Monday, March 8, 2010

Recap of CAA Semifinals

When Tieff and I left for the Coliseum yesterday, we wondered if we possibly could see anything better than the quarterfinal action on Saturday.
After FINALLY finding some NASCAR toy cars for my two sons (as requested by my older son Matthew), it was to Aunt Sarah's for some pancakes...and tweeting!

After woofing down some blueberry pancakes and making up for days without wireless, I paid the check and we made the all too familiar drive down Broad Street to the Coliseum.

So here is a recap along with some thoughts from the CAA Semi finals.

First, when we entered the building it was electric. Not surprisingly, the semifinals were sold out, 11, 400 fans. Based on percentages, fanwise it was 50 percent VCU, 30 percent ODU, 17 percent William and Mary and maybe 3 percent Northeastern.

The first half was a very even affair with neither team getting a real advantage points wise. But again, ODU was able to get second chances on the offensive end due to superior rebounding. Really amazing how good they are at that.

When Larry Sanders got his second foul with 6:27 left and went to the bench, Tieff and I thought that ODU was going to make a run. But VCU hung in there and kept the score within three at the half.

The Larry Sanders block at the start of the second got the crowd and the Rams energized. VCU then took the lead 39-32 with 16:42 left on a 10-0 run. Ed Nixon was particularly impressive with five of those ten points. A few minutes later, the Rams went on another spurt and extended the lead to 52-40 with 12 minutes left.

The pace clearly favored VCU and the Monarchs were in serious trouble as the Rams' fans were loud and in charge. The lead was still eleven, 55-44, with 9:28 left after Joey Rodriguez nailed a three. It looked like ODU was on the verge of getting blown out of the Coliseum.

But over the next four minutes, ODU made a critical run, led by the General, Gerald Lee. Also during this four minute period, VCU suffered from bad shot selection and a couple of turnovers. The combination allowed the Monarchs to go on an 8-0 spurt, and the lead was cut to three, 55-52 with 5:18 left.

Also during this time, Larry Sanders picked up his fourth foul. But Sanders really hadn't been much of a factor anyhow during the entire game, outside of the block to start the second half. For the game, he only had six points, four rebounds and the lone start of the second half block. He only had seven field goal attempts and missed four of his six free throw attempts. He looked lost out on the court. We're talking Nathaniel Lester lost.

And that ultimately doomed VCU. When your best player is completely taken out of the game, it's hard to keep a team like ODU down. And when Marsharee Neely hit a jumper to tie the game finally at 60, the momentum clearly favored the Monarchs. It was also during this time that Blaine Taylor switched to a zone that completely befuddled VCU the rest of the game.

The last two minutes was sheer pandemonium in the Coliseum. Everyone was standing, cheering. Very loud. During this time, unlike Sanders, the Monarchs best player, Lee, came up big. After Rodriguez put the Rams back up two, Lee again tied the game at 62 with 1:55 left. Lee would score 26 points and only miss two field goal attempts the entire day.

Unfortunately, Lee would have a major brain cramp at the end of the game that might have been costly. He got a five second inbounding call while the Monarchs still had a timeout left. Fortunately for ODU, VCU could not capitalize due to that zone and we went into overtime.

In the overtime period, Nixon would respond with four straight points for the Rams while ODU matched Nixon with jumpers from Lee and Ben Finney, who tied the game at 66. Finney would provide the ultimate dagger as well with a three pointer that put ODU up 71-66 with 1:08 left. After VCU cut it to two on a Brandon Rozzell three, the Rams had a chance to tie but again the ODU zone forced Ed Nixon to attempt an off balance jumper. ODU got the rebound and Lee iced the game with two free throws. Old Dominion advanced to the final 73-69.

So now we were on to the second semifinal with William and Mary facing Northeastern. One of the questions I had on my blog before the Semifinals started yesterday was how was Northeastern going to come out mentally after the double overtime thriller vs. Hofstra. Answer - flat. Very very flat.

Though the Huskies scored the first four points vs. the Tribe, it was due to getting offensive rebounds. After Manny Adako tied the game at six for Northeastern, W&M responded with a 10-0 run over the next six and a half minutes to go up 16-6 with 9:14 left. During this time Northeastern was 0 for 9 from the field.

The Tribe would extend the lead to 22-11 as an unlikely source, Steven Hess, scored six straight points. After Northeastern got the lead down to ten, 25-15, the Tribe got a huge shot of Rum. Matt Rum, that is. Rum nailed a three pointer and got fouled in the process. He hit the free throw for the four point play and W&M was now up 29-15 with 2:54 left. The lead would be extended to sixteen before Adako's layup would end the half with the Tribe up 31-17.

Janning and Chaisson Allen were complete non factors in the first half, combining for only six points. If Northeastern was going to comeback, both had to step up their games in the second half.

Well one did. Janning scored six of his team's first 13 points to start the second half. The Huskies went on a 13-3 run over the first eight minutes of the second half to cut the lead to four 34-30 with 11:58 left. The Huskies would then tie the game finally at 37 all with 8:57 left on an Adako layup.

Northeastern had several opportunities to take the lead but didn't convert until Manny Adako hit a layup with a minute left to put the Huskies up 45-44. Then David Schneider made his first three points of the game really count as he drilled a three pointer with 30 seconds left to put William and Mary up two, 47-45.

It setup possibly the wildest 30 seconds I have ever seen in a game. It was also during this time that W&M coach Tony Shaver made another brilliant move putting Danny Sumner on Janning. Janning couldn't get off a good shot against Summer. But the Huskies would get SIX offensive rebounds in their last possession but time after time, they couldn't convert. Nkem Ojougboh would get the final three chances but couldn't convert on any of them. The Tribe escaped with the two point win while the Huskies were all on the court, many of them with their heads in their hands. It's an image I won't soon forget.

Janning was held to 4 of 14 from the floor for 12 points. Allen was basically invisible the entire game with four points on 2 of 8 shooting. Janning, Allen and Ojougboh combined to shoot 7 of 29 from the field. However, Adako kept them in the game with 14 points. Meanwhile, not one single player on William and Mary was in double digits of scoring. Danny Sumner led them with eight points.

As Tieff and I headed home from the Coliseum, we looked back on what we thought might have been the most exciting CAA Tournament we have seen in the seven years of us going to them. Two overtime games, two other games decided in the last seconds. Loud crowds, great pep bands, shining moments, and images of heart break.

As we were on the turnpike, I closed my eyes to rest and think about the tournament. Just then Tieff yelled out "Oh my god, look !" As I opened my eyes, I saw tumbling lights ahead. A tractor trailer driver apparently fell asleep at the wheel and his truck tumbled over the shoulder and overturned into a ditch. As we drove by, I called 911 and reported the accident. A few minutes later we heard the traffic report on WCBS 880 radio and it noted the accident. Hopefully the truck driver was ok.

It put everything into perspective. No matter how much heartbreak was suffered by VCU and Northeastern on Sunday, no matter how important it was to them, it was only a game.

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