Friday, January 1, 2010

My Top Baker's Dozen Live College Basketball Moments of the Past Decade 2000-2009

Jerry Beach put several interesting Top Ten and Top Five Lists of the Past Decade on his Defiantly Dutch site. That got me to thinking of an appropriate list for this site. Now I have seen many live college basketball games over the past decade (many Hofstra games, many preseason NIT and Coaches vs. Cancer Classic etc etc) and whittling it down to thirteen games was tough. But these thirteen left an indelible mark on me in one way or the other. Yes, many are Hofstra games, but there's a good number that are not.

My Top Baker's Dozen Live College Basketball Moments of The Past Decade

1) March 10, 2001 America East Championship - Hofstra defeats Delaware 78-62 in front of a national television audience on ESPN. The game that really put me over the top as far as following Hofstra basketball as a season ticket holder. A sold out Mack Center. Mike and the Mad Dog broadcasting behind one of the baskets. The rematch of the 2000 championship, also won by Hofstra. Two America East coaches, Jay Wright and Mike Brey, who in the course of several months would become two Big East coaches. Wright benching his entire starting five to rev up the troops (and succeeding).

Now unfortunately, I was not at the PFC in March 2000 for the first of the back to back America East championships for Hofstra. I was at a conference down in Washington DC and I watched the game in my hotel bar. I remember the bartender asking where Hofstra was located. I did think the coolest thing was seeing the ESPN screen showing "Delaware Fighting Blue Hens vs. Hofstra Flying Dutchmen." Two of the best nicknames in college sports (then Hofstra had to ruin it by switching to the Pride).

What stands out for me was the crowd. It was the first time I had ever seen Hofstra get such support in any game/event ever on that campus. A loud student section, hell a loud crowd in general. It was the kind of home crowd that Hofstra should have on a regular basis. The place was rocking! This is why the America East is one of the best championship games during "Championship Week". Nothing has topped that game in my mind, but the next two are pretty close.

2) March 3-6, 2006 CAA Tournament - This came pretty close, though I was not there for the championship game (which UNC Wilmington won, defeating Hofstra). This tournament had everything.

A) A truly bizarre occurrence late in the first round Delaware/Drexel game where the referees basically screwed Bruiser Flint and Drexel. I can't even begin to describe what happened, other than there was a call, a lot of refereess consulting with the scorers table etc, and sadly I can't remember how it all happened. But I remember the three of us thinking it was crazy what was happening. If someone can remember the details (I'll probably email Litos on that), please e-mail me.

B) Watching George Mason having to rally to force overtime against #10 seed Georgia State before winning in overtime in the quarterfinals. Very few people remember this game, but I do. Mason led most of the game before Georgia State made a second half run to take the lead. GMU had to comeback, but the Panthers tied it to force overtime before the Patriots won in the extra session. Had Mason lost this game, which the AP described Mason winning as "to avoid an embarrassing defeat", I am pretty sure Hofstra would have made the NCAA tournament not Mason.

C) Hofstra having to face VCU, which is literally down the road from the Richmond Coliseum, in basically what amounted to a home game for the Rams. Hofstra survives VCU, the partisan Ram crowd, and the refs and wins 72-66, in large part due to Antoine Agudio's 34 points.

D) Jose Juan Barea, now a NBA star with the Mavericks, puts on a clinic as Northeastern ends the game on a 17-3 run to upset defending CAA champion Old Dominion in the quarterfinals 71-63. Barea scores 20 points and dishes out 9 assists in the win.

E) UNC Wilmington flat out dominates Northeastern in the semis winning 69-54. It was over in the first half but Northeastern's Shawn James did put on a shot blocking clinic with 8 blocks.

F) After trailing at halftime to Mason 33-27, Hofstra plays their finest half of the 2005-06 season as they hold the Patriots to 16 second half points in a convincing 58-49 win. Loren Stokes and Carlos Rivera combine for 45 points in the win. But not before Tony Skinn punches Loren Stokes in the private parts, gets caught on local UNCW TV coverage and creates a national media incident, complete with discussion on PTI that Monday.

After this game, Tieff, Mal and I are convinced the Pride have made the tournament. Alas, the screw job of Selection Sunday 2006 occurs, and Hofstra is left out in the cold. And by the way, I have said all along on this site that I didn't mind Mason being in the tournament and it was Air Force that didn't belong in the NCAA Tournament (they lost in the quarters to Wyoming who was 5-11 during the conference season). Just Hofstra should have been in there before Mason.

It has even more significance of what happened in the postseason. Of course, everyone knows Mason makes an improbable run to the Final Four. UNCW blows a big lead to GW and loses in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Hofstra and ODU proceed to win five games in the NIT and the only reason both don't make the NIT semifinals at the Garden is that they face each other in Hempstead in the quarterfinals. Overall, the CAA goes 9-4 in the postseason in 2006.

3) 2008 NCAA Raleigh Regional - Also very close on the top of my list. Two days. Six games. And perhaps the greatest display ever put on by one player in a regional. It was Stephen Curry's national coming out party.

The first day it was Davidson's great comeback against Gonzaga. Curry scores 40 points on the Zags. The sick crossover dribble at the end of the Gonzaga game. And oh yeah, the #1 seed North Carolina Tar Heels were there, pasting Mount St Mary's 113-74, but not showing a lot of defense. The evening game had Georgetown putting the clamp down on UMBC, while "Teen Wolf" Steven Hill, Sonny Weems and Arkansas crushed a listless Eric Gordon and Indiana 86-72. And in between games, all the fans hovered around TVs watching Western Kentucky knock off Drake and in the evening session, Siena stunning Vanderbilt and then Villanova beating Clemson (neither a shock to me).

The second day, it was North Carolina putting a beat down on Arkansas. But then there was the Georgetown-Davidson game. Seeing that live was truly one of the great moments in my life, only eclipsed by the other two listed above, probably due to the fact that those games involved my alma mater. Think about it, Georgetown, the #2 seed in the Midwest region is up seventeen points with less than 18 minutes left. Then Curry scores TWENTY FIVE second half points and despite the Hoyas shooting 63 percent in the game, the Wildcats win.

The North Carolina fans, who clearly hadn't forgotten that Georgetown beat them in the East Regional Final the year before, got fully behind their fellow North Carolina school. As a result, Curry and the Wildcats brought down the house. It was truly one of those "I was there" moments.

4) February 23, 2006 - Hofstra Beats Nationally Ranked George Mason 77-66 - Say what you want about the win over Old Dominion or the overtime classic vs UNC Wilmington, this was the biggest regular season home game in the history of the Mack Center. It was the first of two dominant performances by the Pride vs the eventual Final Four Patriots. And it was the first time Hofstra had ever defeated a nationally ranked opponent (George Mason came into the game ranked #25 in the ESPN coaches poll). All five Hofstra players score in double figures and many of the 4200 fans in attendance storm the court after the victory.

5) 2008 CAA Tournament Semifinal - William and Mary Upsets VCU 56-54. It was perhaps the greatest example of David (17-16) slaying Goliath (24-8) that I have seen live. First, the Mary pulls this off in front of a very partisan Rams crowd, so much so that when coach Anthony Grant walked on the court before the game, it was like the Pope had walked out. Second the Mary were facing the defending CAA champs in VCU, the team that knocked off Duke in the first round of the NCAA Tournament in the previous season.

Finally, this game should be shown to all coaches on how to break a tough press. Tony Shaver had his guards get the ball to Laimis Kisielius at center court and Kiselius repeatedly brought the ball up court and setup Tribe players or himself (23 points) for easy baskets (Kiselius had six assists in the game). Everyone that wasn't a Ram fan rooted heavily for the Tribe. Next to Davidson beating Georgetown, it was the greatest upset I have seen live.

6) January 14, 2006 Triple Overtime - Hofstra defeats UNC Wilmington 92-87. This game is important for several reasons. First, it was televised as one of the CAA games of the week, so it was shown regionally. Second, the game was a preview of the CAA championship game (won by UNCW). Third it was the game that legitimized Hofstra as a CAA title contender and was a must win after being upset at Towson only a few days before. Finally, it was a great game with two teams refusing to quit. Hofstra won this game due to Stokes' 30 points (also Adrian Uter missed the game due to injury as he had when they lost to Towson prior to this game).

It was also memorable for something I did and I am reminded of this often. My season tickets used to be behind the scorers table in row G and my seat was next to the aisle. During the first or second overtime period, there was a loose ball scramble between the Pride's Arminas Urbutis and a Seahawks player. It was right inline with where I was sitting. The ball clearly went off the UNCW player, but the referee nearest the play said it was UNCW ball. I jumped out of my seat, raced down to the first row and yelled at the top of my lungs "ASK FOR HELP! ASK FOR HELP!" Hate to say it, but you could clearly hear me.

At this moment, another ref came over to the first ref, discussed the play, and the call was reversed. I raced back up to my seat, happy with the results. Mal and Tieff looked at me liked I had two heads. Then it dawned on me. The game is being TELEVISED and no doubt the cameras were filming that. I cracked a smile and said something to the effect like "well that should make interesting TV".

My friend Dr. J emailed me after the game and said "On the tape, someone was yelling at the referees and it wasn't me." Uh oh. Mal called me later and said his wife was taping the game and the replay clearly showed me front and center yelling at the refs. I had a student/now alum I was friendly with (and still am) come to my office door and say with a big smile "I will never be late for another exam ever." And other university colleagues would walk up to me and say they saw me too. My Hofstra colleague and friend Marty Gross who watched the game, swears that I was responsible for changing that call. That's the way I will remember it, embarrassing as it turned out to be.

7) November 14, 2003 Coaches vs Cancer Classic - #21 Pitt defeats Alabama and #18 St Joseph's defeats #12 Gonzaga - I remember this vividly. Not only for just being at both games but that all four teams would have very successful seasons and would make the 2004 NCAA Tournament, three of the teams as high seeds. The first of the two games, the St Joseph's - Gonzaga game was the better of the two. I remember saying to Mal and Tieff that the first half of that game was NCAA Tournament quality good (St Joe's would lead at the half 38-34). Yes that was the Jameer Nelson/Dionte West St Joseph's team.

In the 2003-04 season, St Joe's of course would be the #1 seed in the East Regional and finish 30-3 losing to Oklahoma State in the East Regional final. Prior to that game, Pitt (31-5), the #3 seed in the East would also lose to Oklahoma State in the East Regional Semifinal.

Gonzaga (29-3) would become the #2 seed in the West Regional and would get upset by #10 Nevada in the second round. Alabama (20-13) was an #8, knocked off #1 seed Stanford in the West regional, defeated #5 seed Syracuse in the regional semifinal, but would lose to eventual National Champion UConn in the West Regional Final.

Think about it. I got to see Jameer Nelson, Dionte West, Blake Stepp, Ronny Turiaf, Adam Morrison, Carl Krauser among others. Three teams - St Joe's, Gonzaga, and Pitt had a combined record that season of 90-11. And Alabama, the supposed worst team of the four still made the West Regional Final. By the far, the best doubleheader of teams I would ever see.

8) March 17, 2009 - CW Post Wins Division II East Regional Tournament defeating Bentley. Despite the successful years by St Joseph's College in Patchogue, who made the Division III tournament, and Hofstra's 21 win season, CW Post was the best team on Long Island during the 2008-09 basketball season. The Pioneers went undefeated during the regular season and had a #2 national ranking.

Their reward was to host the Division II East Regional. Early on, it looked like Bentley was going to blow Post out of the building. The Falcons jumped out to a 12-2 lead and extended it to 42-24 early second half lead.

But Coach Tim Cluess would direct his team back to a 50-45 deficit due to the fact he had a very talented team of Division I transfers; former Stony Brook player Nick Carter and former St Peters guard Kevin Burkes, along with terrific scorer Timothy Schmidt. Then came the critical point in the game and it's almost a deja vu moment from the Hofstra-UNCW game, but this time it wasn't me that got involved.

During the second half, one of the Falcons better players, Lew Finnegan, a real hothead, basically showed up a ref who made a foul call against Bentley that Finnegan didn't like. My friend Dr J was sitting next to me, along with my friend Bob Sugar, who works for Post. All of a sudden Dr J yells out to the ref for everyone to hear telling the Ref not to let Finnegan show him up. A few minutes later the ref calls a technical on Finnegan for unsportsmanlike conduct for shoving Pioneers guard Roberto Macklin. Four free throws later, the Falcons lead is cut to one and the Pioneers go on for the victory. Finnegan never scores again. Dr J gets the assist.

The Post arena was sold out and the place was rocking. It brought back fond memories of March 2001 when Hofstra won the America East or in 2006, when Hofstra upset Mason. It was further proof that there is nothing better than college basketball in front of a sold out rocking arena/gym.

9) March 2006 - Hofstra Hosts Two NIT Tournament Games - Thanks to the 2006 screw job instituted by Craig Littlepage and Tom O'Connor, Hofstra got to host a NIT game vs. Nebraska. It was a dominant performance for the Pride as they jumped to a twelve point lead at halftime, then extended it to nineteen points in the second half as they cruised to a 73-62 win. Stokes and Agudio combine for 44 points as Hofstra had nine steals and only six turnovers. In front of only 3600 people, Hofstra wins their first postseason game ever in their 33 years in Division I.

Then Hofstra was forced to play at Saint Joseph's thanks to the screwy seeding done by CM Newton and the boys at the NIT. Hofstra would survive as Jerry Beach calls it "the unfriendly bandbox of Alumni Fieldhouse" and wins in OT 77-75. After Manhattan upset Maryland in the other part of their bracket and ODU beat Manhattan in the second round, the Pride get to host their third game against Old Dominion in what was becoming possibly the most heated rivalry in the CAA at that time.

In front of a sold out Mack Center crowd, the Pride jump out to a six point halftime lead. Then Hofstra had a chance to extend the lead to eleven in the second half, but an Agudio three rims out. Old Dominion slowly grinds down a tired Hofstra team and chips away at the lead. Isaiah Hunter's jumper puts ODU up two, 43-41 with nine minutes left. The game remains close, with the Monarchs clinging to a two point lead 53-51 with 2:15 left. But ODU scores the last eight points and wins 61-51.

10) February 2, 2006 - Hofstra Defeats Old Dominion at Mack Center 65-63. Auremis Kieza nails a three at the buzzer to lift the Pride to the win. This was a play that was kept shown on Hofstra highlights for at least a good year. It was further proof to me after the wild Hofstra-Drexel game that I saw the weekend before, that maybe this Hofstra team was destined for something big (only to be screwed out of it by Littlepage, O'Connor and friends).

11) January 28, 2006 - Hofstra's Amazing Overtime Comeback Win at Drexel 76-75. There are some games that defy description, even when you are seeing the game live and see all the craziness in front of you unfold in the span of minutes. Such was the case at the DAC on January 28. The DAC was a house of horrors for Hofstra and to top that, Drexel had won the last eight regular season games vs. Hofstra (Hofstra defeated Drexel in 2005 in the CAA quarterfinals) since the two teams had joined the CAA.

Hofstra had jumped out to a halftime lead and were up seven at one point in the second half before Drexel scored the last six points in regulation to come back to tie the game late at 67 all and force overtime. Drexel then scored the first six points in overtime and had a 73-67 lead with a little over a minuted left. Hofstra looked like it was about to lose its ninth regular season game in a row. But Hofstra would outscore Drexel 9-2 the rest of the way to win the game 76-75.

How they did it was the truly unreal part. After Rivera's layup with 1:08 left cut the lead to four, Drexel all of sudden couldn't inbound a ball. Rivera would hit another three to cut the lead to 75-73 with 17 seconds left. After Drexel again couldn't inbound the ball, Rivera again got the ball and went up to shoot a potentially game winning three. He missed. But then all hell broke loose.

The referee called a foul on Drexel for fouling Rivera on the three point attempt. Bruiser Flint went BALLISTIC on the refs and got a technical foul call. So now Rivera, the Pride's best free throw shooter had five three throw attempts. Behind the basket Rivera was shooting at was a loud hostile Drexel student section who only got more fuel to scream and yell thanks to the technical foul call. Rivera would then miss the two technical free throws much to the delight of the Dragons crowd. Then amazingly, Rivera would sink the next three free throws for the three point foul call and the Pride went up 76-75 and would hold on for the victory. It was a typical Hofstra win that season as all five Hofstra starters scored in double figures.

Now the thing about the DAC is that there is only really one entrance/exit and those seating in the seats have to come out on the court to leave. It was surreal. You had angry fans, an angry Bruiser Flint, the refs, the players, everyone. I thought that a brawl was going to start. It was that explosive. But thankfully nothing ever materialized. Tieff and I talked about the game over a great dinner at Maggiano's. It's something I will never forget.

12) December 26, 27 2000 Holiday Festival - Penn State Holds On To Beat Hofstra 74-71 to win Holiday Festival championship. After Hofstra knocked off Rutgers and Dahntay Jones 58-52 in the first round, the Pride now took on the Crispin Brothers and Penn State in the championship game. The Crispins and company were too much for the Pride as the Nittany Lions held on for an exciting 74-71 win and denied Hofstra their third straight Holiday Festival championship. We got to see two NCAA tournament teams battle it out (Penn State would make the Sweet 16 that year) and a future Dukie in Jones.

13) December 30, 2004 - #8 Syracuse Holds On To Beat Hofstra 80-75 at the Carrier Dome - There were other games that could have occupied the spot. The 78-68 win at home vs. St John's earlier that season in front of a sellout crowd probably was the ignition to a very successful 2004-05 season and the first of three straight NIT seasons for the Pride. And the game that I went to Kansas this season, just for the experience of being at Allen Fieldhouse was truly special. However, it was this game in 2004 against nationally ranked Syracuse that put Hofstra on the map as legitimate force in mid major college basketball for the next three seasons.

There were 30,000 people at this game on a Friday night and Tieff and I had probably the worst seats we ever had for a game. Hofstra played a textbook game in how to score against a zone defense. Lots of passing, have a player at the top of the key to either take an open shot or to pass to a guard for an open three. Hofstra would shoot 12 of 24 from three and 51 percent overall. The Pride would lead for a good part of the game and were still up one, 58-57 with less than eleven minutes left. Syracuse would go ahead but Hofstra would keep it close, only down two with fifty seconds left. But Hakeen Warrick's dunk and his 27 other points were too much for Hofstra.

I remember reading a local Syracuse paper the next day as someone asked Boeheim why he stayed in a zone as Hofstra was repeatedly nailing threes. His response was that the Pride guards were too quick for his team. I knew right there that Hofstra had a legitimate team to be reckoned with.

Hope you enjoyed this list. Today it's live updates as Hofstra hosts the Mary at the Mack Center.

1 comment:

  1. It will be great to watch NCAA Mens Basketball Tournament: Rounds 1 & 2 - Session 1, i have bought tickets from looking forward to it.