The scene was all too familiar for a basketball program that has endured over a century of postseason mediocrity.
p. Georgia State University, who finished 12th in the CAA, took control of Friday’s opening-round CAA tournament game with the Tribe soon after the first media timeout and leading by nine points. No fifth seed had ever lost to a 12th seed in the tourney.
p. When GSU guard D.J. Jones banked in a lay-up to put his team up by six points with 1:25 remaining, the two dozen or so fans in the Tribe’s student section went silent. The Tribe was teetering on the brink of another postseason low.
p. Seemingly everything that went right on offense for the Tribe all year long had gone awry in the first 38 minutes. Nothing was more glaring than seniors Nathan Mann and Laimis Kisielius’ shooting woes. Both are 1,000-point career-scorers, but Friday they combined for only 11 points and were 0 of 11 from three-point range.
p. It would have been a disastrous end to their collegiate careers, especially after they propelled the program into the upper echelon of the CAA standings for the first time in a decade.
p. “They have been so loyal to our program the last four years,” Head Coach Tony Shaver said. “There’s no way we wouldn’t be loyal to them on the court.”
p. With the clock running down, sophomore guard David Schneider hit the game-winning eight points, including the game-winning NBA three-pointer with 1.5 seconds left.
p. “When I hit it, it was almost like I was too excited and I didn’t know what to do,” Schneider said. “Hitting that shot gave them [Kisielius and Mann] an extra chance to be together as a team for another day and to continue their career.”
p. Mann and Kisielius were the cornerstones of Shaver’s first recruiting class which included Kyle Carrabine, walk-on Chris Stratton and Edwin Ofori Attah, who left the College after his freshman year.
p. Coming out of high school, Mann was primarily a jump-shooter. He gained strength and became a lockdown defender later in his career. Kisielius entered as a wing player and developed into an inside and outside threat on offense.
p. While they were not as highly touted as some of Shaver’s more recent recruits, Mann and Kisielius were consistent contributors from day one. Mann averaged 7.8 points and started 18 games his freshman season, while Kisielius earned CAA all-rookie accolades and averaged 8.7 points, second highest on the team.
p. Mann and Kisielius will also be remembered for their resilient leadership. As Shaver’s program endured change, the duo matured both on and off the court.
p. Ofori Attah, who started six games and averaged 6.3 points and 2.1 rebounds his freshman year, was the first of four impact players who left while Kisielius and Mann were on the team. Ofori Attah moved back to his home in Germany following the 2004-05 season. The following spring, the Tribe’s leading scorer, freshman guard Calvin Baker, transferred to Virginia. Corey Cofield, an all-CAA third team member his first two years, left midway through his senior season in 2006-07. Adam Payton’s graduation last May completed the exodus.
p. “When you’re building a program, you’ll have a lot of change and people leaving,” Shaver said. “These guys [Kisielius and Mann] have been solid and so loyal.”
One of Shaver’s biggest concerns heading into the Tribe’s CAA quarterfinal match-up with Old Dominion was whether his two starting seniors would rise to the occasion and lead the team against the red-hot no.4 seed Monarchs, winners in six of their last seven games.
p. “Somehow, someway between now and tomorrow we need to get them to just relax a little and play the game,” he said after the Tribe offense relied almost entirely on Schneider and sophomore Danny Sumner Friday.
p. Mired in one of the worst slumps of his career, Mann discussed better shot selection with Shaver in the hours prior to tip-off. In the Tribe’s four previous games, he had made only 4 of his 37 three-point attempts. In the same four games, Kisielius’ offensive output dipped to 5.5 points, half of his season average. Some speculated that a mid-season injury to Kisielius’ toe hindered his play.
p. “It definitely had some kind of influence on my game, but I never made an excuse for myself,” Kisielius said of the injury. “I knew I had to show up for the tournament for us to succeed.”
p. Shaver offered up another reason for his senior’s offensive swoon.
p. “They played very uptight the last two weeks of the season,” Shaver said. “The reason was they wanted so badly to take us to the league’s top four. They weren’t missing shots because of nervousness, but because they were pressing so hard to be successful.”
p. Saturday afternoon, a small group of VCU fans joined the Tribe’s student section, turned their yellow t-shirts inside out and began rooting for Kisielius and the College. “No one messes with a Lithuanian,” they yelled from the front row. No Monarch player came close to stopping Kisielius. He poured in 16 points, his highest total since scoring a career-high 26 points Jan. 26 against the same ODU team.
p. Mann provided the last second heroics, nailing a three-point shot that put the Tribe up 63-60 with 7.5 seconds remaining. He finished with 10 points on 2-6 shooting; the first time since Feb. 20 against Drexel that he reached double-digits.
p. “The two guys I’m proudest of are the two guys [Kisielius and Mann] sitting right here … They’ve been the keys to the turnaround in our program and they were the keys to our win tonight,” Shaver said after the game.
p. Asked to describe his emotions following the Tribe’s heartbreaking loss to George Mason in the CAA championship, Kisielius said, “It’s the last game of my career here. That’s all I’m going to say.”
p. His red-eyes were enough to reveal how he felt. Just 24 hours after celebrating his game-winning shot against VCU, a sullen Kisielius put his head down after answering the question. An improbable run through the tournament suddenly ended on a sour note.
p. “The last day was physically and emotionally exhausting,” Shaver said. “A lot of people didn’t give them a chance to get to the final. A lot of people said they couldn’t win. But they fought hard.”
p. While the Tribe fell short of its first-ever NCAA tournament. Schneider believes both Kisielius and Mann cemented a legacy of success and leadership for the basketball program.
p. “They were the face of something special,” he said. “It’s up to me and the younger guys to keep building off that foundation.”