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Swarthmore storms from behind to beat Nichols, reach Division III Final Four

Swarthmore trailed Nichols for the entire second half until Michael Caprise's game-winner with 5.8 seconds left.

Swarthmore players celebrate reaching the Division III Final Four.
Swarthmore players celebrate reaching the Division III Final Four.Read moreCourtesy of Chris Szagola

Michael Caprise will remember it for the rest of his life — once he sees it. Swarthmore College’s junior big man can find it on videotape, his basket Saturday night that propelled the Garnet into the NCAA Division III Final Four.

After Swarthmore’s court was flooded with fans and a net was cut down, Swarthmore coach Landry Kosmalski was describing the last frantic offensive seconds, Caprise in a crowd near the basket with the ball, and then Caprise putting the ball in the basket.

“Does that feel right?” Kosmalski said to Caprise of how he had slipped toward the hoop.

“I really don’t remember it,” Caprise said.

That bucket with 5.8 seconds left finished off a crazy, chaotic comeback, giving Swarthmore its only lead of the second half. When Nichols (Mass.) couldn’t get a final shot off, Swarthmore had a 78-77 stands-emptying victory.

“Obviously, a classic,” Kosmalski said. “Two good teams. I think Nichols outplayed us for a lot of the game, especially the first half, getting to loose balls and rebounds. Beating us in transition. … I just thought tonight they were on a mission. It kind of took us a while to match their intensity. With our guys, it wasn’t pretty. But we stayed with it. Stayed with it to the bitter end, which was right at the buzzer.”

Senior guard George Visconti led Swarthmore with 23 points, making 3 of 4 three-pointers, the last with 49 seconds left, drawing the Garnet (28-3) within a point. Swarthmore had trailed by nine points with under 4 minutes left, before Visconti hit a three and scored in the paint, keeping his team’s mathematical chances alive.

“This comeback felt more improbable because we weren’t doing anything particularly well,” Kosmalski said of his team racking up 19 turnovers against an active, switching Nichols defense. Swarthmore star Vinny DeAngelo had six turnovers and was held scoreless in the first half, but the junior guard finished with 15 points. And when Swarthmore had a late inbounds pass to make with 4 seconds to go, the ball went to DeAngelo, and he drained a three.

Swarthmore, which reached the national finals in 2019 and was ranked No. 1 nationally when the 2020 postseason was called off because of the onset of the COVID pandemic, now moves on to Fort Wayne, Ind., to the national semifinals. On Thursday, the Garnet will face Christopher Newport.

“I’m sure that will be a core memory, for sure,” Visconti said of how Saturday night played out. “That’s definitely the coolest basketball game I’ve played at Tarble Pavilion, and I’d like to think I’ve played in some really awesome ones.”