“I’ve been here for about 21 years, and what I’ve seen at the convention center in the last month and a half I’ve never seen before,” said Kennesaw State President Dr. Kathy Schweig. “So when we get our students, when we get the community, we get this great momentum. And now all the energy is concentrated. It’s just electric.”
After the victory, the players ran around the field holding their phones to record the moment. Parents and loved ones flooded the court to exchange hugs and handshakes. Confetti fell from somewhere. The net has been cut. It felt like old hat. barely. The Owls will learn where they’ll go and who they’ll play in the NCAA pick show on March 12th.
“People don’t understand, just like our guys do now, they don’t understand how special he is,” Kennesaw State coach Amir Abdul-Rahim said. “They won’t realize it until 5-10 years from now, when they come back.”
The victory was secured when Borden, a senior who went to Campbell High, was fouled on a drive to the basket by Liberty’s Isiah Warfield. He hit the first burden and missed the second. The team finished with 19 points. He was followed by Chris Youngblood with 16 points, Brandon Stroud 12 and Diamond Robinson 10.
Kennesaw State led by five points with 1:34 remaining.
Liberty’s Darius McGhee, conference player of the year and one of the best shooters in NCAA history, hit an acrobatic layup to cut the Owls’ lead to three with 1:28 left.
Stroud was fouled by Ben Guthland. Stroud hit both free throws to give the Owls a five-point lead with 1:04 remaining.
McGhee’s driver was fouled by Stroud on Liberty’s next possession. He hit two free throws to cut Kennesaw State’s lead back to three with 56.8 seconds left.
Borden handed the ball over on Kennesaw State’s next possession.
The Flames took advantage with a 3-pointer by Colin Porter off the left wing to tie the game at 66 with 25 seconds left.
A timeout has been called. During the break, Abdurrahim said he told the players that no one said making history would be easy. Borden told his teammates to take a deep breath, which Abdurrahim said restored confidence to the group.
“Two years ago, three years ago this (running) happened, we flex, we collapse,” Abd al-Rahim said. “But then again, we have grown. We have grown individually. And so when we encounter situations like this again, we are at home when we are uncomfortable.”
With the shot clock off, Borden held the ball until his last drive. He said the play was for him to try and drive to the basket.
“It was a tough game today and they had a huge crowd,” said Liberty coach Richie McKay. “Very good college basketball game. I’m disappointed we didn’t advance to the NCAA Tournament. It’s something our program has been blessed to be involved with, and it’s a lifelong memory when you do it there. … Kennesaw deserves it.”
Kennesaw State hit 15 of 18 free throws, and its defense contributed to Liberty missing 18 of 23 3-point attempts, including 0-for-11 by McGhee.
The NCAAs culmination made a remarkable turnaround led by Abdurrahim. He was the one to lead the one-win season in which the Owls finished 352nd out of 353 teams in Ken Pomeroy’s rankings.
Raheem, who played at Wheeler High, led the team to five wins the following season, 13 the following season and 26 so far this season.
Athletics director Milton Overton said the shift was due to Raheem’s focus on detail.
“Changing the culture, the culture you expect to win,” Overton said. “…you will do all the little things right first.”
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