The evening session hadn't begun yet and already the first half of the first day of the CAA Tournament had been providing indelible memories. The death of Pasta Luna, the closing of the food court and former UNCW coach Benny Moss holding court outside the Coliseum have ingrained images in my head.
But the more things change, the more things stay the same. During the break between the evening session games, we looked at the 25 year "exhibit" in the Coliseum Concourse. It was more like a display area to be honest. But one thing stood out. As I looked at the 25 player selection for the 25 year anniversary CAA Men's basketball team, EIGHT of those players played in the greatest season of the CAA 2005-2006 - Jose Juan Barea, Alex Loughton, Eric Maynor, Antoine Agudio, Loren Stokes, Jai Lewis, Will Thomas, and John Goldsberry. Just a reminder of the great talent during that season.
Speaking of "the more things stay the same", when we first were in our seats the Richmond Coliseum, it was actually comfortable in the ol' arena. But as the day session went on, it got noticably colder. By the time the VCU - Delaware game had started, it was back to the meat locker I knew and love.
We got to the Coliseum five minutes into the Georgia State- Hofstra game with Hofstra up 8-5 with about 15 minutes left in the first half. The first thing that struck us was that there the attendance was a lot better than we thought. We expected a lot more empty seats than we saw. Second, we noticed Cornelius Vines on the bench. We counted up the Hofstra fouls and immediately realized Vines picked up two quick fouls.
Both teams were struggling to put the ball in the basket. After four plus minutes of action, the Pride/Dutchmen were up 8-7 with 10:15 left. The score was 13-11 Pride when Hofstra's Nathaniel Lester had probably the worst two and a half minutes of his career. Lester missed both free throws on one possession then made two horrible passes later. Result, Georgia State was up 19-15 and Hofstra coach Tom Pecora called a timeout.
Pecora reinserted Vines for the seemingly lost Lester (but not before a Pecora tongue lashing of Lester) and the Pride found it's stride. An 11-1 Hofstra run resulted in a 26-20 lead as Halil Kanacevic capped the spurt with a layup. Hofstra would end the half up 31-26.
Georgia State though came out with a plan in the second half. Work the ball inside to Ousman Krubally and Trey Hampton and get the Hofstra bigs into further foul trouble then they were already in. It worked. The Panthers cut the lead to 40-37 with 15:49 left.
But Hofstra would return fire with a 12-4 spurt to put the Pride up 52-41 with ten minutes left. Chaz Williams, Greg Washington and Charles Jenkins each had four points during this spurt.
Jenkins would have 17 points at this point. But he would not score again for the next five minutes.
During this time, the Panthers made another run, as they outscored the Pride 12-1 over the next three and a half minutes. Trey Hampton tied the game on a three point play.
Jenkins would finally get in the act and put Hofstra up 58-55 with a three pointer with 4:37 left. But Georgia State and specifically Ousman Krubally would not go away. Krubally would score all ten of the Panthers points as a happy Pounce the mascot watched Georgia State pull ahead 65-64 with two minutes left.
That setup the exciting finish. After a Miklos Szabo put Hofstra back up two with 1:51 left, Hofstra had a chance to extend the lead but Chaz Williams missed a layup. However Joe Dukes didn't miss his and GSU went back up one 67-66 with 30 seconds left.
Tom Pecora called timeout and we all figured the play was to give the ball Jenkins, run down the clock and let Jenkins drive for the game winning layup. Nope. Jenkins did get the ball and he gave up to Washington, who drilled a jumper from around the free throw line with 16 seconds left to put Hofstra up one. Then Washington sealed the deal on the other end as he guarded Dukes who eventually coughed up the ball to him. Hofstra survived with the one point win.
The second game of the contest featured James Madison vs. Drexel. And it introduced me to
number 21, Denzel Bowles, the Dukes junior transfer from Texas A&M. It only took us a few minutes to realize that maybe Litos was right, and Bowles should have been first team All CAA.
Early on though, it looked like Drexel was going to hold serve as they jumped out to an 11-4 lead with 13 minutes left. That's when Bowles went to work. He scored five of the next eight points to put JMU up 12-11.
The teams would trade the lead over the next eight minutes in what was slowly becoming a poor shooting, foul infested slugfest. Chris Fouch would give Drexel their final lead of the half and the game, 23-22 with two free throws with 4:22 left. But Pierre Curtis would score seven of the Dukes' eleven points to put JMU up 33-27 at the half. Curtis had 15 points in the first half for JMU. We had a group of Madison fans sit next to us during the game and they wondered aloud "Where was this from him all year?"
But the second half was the Denzel Bowles show and not even a real Dragon could have stopped the man Litos calls "Give em Hell Denzel". Immediately, Bowles scored eight of the first ten JMU points to put Madison up ten 43-33.
Drexel would cut it to five, 45-40 on a Jamie Harris jumper with 12:22 left. But again, Madison would answer and a Matt Parker free throw put the Dukes up 52-41 with a little over ten minutes left in the game.
It was during this time we realized we were watching the longest second half of a game we ever could remember. Foul after foul after foul was being called. And strangely this pace favored Drexel, who couldn't hit the side of a barn in this game. As the teams sloooowwly traded free throws, the Dragons inched back in the game. A Chris Fouch jumper cut the lead to five, 60-55 with five and a half minutes remaining.
But Drexel would get no closer the rest of the way as the fouls flowed, the free throws grew more, Bruiser Flint had reached boiling point and time was basically now a stand still. To be honest, it was the most torturous second half I ever have witnessed. Madison would end up winning 77-65.
The teams had more fouls combined, 55, then baskets 44. Madison was 28 of 39 from the line (72 percent) while Drexel shot 20 of 34 from the line (59 percent). Drexel's shooting from the field was no better, a dismal 34 percent. JMU would shoot 49 percent from the field, due in large part to Bowles and Curtis, who shot a combined 13 of 22 from the field. Bowles was a force of nature with 22 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists. He has a great sense of the court and is an excellent passer for a big man.
So we limped back to our hotel room at 11:00 pm, exhausted from a full day's action. What would tomorrow bring. It turns out, a lot of excitement.