Top-seeded Practice Squad defends Bookstore Basketball title
Teagan Dillon | Monday, April 30, 2018
The top-seeded Practice Squad earned its second championship in a row on Sunday night after defeating No. 3 seed St. Andrew’s 21-17. After a back-and-forth first half, senior Matthew Mitan sunk the final shot to clinch Practice Squad’s victory.
“It was a good game. They put up a really good fight, and they’re a tough team,” senior captain Reed Hunnicutt said. “We started off kind of slow, but Mitan really played well down the stretch. We did a good job of exposing the mismatches, didn’t try to force too much and just took whatever they gave us.”
Unable to secure shots down low, St. Andrew’s had to take advantage of outside shots to stay in the game. As Practice Squad began to pull away early in the second half, jumpers by freshman Michael Brannan and senior John Cunningham kept the game within one.
But the momentum shifted after a fast break by Hunnicutt, eventually leading to a 19-14 Practice Squad lead. As the game got increasingly physical, St. Andrew’s ability to make their free throws kept them within three, but a foul shot by senior Brad Sherman and Mitan’s field goal ultimately led to Practice Squad’s win.
“Winning two years in a row is unbelievable,” Hunnicutt said. “That rarely happens. It’s definitely going to go down in history, winning back-to-back. I couldn’t be any happier.”
Last year, Practice Squad fought for the title, taking down their opponents in an electric 30-28 overtime victory. With the addition of senior Matt Gregory and graduate student Will Bowser, they came back even stronger this year, Hunnicutt said.
After spending the last four years on the Notre Dame men’s basketball team, Gregory made his Bookstore debut as a member of Practice Squad. Though it was his first appearance in the tournament, he faced a familiar opponent in the championship matchup, assistant men’s basketball coach, Ryan Ayers.
“It was fun, exciting and really physical,” he said. “It’s a lot different than playing inside, and it’s a lot of fun playing against Coach Ayers.”
Ayers, who was also making his championship debut, was the captain of the men’s basketball team in 2009 before returning as a member of the coaching staff.
“I got to play against him [Gregory] a few times during practice this year, and obviously I saw him mature and grow,” he said. “It was a lot of fun playing him. That was cool to do.”
Cunningham, a manager of the men’s basketball team, asked Ayers to join St. Andrew’s after he heard he was looking for a team.
“It was a lot of fun playing with him [Cunningham] this past month,” Ayers said. “It was a really great environment, something I always wanted to do as a student and to do it as an employee now is pretty cool.”
“I remember watching coach when he was here, flipping on Notre Dame games and seeing Ryan Ayers playing,” Cunningham said. “I get to work with him, we play three-on-three before or after practice, then to actually be a teammate with him is really cool.”
Despite the loss, Cunningham’s first appearance in the Bookstore Basketball championship game was a dream, he said.
“It was a tough game, and obviously we played a really great team,” Cunningham said. “I’m really proud of our effort … We came out there and competed, and you can’t ask for much else.”