SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — It wasn’t easy for the Alabama-Huntsville players to walk off the floor of the MassMutual Center Wednesday afternoon. Its dream season was over, a 95-91 overtime loss to Minnesota-State Mankato sealing the deal.
Yet, there is a reason for the Chargers (29-5) to have hope for the future. Three of their top four scorers in the setback to Mankato were sophomores, including guard Jamie Smith, who carved up the Mavericks (28-4) for 30 points in a national quarterfinal showdown.
Smith, one of the team’s top scoring threats, was bothered by stomach pain, although it certainly didn’t seem to hurt him too much on this day.
“I just ate too close to the game,” Smith said. “It’s happened to me before. I still played well and I thought our whole team gave a great effort. We came up a little short.”
There was one play Smith wished he could have had back. In the final minute of overtime, junior point guard Josh Magette came up with a steal and threw the ball ahead to Smith, who was unable to chase down the pass that was thrown a little out of his reach.
At the time, Huntsville was behind 92-91. Had Smith been able to get the ball, he would have had an easy layup.
“I just couldn’t run it down,” Smith said. “But I don’t blame Josh. He is a great player and there is no one you would rather have making that pass than him.”
Smith, a second-team All-Gulf South Conference selection, finished the game shooting 9-of-12 from the floor and he hit six of the nine 3-pointers he attempted. He also came up with two assists and a steal.
His younger teammates stepped up as well.
Sophomore guard Xavier Baldwin was 5-of-6 from the floor, scoring 13 points, and highlighted his performance with a hard drive to the basket that resulted in a layup and a foul. He hit the ensuing free throw and gave the Chargers an 83-79 advantage with 2:32 to play in regulation.
Sophomore forward Zane Campbell, the 2010 GSC Freshman of the Year, dropped in 12 points for a Huntsville team that will lose just four seniors to graduation.
“We really wanted to win this game,” Smith said. “But we know we have a bright future. Our seniors have been great examples for us and we hate it that we couldn’t win this game for them. We have a lot of work to do if we want to be in this position again.”
Huntsville head coach Lennie Acuff was hurt that his team couldn’t keep this season going, a season that has been the best in school history in the DII era of the program, but is optimistic about the future.
‘I feel heartbreak for these kids,” Acuff said. “The seniors have been great leaders and this was a good experience for our younger guys. We have good players coming back, and we’d like to think we have a chance to have another great year, but you have to work for it. You aren’t promised anything.”
Senior guard Elliott Jones, who scored only four points in the loss, gave the younger players a vote of confidence in the post-game press conference.
“We have a lot of faith in them,” Jones said. “We know they have a chance to do something special next season.”