No. 15 seed Colgate made a strong bid for an upset in the NCAA tournament Friday, taking a 52-50 lead over second-seeded Tennessee midway through the second half.
A bout of pink eye may have cost them their best shot at closing out the win.
The Vols pulled away late for a 77-70 win to advance to the second round and did so while the Raiders’ best player was off the court. Rapolas Ivanauskas sat the entire second half struggling with his eyes.
Ivanauskas sits second half with pink eye
Head coach Matt Langel told reporters after the game that Ivanauskas was dealing with pink eye.
“He woke up this morning, and it just wasn’t happening,” Langel said. “Your heart breaks for him.”
Langel said that it was a recurring issue that Ivanauskas struggled with a couple of weeks ago.
Ivanauskas was Patriot League Player of the Year
A 6-10 forward, Ivanauskas led the team this season with 16.4 points and 7.9 rebounds per game while shooting 43.4 percent from 3-point distance. He was the Patriot League Player of the Year.
Against Tennessee, he shot 0-for-4 from the field and did not score while playing 16 minutes.
Ivanauskas sat on bench with towel around his head
Ivanauskas started the second half of the game on the bench holding a towel over his eyes. CBS’s Allie LaForce reported during the game that Ivanauskas had trouble getting his contacts to set in his eyes prior to the game and that he had to start the game wearing a backup pair.
Ivanauskas ended up meeting with his father at halftime, according to the report, a meeting LaForce described as unusual.
He continued to rub his eyes on the bench in the opening minutes of the half before heading toward the locker room with around 18 minutes remaining. He did not return to the game.
Would Ivanauskas have made a difference?
Colgate started the half down 42-30 and actually started its comeback bid without Ivanauskas, largely behind hot shooting from Jordan Burns who hit 8-of-13 3-pointers and scored a game-high 32 points.
But Tennessee closed the deal, outscoring Colgate 27-18 in the game’s final 10:42 to hold off the upset bid and advance to the second round, led by Admiral Schofield’s 19 points.
There’s obviously no knowing if the Raiders could have held on for the upset with Ivanauskas in the lineup, or if they would have even mounted a rally to begin with.
But there’s no denying that Ivanauskas leaving the game with pink eye is a bitterly disappointing way to go out.
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