Senior guard Brendan Sullivan chose his moment well.
Fighting back from a 21-14 first-half deficit against Chadron State, the fifth-year Colorado School of Mines player squared up in the paint and let it fly. As the net swished, the surrounding Senior Night crowd cheered.
Over the next few plays, Sullivan scored two more baskets and had one block, helping Colorado School of Mines take a 27-26 lead over Chadron State. The Orediggers went into halftime with a six-point lead, and despite several ties and lead changes in the second half, ultimately edged out the Eagles 78-74 on Feb. 18.
Sullivan scored 24 points on 9-13 shooting, including three treys out of five. He also racked up two rebounds, three assists and three blocks on Senior Night.
“It means so much to be able to show out (for Senior Night),” Sullivan said. “ … Sometimes you get in a rhythm and whenever you get an open shot, you got to let it fly. It’s just one of those nights where I felt like I had that rhythm.”
Mines, now 22-4 overall and 16-4 in conference play, celebrated three fifth-year seniors — Sullivan, Ben Boone and Trent Dykema — and transfer Adam Thistlewood on Feb. 18. All four started the game and helped lead the Orediggers to victory.
Thistlewood, who tallied 19 points the night before against Colorado Christian, had eight points on 4-5 shooting and three assists versus Chadron. Dykema collected four rebounds and had two assists. Boone had good looks early, scoring back-to-back jumpers in the paint, and made critical free throws at the end.
Boone believed Senior Night always has weird energy because of the pregame celebrations, saying, “You either play really, really well, or you play awful at the beginning.”
For the Orediggers, it was the latter. The Eagles took and held onto their lead through most of the first half. The Orediggers only managed to close the gap and take a lead of their own in the last six minutes.
Throughout the whole game, Mines and Chadron forced five ties and seven lead changes. The second half, especially, turned into a battle.
Mines had an eight-point lead with 2:26 left, but Chadron got three consecutive buckets and cut Mines’ lead to two with 1:10 left.
Mines ate up some clock, but senior guard Sam Beskind’s three-point attempt was off. Chadron recovered, but Bryce Latimer missed his jumper at the other end. Boone nabbed the rebound, forcing Chadron to play the foul game.
The Eagles had a low foul count, though, so it took several inbounds attempts before they made it into the bonus. It did eat some critical seconds off the clock, though, Mines coach Pryor Orser noted later, and the Orediggers’ eventual free throws helped seal the W.
“We knew it was going to be a really hard game,” Orser said. “They’ve got shooters, and they got guys who can beat you off the dribble.”
Orser described how incredibly proud he was of the four seniors for their academic and athletic accomplishments. They’ve had amazing basketball careers and built up what the Orediggers call “a huge bank account,” he said, with more than 100 wins and multiple NCAA tournament appearances.
“What’s really going to hurt is when I’m sitting on the bench next year, and those guys aren’t on the floor,” Orser continued. “ … They have an unbelievable legacy. For the younger players coming up, there’s big shoes to fill.”
On the horizon
The Orediggers are preparing to close out the regular season at Adams State Feb. 24 and at top-ranked Fort Lewis Feb. 25. After that, they’ll likely host a first-round RMAC tournament game.
If they make waves in the conference tourney, Boone hoped Mines could host a first-round NCAA tournament game. The Orediggers are in the NCAA tournament mix, Orser said, but it’s too early to tell what seed they’ll get or where they’ll play.
For now, the seniors were thankful to close out their final season at Mines together. Boone’s loved all five of his years at Mines, and Sullivan added how he, Boone and Dykema have grown close from living in the dorms and playing basketball together. Then, this year, they welcomed Thistlewood, whom Sullivan had known since they were children.
“It’s a fun group,” Sullivan said of his fellow seniors, “and I’m excited to finish the season out with them. … I’ve had a great five years here. Being able to close it out with a (Senior Night) win is just awesome."