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Alumni Harness “March Madness” in Route to Final Minute Victory

By Matt Bueby

 
On Thursday, March 29, the third annual UM-Flint Students vs. Alumni Basketball Game went down in the history books as one for the ages. With each team securing a sizeable victory during the first two contests (Students 78-69 in 2016, and Alumni 88-71 in 2017), it was only fitting that the rubber match would come down to the wire.
 
Furthermore, perhaps it was no coincidence that during the Michigan Wolverines Men’s Basketball Final Four run, which featured nonstop drama, defense, and grit, the Students vs. Alumni game would see more of the same at every twist and turn.
 
A record crowd of over 150 fans gathered in the Recreation Center to partake in the festivities surrounding the event, co-hosted for the third consecutive year by the First Street Block Club. Cheerleaders, a DJ, and t-shirt tosses got the crowd hyped from the opening tip. Giveaway prizes were won by making half-court shots and blindfolded free throws. Riley McLincha ’99 returned to partake in the action this year, “Drubbling” his way through the awestruck crowd.
 
From the outset, the Student team looked like they would seize control. With a larger roster came a deeper bench, and they made sure to set the high pace right away.  The Alumni relied on their size and defense, and though the Students tried to utilize their athleticism, missed opportunities would see the Alumni emerge with a 17-13 lead after the first quarter.
 
Not to be outdone, the Students roared back to life with back-to-back baskets by Terrence Tevis, and stifled the Alumni for the rest of the way until halftime. The intensity and physicality was a noticeable increase from the previous two years, putting a premium on shot blocking and rebounding. At the half, the Students led 28-24.  A bright spot for the Alumni team was Abdullah Salman ’16 who connected on two three-pointers to keep the Alumni within striking distance.
 
As the second half began, it was clear that the Alumni team made the necessary adjustments needed in order to emerge victorious. The shooting efficiency picked up greatly in the third quarter, and the Alumni went nearly four minutes without missing a basket.  Hot shooting Salman added to his great night, as did Nick Livingston ’17 who made a deep three to give the Alumni their largest lead of the game at 50-42. The Students countered with a run of their own however, and cut an eight-point deficit down to just one, after two baskets from Alex Green.
 
With neither team seemingly able to pull away, enter Bob Mabbitt ‘17; the unsung hero of the Alumni team. Clinging to a 50-49 lead, and with momentum rapidly shifting the other way, Mabbitt drove the lane, drew a foul, and scored a basket to end the Students scoring run, and put the Alumni ahead by three. On the ensuing Student possession, Mabbitt forced a turnover, with the Alumni then taking advantage and stretching their lead to five. As time ticked off the clock ending the third quarter, Mabbitt again established his presence with a key block preventing the Students from attempting an open look at the buzzer.
 
It was this grit and determination from Mabbitt and the Alumni team that would ultimately provide the difference as teams traded baskets throughout the final frame. With five minutes to go, the Students punched back with a 10-2 run and took a 65-64 lead. The Alumni and Students each scored four points over the next four minutes, and with a minute to go, the scoreboard showed Students 69, Alumni 68.
 
The Alumni had a chance to take the lead, but a missed layup, and a turnover after the rebound, gave the Students the ball and forced the Alumni to foul. The Students connected on one of their two free throws and increased their lead to 70-68. With thirty seconds left, the Alumni inbounded the ball to Nick Livingston ‘17, who drew a foul for illegal defense, sending him to the free throw line with a chance to tie the game. He delivered on both, and the game was tied 70-70. Little did Livingston know, these heroics would not be his last.
 
The Students drove to the basket quickly, and attempted a short jumper that clanged off the iron. The Alumni pulled down the rebound, pushed the floor, and found Livingston open in the corner. He let fly a high arching three pointer that brought many of the anxious crowd to their feet. Swish.
 
With five seconds left, the Students desperately sought to get off a shot in an attempt to tie the game.  A well-designed inbound pass gave them that very chance, but it was not to be. Their desperation shot fell short, and Ervin Leavy ’11 pulled down the rebound to secure the 73-70 victory for the Alumni.
 
The Alumni team swarmed the court in disbelief. They were the victors yet again, snatching a win from the hands of defeat and leaving the Students to ponder what could possibly be done for next year.  The Alumni did it with defense, hustle and hard work, and they made big shots. With the game in doubt, they dug deep and found a way to win. It was both exciting, and intense.
 
It truly was “March Madness.”