Saturday’s contest felt historic from the moment the courtside announcer introduced each senior with a thundering and bittersweet phrase: “One last time in Tomsich Arena.” Before closing their season with a 95-87 loss to the Hiram College Terriers in the opening round of the North Coast Athletic Conference (NCAC) men’s basketball tournament, the Lords celebrated a sweet end to their regular season during Saturday’s Senior Day, when they gutted out an 82-76 home win against the Wabash College Little Giants (13-13; NCAC 17-11).
Minutes before the game began, Tomsich Arena buzzed with excitement. Fans waved cardboard cutouts bearing the smiling faces of Kenyon’s (11-15; NCAC 8-10) three seniors, Brien Comey, Tim Connolly and Tyler Kimble. Students and parents packed the bleachers and greeted each senior with a flood of applause. The anticipation in the air meant even the smallest moments drew big cheers. When the Lords won the opening tip, Kenyon fans responded with a deafening roar.
“It’s extremely different,” Head Coach Dan Priest said of the team’s emotion heading into Senior Day. “We kind of talked not getting too overly excited because it’s a pretty emotional time. It’s kind of like graduation.”
From the beginning of the game, the seniors set the tone for the Lords: Kimble handled the ball with ease and assisted on jumps by Comey and Will Sigl ’18. On the defensive end, Comey eliminated shot after shot, ending the game with a Kenyon-record nine blocks. Connolly whisked together drives and layups that brought the crowd to their feet and exploded for a career-high 33 points, also crossing the 1,000-point threshold for his career.
For the team’s seniors, Saturday capped off four years of growth and friendship. Connolly remembers being a first-year Lord — then, in his words, “a mini basketball player”; during a particularly memorable game at DePauw University, the DePauw student section taunted him with the song “Photograph” by Nickelback. Now as the NCAC leading scorer this season, he says he takes pride in the work ethic he developed to succeed in both academics and basketball.
“It turned out to be a bigger challenge than I thought,” Connolly said. “So I’m proud that I just kind of stuck it out, and I did fight through it.”
Comey looks back with gratitude on his career as a Lord, learning and maturing alongside Connolly and Kimble. “I got really, really lucky coming here and finding this group of guys on the team,” he said. “We all sort of have these moments where we look around and say, ‘How did we get here?’” The seniors hail from far and wide: Connolly from San Francisco, Comey from Washington, D.C. and Kimble from Boston. “We all found each other in the Midwest,” Comey said.
After their loss Tuesday, the Lords stumbled out of the gate against Hiram (19-7; NCAC 12-6), trailing by as many as 17 in the first half, but a 15-0 run swung the momentum in the Lords’ favor, and they took a seven-point lead in the second half.
Connolly finished with a game-high 26 points, Matt Shifrin ’19 and Sigl scored 15 and 10, respectively and Comey grabbed a career-high 16 boards; in the end, however, the Lords fell just short of the comeback in their third loss to Hiram this season.
Despite the early tournament exit, the Lords can find closure in the spirit they displayed at the end of this season.
Senior Day at a Division-III college in rural Ohio will never make national headlines. But there is something to be said for the big games in little places.
One last time in Tomsich Arena, this Lords left their hearts on the hardwood: Kimble took control of the offense when the team needed his careful ball-handling. Connolly finished a contested layup he had no business making. Comey rocked the rim with a dunk everyone in the arena could see coming from a mile away. These seniors defended the Hill, and with the opportunity to write the ending to their story, they left a mark on that purple-and-gold court we would be hard-pressed to forget.