Mike Neer coolly paced the sideline, his arms crossed over a ruffled jacket. His team clung to a one-point lead, and Neer, head coach of the Hobart College Statesmen, was focused solely on ensuring his team played out the final six minutes of the clock with a lead still in hand.
By many accounts, Neer had been in exactly this situation countless instances earlier in his career. Head coach of the Yellowjackets for 34 seasons, Neer has had his share of victories — 563 of them and a national championship, to be precise — and time spent in the Palestra.
Yet it wasn’t quite the same as Neer managed a glance now and then at the bench he once presided over with such dominance, and his successor, second-year head coach Luke Flockerzi. A packed Palestra crowd — once one of his rowdiest and greatest allies — now went quiet when his players excelled and reveled when they missed a shot.
Perhaps even more foreign to Neer was the ultimate result in this Wendy’s College Classic final, as his Statesmen coughed up their advantage to a talented and rejuvenated UR squad, 73-64. Flockerzi earned his first Wendy’s title as a head coach, while denying Hobart a second straight championship.
Senior point guard John DiBartolomeo powered the ’Jackets to victory, as he poured in a game-leading 29 points and added eight rebounds and six assists to earn tournament MVP honors. Junior guard/forward Nate Vernon also contributed 18 points to the win, which pushed the Yellowjackets to a perfect 8-0 mark and a No. 17 national ranking. A stalwart UR defensive effort limited Hobart guard Stefan Thompson, who was named last year’s tournament MVP, to just 12 points.
The game itself was back and forth throughout, as the teams hovered within five points of one another (and usually less) until the final minute, when the Yellowjackets pulled away with some golden free throw shooting. UR and Hobart combined for 13 lead changes, eight in the second half.
UR hosts the Statesmen for a second time on Saturday, Dec. 8.
Bernstein is a member of the class of 2014.