By Brian Bennett
The 2015 edition of the Wendy’s College Classic Basketball Tournament had a bittersweet feel to it. At the same time the championship celebrated its 50th year, it has been announced that this year’s classic would be the last contested. Scheduling demands among the participant schools, primarily within their respective conferences, has made it too difficult to find dates that work for all.
The tournament has been notable on a national level in a couple of ways, not withstanding the multiple sponsor and resulting name changes. As the Wendy’s Classic website notes, “Besides being the longest-running NCAA Division III basketball event in the country, the Wendy’s College Classic is also the nation’s largest in-season NCAA Division III basketball tournament with 16 squads… eight women’s and eight men’s teams… playing 24 games over five days at six campus sites.”
For Geneseo’s men’s team, this season was the 42nd time it has been part of the field. The program is fourth in all-time winning percentage (64-54, .542) and serves as evidence of the close competition in the men's bracket over the years: despite the Knights’ overall success, they finish just sixth in championships captured (four), behind University of Rochester (11), St. John Fisher (nine), Brockport (eight), RIT (seven) and Nazareth (six). In addition to Geneseo’s titles were five runner-up finishes.
There was far less balance on the women’s side, which was added to the tournament in 1993. It was dominated by four teams: Rochester (10 championships), Roberts Wesleyan (five), William Smith (four) and St. John Fisher (three), with Geneseo squads lacking the success that one would have expected due to the overall quality of the program over the tournament years. The Knights reached the finals five times, including three of the last four years, and were twice the number-one seed, and in each case came away empty-handed. In addition, the Knights didn’t participate in the first two tournaments, meaning that the back-to-back nationally-ranked and SUNYAC-title teams of 1993-94 (26-3) and 1994-95 (27-2) never had shots at tournament competition.
Nonetheless, both squads have been part of notable games. This year’s tournament is a good example: both the men’s and women’s teams had dramatic, last-second first-round wins which, had they occurred in a final game, would warrant consideration as a program highlight. Likewise have Geneseo players put up record individual performances. On the heels of the very last Wendy’s College Classic, here’s a look at some of the memorable games.
Men’s Final, Jan. 19, 1991 at Roberts Wesleyan: Geneseo 97, University of Rochester 87 (3 OT)
Rochester entered the Chase Lincoln First Bank Tournament not only as the reigning titlist, but also as the defending NCAA Division III Champions. The Yellowjackets’ 12-2 record, 10-game winning streak and No. 11 national ranking made them a clear choice for the number-one seed.
The Knights came in with a 9-1 record under coach Tom Pope and an eight-game winning streak that included a three-point win over Buffalo St., the pre-season choice to capture the SUNYAC. The number-two seed in the Chase, Geneseo was led by sophomore guard Scott Fitch, averaging 19.4 points per game, junior forward Bill Mason (10.8) and senior center Scott Forrest (10.5).
The Knights opened the tournament with an 87-61 win over Hobart, paced by 31 points from Fitch and 18 by Mason. The semifinal was a more tightly-contested matchup with SUNYAC-rival Brockport, the number-three seed. Geneseo featured balanced scoring in the 75-72 win, as four players were in double figures: first-year Scott Fulkerson (17), Fitch (16), senior forward Mark Muller (15) and Mason (12). Muller and Mason led the team on the boards with nine rebounds apiece.
Geneseo jumped out early in the championship game, building leads of 9-0 and 17-6. The Yellowjackets could only match baskets through the rest of the first half, and the Knights went into halftime with a 31-23 lead.
The margin was up to 10 early in the second, but seven-straight baskets by Rochester in a stretch of 4:47 gave them a 50-45 lead and the Yellowjacket advantage was three as the game entered the final minutes. At 1:11, Fitch rebounded a missed Geneseo free throw and hit a three-pointer to tie the game at 60. Neither team would score in the last minute and the game went into overtime.
Rochester built a 66-61 lead in the first extra period, but five-straight free throws by the Knights knotted the game with 1:27 remaining. The Yellowjackets responded and were ahead by two with seconds remaining but Muller hit a leaning eight-footer in the lane just before the buzzer and the game would continue at 70-70.
The scenario was reversed in the second overtime as Geneseo built a four-point lead nearing the final minute and had a two-point advantage with :17 seconds remaining. However, Rochester returned the favor by hitting a short jumper as time expired to knot the game at 79 and ensure that the drama would continue.
The extra time also extended both benches as multiple players fouled out as the overtimes went on. Rochester lost five players to ejections, while Geneseo starters Mason, Forrest and senior guard Kyle Hargrave were likewise disqualified. Bench players would play important roles in the third extra stanza as the Knights were sent to the foul line 14 times and sank 13 free throws. Muller and junior guard Craig Howe each made four-consecutive free throws down the stretch and Geneseo ended the marathon with a 97-87 win.
Fitch finished the game with 29 points, followed by Muller with 19, Mason with 14 and senior guard Dan White with 13. Fitch led the team with 13 rebounds and was voted the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. He was joined on the All-Tournament team by Mason and Muller.
The title vaulted the Knights into the national rankings, as they debuted at number 13 in the next poll. Geneseo finished the year with a program-best 23-5 record and advanced to the NCAA Sweet Sixteen.
Men’s Final Jan. 14, 1989 at RIT: Geneseo 87, Hobart 80
Geneseo’s men’s program didn’t have much success in the tournament after signing on in 1974. Coming into the 1988 Chase Lincoln First Tournament, the Knights had only won four first-round games in 15 seasons, with no appearances in the finals, much less a tournament championship. There was hope that year, however. After seven losing seasons in the mid-’80s, the men’s program abruptly turned around under Head Coach Tom Pope, going from 7-16 in 1986-87 to 21-8 in 1987-88, with a trip to the SUNYAC Tournament where it knocked off nationally-ranked Potsdam before losing in the finals. The squad then captured the ECAC Upstate New York title, defeating Hobart, Hamilton and Elmira.
The 1988-89 team was led by senior guard Jim Clar, who averaged 19.2 points per game heading into the tournament, along with a strong core of sophomores which included forwards Sean Gray, Mark Muller and guards Scott Forrest and Kyle Hargrave.
Courtesy of a 7-2 mark, Geneseo was installed as the second seed. The Knights opened against Brockport, which they had defeated 102-74 a month before. The Knights again scored in triple digits in a 101-80 win, led by Clar’s 21 points. Two days later, Geneseo played host RIT, another team they had previously faced and handily defeated (97-81 on Jan. 6) and likewise stopped them, 87-67, behind 20 points by sophomore guard Jamie Palmer. Clar’s 18 points made him the Knights’ all-time leading scorer, surpassing Ed Robata ’75.
Geneseo’s opponent in the championship game was Hobart. The Statesmen entered the tournament as the number-eight seed due to a 3-5 record, but promptly knocked off number-one seeded St. John Fisher in the first round, 87-80. Hobart continued its run by beating fourth-seeded Roberts Wesleyan in the semifinals, 88-83, in overtime.
The Knights jumped out to an quick 6-0 lead in the championship game and pushed it to seven, but Hobart hung in and slowly shrunk the margin and with 3:20 left in the half, took a 33-30 lead. However, Clar scored eight of the Knights’ next 16 points, helping Geneseo go into halftime up 46-35.
The Knights built their advantage to 19 early in the second half and looked to cruise home, but Gray, who led the team with 29 points, fouled out and Hobart got the margin under 10 near the minute mark. The Knights made four free throws down the stretch to close out the 87-80 victory and Geneseo’s first tournament win.
Clar had 21 points, five assists, five steals and five rebounds, earning tournament Most Valuable Player honors. Gray went 11-for-18 from the field and seven-for-seven from the line for his 29 points and first-year forward Bill Mason chipped in 17 points and 14 rebounds. Both made the all-tournament team.
The Knights finished the year with a 21-10 record and made their second-consecutive ECAC finals where they lost to Albany.
Men’s Final, Jan. 13, 2000 at RIT: Geneseo 65, Rochester 61
It was the first year and first tournament for Head Coach Steve Minton, who took over a program that had won two of the last three SUNYAC titles and had NCAA appearances in seven of 10 seasons. Those figures were a bit misleading however; the 1999-00 team had gone 12-13 and graduated six seniors, including future Geneseo Hall of Famer Griffin Coles. The top returning scorer averaged 5.2 points per game and reflecting the uncertainty, the Knights had been picked to finish eighth in the SUNYAC pre-season coaches’ poll.
Nonetheless, the Knights started out strong under their new coach, notching seven-straight wins, all against conference opponents. The only blemish on their 9-1 mark was a three-point loss to defending-SUNYAC champion & nationally-ranked Cortland.
The number-one seeded Knights came into the Chase Scholarship Tournament with an incredibly-balanced attack. Five players averaged in double figures: juniors Steve Greco (12.7), Nick Jungbluth (10.5), Tim Winans (10.2), Rick Doherty (10.0) and sophomore Carsmon Binger (11.4). Geneseo opened play by defeating Keuka, 90-78. Jungbluth had a career high in both points (33) and rebounds (12). He went 10-for-14 from the floor and 13-for-14 from the foul line, helping the team set tournament and school records for field goal percentage in a game (30-for-44, 68.2%).
Brockport was the semifinal opponent. The Knights jumped out to 9-0 and 16-5 leads and led 29-22 at the break, but the Golden Eagles went ahead by four midway through the second half. Geneseo responded with a 21-7 run that provided a 10-point cushion with four minutes to play and the Knights cruised to a 68-60 final. Guards Binger (15), Greco (14), and senior Matt LeMoyne (13) were the top scorers.
Third-seeded Rochester was the other finalist. The Yellowjackets had rolled through their half of the bracket, beating RIT by 26 and Nazareth by 22. The latter had knocked off number-two St. John Fisher in the first round, a considerable upset as the Cardinals were three-time defending champs and had made eight of the previous nine finals. Rochester and Geneseo had met in the first round of the 1999 Chase, with the Knights winning 61-59 and in all-time tournament play, the squads had split eight games. All signs pointed to a close contest.
Geneseo built an early eight-point lead at 21-13, but the Yellowjackets hit a basket at the horn to give them a 32-31 advantage at halftime. Rochester padded the margin to five early in the second, but three-pointers by sophomore guard Tim Lennon and senior guard Matt LeMoyne spurred a 14-2 run that gave the Knights a seven-point lead. The Yellowjackets closed to within one at 51-50, but six-consecutive points by forward Winans rebuilt the lead. A three-pointer at the buzzer by Rochester provided the final margin of 65-61.
Winans led the Knights with 23 points, Geneseo’s third different high scorer in the tournament and was the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. LeMoyne added 14 points and was joined by teammate Jungbluth on the all-tournament team. As with the other Knight tournament winners, the championship was a precursor to overall success as the team finished 21-8, and added another ECAC tournament victory with wins over RIT, Rensselaer and Fredonia.
Men’s Final, Jan. 16, 1993 at RIT: Geneseo 79, St. John Fisher 75
The 1993 tournament had a new name due to the corporate merger of its sponsor, but the game results were familiar for the Knights as they made their fourth championship game appearance in six years for coach Tom Pope.
Geneseo came into the Chase Scholarship Tournament as the number-one seed with a 7-1 record, with those wins coming in consecutive fashion after an opening loss in the Nazareth Tournament. The season’s expectations were high due primarily to the presence of guard Scott Fitch. He was returning for his junior season after sitting out the entire previous year due to a knee injury suffered in a pre-season scrimmage. Fitch’s 23 points and five assists per game were augmented by the Tudman brothers upfront: senior Scott (13.5 ppg) and sophomore Ian (12.5 ppg).
The Knights drew Roberts Wesleyan in the first round, an advantageous matchup as they had defeated the Red Raiders just four days before, 115-68. The tournament opener was a similar result, with Fitch’s 31 points (23 in the second half) and Scott Tudman’s 25 leading Geneseo to a 89-62 win.
Number-five seed Brockport was the semifinal matchup and it was a tight game throughout. Geneseo opened a seven-point advantage at 25-18, but the Golden Eagles rallied to take a pair of one-point leads and only trailed by the same at half, 38-37. Brockport went on a 15-6 tear to open the second stanza to go ahead, 52-44. Back-to-back threes by Fitch returned the lead to the Knights, 60-58, at the 9:05 mark and Geneseo built the lead to 12 with 4:46 left and held off Brockport for the berth in the final, 82-77. Fitch had 19 points in a nine-minute stretch of the second half, nine of those on three-point baskets. Overall he had 32 points with Scott Tudman tossing in 26, going 10-for-12 from the field, and six-for-six from the foul line.
The finals matched the pre-tournament seeding, as number-two St. John Fisher (10-1) came in with two sizeable wins over Hobart (100-81) and Nazareth (79-69). The seemingly predictable strong start gave Geneseo a 17-11 advantage, but the Cardinals rallied, building as large as a four-point lead before going into the locker room up, 36-34.
The Cardinals built the margin up to five early in the second before the teams settled into swapping leads. Geneseo was twice up by four until Fisher went on an 11-0 run to take a seven-point lead with two minutes remaining. Baskets by sophomore guard Dan Keane and a three-pointer by junior guard Steve Leinhart rallied the Knights before a pair of Fitch free throws tied the game at 73 with 54 seconds remaining.
With the game still tied, Fitch grabbed a defensive rebound and threw a full-court bomb to junior forward Jamie Getman, whose layup with 31 seconds left gave the Knights the lead. On the next Cardinal possession, Fitch stole the ball and dished to Keane, who was fouled, but dropped in two foul shots. The four-point margin remained until the final whistle, with the Knights prevailing 79-75.
Tournament Most Valuable Player Fitch had 24 points, with Ian Tudman adding 21 and Lenhart 11. Scott Tudman’s 14 rebounds were team-high and he joined his brother on the all-tournament first-team. To top it off, the victory was Head Coach Tom Pope’s 300th in his 24 seasons (300-274).
The 1992-93 edition of the Knights followed up with one of the most successful campaigns in school history. The 23-4 season included a 20-game win streak, a regular-season SUNYAC West Championship and an NCAA bid, where Geneseo advanced to the Sweet 16 before losing at the buzzer.
Women’s Semifinal, Dec. 5, 2013 at Rochester: Geneseo 48, University of Rochester 44
Geneseo’s women’s teams would have most likely enjoyed more success if they had been able to avoid the frequent matchups with Rochester and Roberts Wesleyan. The Knights finished 24-18 all-time in Chase/Wendy’s competition against all other schools, but 2-10 against the Red Raiders/Redhawks and 2-7 against the Yellowjackets. No doubt the most painful loss was to Rochester in the 2012 finals, when a last-second three-pointer gave the Yellowjackets a 60-58 win, denying the Knights and Head Coach Scott Hemer the title.
The two teams squared off again in 2013, but in the semifinals instead. Geneseo came in undefeated at 3-0 and off a 20-7 season, but the field was so deep that the unblemished mark only garnered the Knights a number-three seed.
The Yellowjackets were the number-two seed, but their run of success in the tournament made them the favorites. Rochester had won 25-consecutive games in capturing eight-straight tournament titles and had won 10 of the last 11. In six of those title runs, the Yellowjackets had defeated Geneseo, with four coming in semifinal play.
Nonetheless, Rochester had a tough test in its first-round game, beating a tenacious number-seven Brockport squad, 56-46. In comparison, the Knights soundly defeated RIT 88-68 in their opening contest behind junior forward Shannon McGinnis’s 30 points.
The first half of the rematch was back and forth, but the host team went on a 9-2 run to end the half and claim a 26-21 lead. Rochester built the advantage to 37-29 at 11:18, but the Knights, spurred by back-to-back three-pointers by McGinnis and sophomore center Allison McKenna, went on a 10-0 run to reclaim the lead at 39-37.
The defending champs weren’t willing to go away quietly, using a three of their own to take back the lead at 42-41. Geneseo answered, with a key basket coming on a foul-line jumper by sophomore guard Dana Cohan as the shot clock expired, giving the Knights at 45-42 lead with 1:25 remaining.
Rochester pulled within one at the 1:07 mark and had the ball with a chance to take the lead, but a missed layup was rebounded by junior center Katie Peterson. With 11 seconds on the clock, Cohan was fouled and hit her first free throw to build a 46-44 lead, but missed the second. The rebound went off a pair of Rochester hands and McKenna was fouled on the subsequent inbound. She went to line and sank both free throws for the final 48-44 margin. The Yellowjackets’ reign as champs was ended as the Knights outscored them 19-7 over the final 10 minutes. McGinnis led the team with 18 points, while junior guard Biz Reinhardt totaled 12 rebounds. McGinnis and McKenna were named to the All-Class First Team.
While the Knights were able to finally prevail over one nemesis, another waited in the final. In the championship contest two days later, Roberts Wesleyan defeated Geneseo for the seventh-straight time, 44-41, for the 2014 Wendy’s title. The 2015 tournament had a similar storyline, as the Knights topped Rochester in the semifinals, but dropped a close game to the Redhawks, again denying Geneseo a Chase/Wendy’s Tournament title, this in its last opportunity.
In addition to the team accolades, a good number of Geneseo players on both squads have put up record performances over the years. For more tournament history, including team/individual records and all-tournament team selections, visit the Wendy’s Classic website.