerd run.

“We weren’t patient on offense and kind of forced shots. We work against the press all the time in practice and didn’t execute it. When it comes down to game down you have to execute on that stuff,” said UM head coach Danny Young. “They stuck in there and did exactly what they were supposed to do and hit a couple of foul shots.”

Kennedy took the lead with a pair of free throws as 23 seconds remained on the clock. Hazel drew a foul with two seconds remaining, also hitting both to keep the Tritons’ hopes alive, as they looked to force overtime for a chance at their 12th consecutive win.

However, Kennedy had other plans, as he helped eliminate the curse of the home team and become the first team to win a South Regional since Florida Southern in 2000, also the last team to win back-to-back South Regional Championships.

“The curse almost came true for a second. If it had to go into overtime, who knows what would have happened. I’m not going to say it was a skilled shot, but I’m glad it went in,” Kennedy said. “We’re not done yet, but it’s a great way to start to end the season. It’s a great feeling,” said Kennedy, who had been talking with Greg Brown all week about one of them taking the game-winning shot.

The Falcons carry their 19 game win streak into the Elite Eight in Springfield, Mass., where they will meet Central Missouri on Wednesday, March 21. Game time is still to be determined