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Swarthmore men get back to winning ways in NCAA Tournament

03/04/2023, 12:15am EST
By Josh Verlin

Josh Verlin (@jmverlin)

Sometimes it’s easy to forget how far Swarthmore basketball has come in such a short period of time. 

Asked how it felt to be hosting an NCAA Tournament game on Friday night, after his Garnet had dispatched SUNY Delhi 93-64 in an opening-round game, head coach Landry Kosmalski uttered a stat that would have been mind-blowing to anybody who followed the elite academic institutions hoops teams anytime before the midpoint of last decade. 

“Sixth year in a row,” he said, “so we’re kind of used to it.”

Landry Kosmalski (above) has led Swarthmore to its first six NCAA Tournament berths. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

It was in 2017 that Swarthmore made its NCAA Tournament debut, at home, an 86-61 win over the College of Staten Island (N.Y.). The Garnet won 23 games that year and have won at least 22 in every season since, which has earned them the right to be one of 16 pod hosts for the opening rounds — and, in the one year they weren’t (2018), they hosted the Sweet 16 and Elite 8.

A decade ago, Swarthmore in March Madness on a regular basis seemed like a pipe dream, though it was one Kosmalski, a former Davidson assistant, was all-in on before anybody else realized it would come true. 

Now it’s…well, not old hat, for sure, but it’s certainly becoming expected of a program that’s become one of the most consistently successful in Division III hoops over the last seven seasons. 

“But,” Kosmalski added, “The postseason guarantees nothing. We lost here in the Elite 8 to Springfield, we lost last year [in the first round] to Keane. Really it’s less about where we are and it’s more about who we’re playing and how we’re preparing ourselves. 

“Although we’ll take the home crowd, they were great tonight.”

The Swarthmore faithful who packed Tarble Pavilion had plenty to cheer about as the Garnet flirted with the century mark against a SUNY Delhi squad making its own NCAA Tournament debut. After the teams traded shots early, Swat took the lead for good at 11-9, part of a 9-0 run, and had the advantage at double figures before the midway part of the first half. 

It was a 53-34 advantage by halftime, Swarthmore using a late 13-3 burst to really put some distance between the two going into the break. Delhi never got closer to than 17 — and when the gap got that size, Swat responded with a 9-0 run. The gap got to 30 with 7:21 to play, by which point Kosmalski had turned to his bench to close it out.

George Corzine (54) had five points and three rebounds in 18 minutes of action. (Photo: Mark Jordan/CoBL)

All 15 players on the Swarthmore roster saw action, 11 joining the scoring column, as the Garnet shot 58% from the floor (36-of-62) and 47.8% (11-of-23) from 3-point range, their 16 turnovers against an uptempo, chaotic Delhi defense really the only negative on the stat sheet.

“I think we don’t get to see a team that athletic and that plays that chaotically with their pressure or jumping passing lanes,” Kosmalski said. “When you don’t get to see that and it’s hard to simulate that, i think that sometimes it disrupts your rhythm a little bit, sometimes we were throwing passes into traffic or dribbling when guys are open.”

As a nod to his team’s depth, Kosmalski brought a pair of reserves, senior forward George Corzine and senior guard Julian Levin, to the post-game press conference. Levin is one of three seniors on the roster who were freshmen in 2018-19, when Swarthmore made a run all the way to the national championship game. The other two, George Visconti (21 points) and Colin Shaw (14 points), are two of the Garnet’s stars, while Levin has played a total of 31 minutes in eight appearances this season. 

But his remarks afterwards make it clear why Swathmore’s had such success.

“It’s great, to be surrounded by all 14 other guys on this team and four coaches, the 19 of us, we do it every day at practice,” he said. “Getting to get out there and do what we do every day, to see it come to fruition, is a ton of fun.

“For me, George and Colin, the three seniors left from 2019, we’re just grateful to still be here, this team is so tight-knit and so close. We get to come in and play basketball every day, something we all love to do. I think we’re trying to keep it going for as long as we can, and appreciate every moment we have together.”

To make it back to the second weekend of the tournament for the first time since 2020, when a Sweet 16 home game against Whitworth was canceled by COVID, Swarthmore will have to beat St. John Fisher (N.Y.) which topped Whitworth on Friday night in the opening game of the doubleheader. The Cardinals, now 22-7 this season, are the Empire 8 champs, are led by senior forward Daniel Cook (18.3 ppg, 9.0 rpg), out-rebound their opponents by six boards per game and shoot better than 36% from beyond the arc.
That 22-hour turnaround is one Kosmalski and his staff have gotten used to over the years, and whoever wins that scramble and adjustment game takes a big step towards playing again next weekend.

“Our assistants have been watching film, we’ve got to know what they’re trying to do and we’ve got to be ready with a half-day of prep to stop it,” Kosmalski said. “Every day in the NCAA Tournament’s new, they’re going to play a different style than we saw tonight from Delhi, and I’m just sitting here just grateful — when you’re at this point of the season and you’ve seen so many different looks from so many different teams, and you’ve been through all that adversity, I know no matter what we see tomorrow, we’ll have an answer for. It might take us a little time, I know we’ll have to adjust, but we’ll be ready because we’ve seen everything this year.”

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