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By the March 1-3 Region XX tournament, the College of Southern Maryland men’s basketball team barely had more players than coaches.

Just seven players remained on the Hawks roster when they traveled to Hagerstown for the regional tournament. They had four coaches manning the bench.

To make matters more challenging, the Hawks were reduced to only six players for their opening-round regional affair March 1 due to a flagrant foul in a previous game that required a suspension through the first regional contest. And the Hawks were facing a Garrett opponent that had beaten them in La Plata back in November when they were a much deeper club, starting the season with 16 players.

“It was a myriad of things,” CSM head coach Alan Hoyt said for the player attrition on his roster. “Every problem out there [affecting] junior college kids [dropping off a team], we had. Injuries, us having to suspend players, couple guys with [ineligible] grades, not having enough money for the spring semester, suspensions for other things … really everything.”

Lacking necessary depth and height — the tallest CSM player was listed at 6-foot 3 — did not keep the Hawks from fulfilling a guarantee they made at the beginning of the season that this would be the year the program would end its longstanding drought of over a decade without a playoff win.

“I feel like this could be the year, this should be the year, this will be the year,” Hawks starting guard Troy Cummings (McDonough High School graduate) said in November of tasting postseason victory this year. “There are a lot of teams sleeping on us, which is OK. We like being the underdogs. I expect us to be in nationals.”

Cummings’ Hawks came within overtime of making him a major prophet, as the small Hawks — in personnel and height — captured a pair of playoff triumphs to advance all the way to the District 15 championship of the regional tournament before their momentous, Cinderella run finally ended.

Favored Howard, featuring double the amount of players with five measuring at least 6-4 in height including a 6-8 center, eked out an 88-83 overtime win against CSM (12-19) in the district championship, one of two regional finals newly implemented this postseason with the field split into a pair of brackets that combined to spit out a couple of champions clinching nationals berths.

The Hawks nearly won the title game in regulation if not for time expiring on a transition opportunity from a steal.

In the process, the Hawks became the first team in regional tournament history to play in a championship game as the last seed in the tournament. They were seeded No. 10, meaning they had to play in an opening-round March 1 game that three other teams in their bracket avoided.

Despite coming up just short of their nationals-clinching dream, these shorthanded Hawks ended the program’s decade-plus frustration in the postseason by defeating Garrett, 82-79, and then Chesapeake, 89-84, on March 2 in the semifinals of the Hawks regional bracket.

The victories avenged regular season losses to each club, by eight points to Garrett and 26 points to Chesapeake, while the Hawks were faced with an all-too familiar situation of lacking depth for the postseason. Last year, they were reduced to eight players in the postseason when they fell in both their first-round games of the Maryland Junior College Conference and regional tournaments.

“This year we had a better seven,” Hoyt added in comparing his thin teams of the last two postseasons. “We had no problem [this postseason] with playing time. Everybody was going to play. All [seven] of our players had started before and played 30-plus minutes in games.

In the wins over Garrett and Chesapeake, the Hawks were impressive at the line shooting a combined 35 of 43 (81 percent).

Hawks double-digit scorers against Garrett included three-point assassin Devon Brown (27 points), Juwan Cole (22) and Cummings (14), claiming the win with just the six players in uniform.

Four of the seven Hawks players scored in double digits against Chesapeake with Cummings’ 25 points leading the way followed by Brown and Sigourney Jackson (Thomas Stone) each with 17 while Cole had 16.

In the Hawks regional final, the district championship, all five Hawks starters were in double figures offensively as Cole posted 19 points, Cummings 15, Brown 13 and Jackson and Isaac Fulwood each with 12.

“We played everybody tough. Our win-loss record didn’t show [how good we were],” said Hoyt, whose program celebrated its first winning season in 10 years a season ago with a 16-12 record, 10-6 in the Maryland JUCO.

This past season saw the Hawks post a 4-11 mark in league play, but Hoyt, a Great Mills High School graduate, maintains his club was improved from a year ago because of competing against a tougher schedule inside and outside the Maryland JUCO.

“The ball just didn’t bounce our way [before regionals],” the CSM coach added. “We were an upper-echelon team that lost 13 games by seven points or less. I really want to praise our schedule. We went to Chicago early in the season and played some of the top teams [in the country]. Our schedule got us ready for these [regional] games. And the Maryland JUCO is a tough league. [At regionals], the ball bounced our way.”

Most teams with a sub .500 record do not compete in regionals. The decision to do so is up to the college itself, and the CSM coach was thankful that athletic director Michelle Ruble gave the go-ahead for the Hawks to prove they were worthy of being in the regional field, especially after they lost their opening-round Maryland JUCO tournament contest to host Frederick on Feb. 12, 94-85.

Hoyt continued, evaluating the year on the whole his depth-riddled team had, “It was a definite step forward [from last year]. Obviously overall, we’re not happy with the 12 wins but we put ourselves in position [to win] so many times. In our playoff wins, we looked strong despite [our losing record].

“I feel like we had a better team than last year, and I feel it’ll be the same way next year.”

Hoyt is excited about the new recruits that will join the Hawks next year in addition to his returners, feeling the team’s regional performance should have a carry-over effect.

dcogle@somdnews.com