Patrick Grudberg ‘24
When the calendar turned to March in 2016, the College of the Holy Cross men’s basketball team was in a bad place. Sitting at an ugly 10-19 record, they had just lost five straight to finish the regular season. Now, in any other sport, this is where the story ends. But this is college basketball, the sport where you’ve got a shot come March. And it’s this simple: win your conference tournament, and you’re going dancing.
What did that 2016 Crusaders team do come March? They rattled off four straight to claim the Patriot League bid to the NCAA Tournament. They got to play in the first four in Dayton, defeating Southern University to face Oregon in the first round. While Oregon did destroy them 91-52, a thirty-nine-point blowout, Holy Cross got to March. That’s the goal for a team of Holy Cross’s size. Trying to slay a giant like Oregon is simply playing with house money.
Why do I bring this story up? Because our men’s basketball team has their own chance to shock the world. Two weeks ago, I would have been writing in a much more somber tone. Coach Nelson’s team was 3-15, and hopes were dim. Since then, Holy Cross unexpectedly fired off three straight wins before a tough loss to Colgate on Monday night. Another winnable game on Wednesday, the ninth, versus Loyola (you’ll know the result by publishing time Friday) gives Holy Cross a chance to make some noise.
Brett Nelson’s team is finally finding its stride. Gerrale Gates, the senior leader, continues to energize with his relentless rebounding and imposing post play. Kyrell Luc, the freshman point guard, is blossoming into an alpha scorer who can finish at the rim despite his 5’10” stature. Bo Montgomery, one of many talented sophomores, is standing out as a lockdown defender who can carry the scoring load when needed. And it’s not just these three. Senior forward Malcolm Townsel and freshman guard Caleb Kenney provide more energy on the defensive side and on the glass. I could go on forever. The team has finally found its identity. A hard-nosed group of players who give relentless energy on defense, scrap on the glass, and get points amidst the chaos.
Are Holy Cross’ odds favorable to make the tournament? No. They’re still a young team with so much to learn. But there are signs of life. And they’ve hit their stride at the best time possible. If Nelson’s squad continues this upward trend, we can start to believe. And for a program that finished 3-29 only two short seasons ago, that’s something to be happy about.