Saturday, December 19, 2009

Spiders, Shockers and Monarchs, Oh My! And A Dandy at Hinkle

It's been a wild day all around. There is a major snow storm that has hit the mid atlantic states and is now POUNDING Long Island, home base of the College Hardwood. Here, in North Bellmore, NY, there has not been much else to do but watch college basketball all day. God I hate what snow storms force us to do. However, I can not rejoice too much because the storm is threatening to snow under my plans for the Holiday Festival at MSG tomorrow.

So the day started out with the dandy at Hinkle which pitted Xavier, recent conquerors of Cincinnati vs. Butler, who just slayed the Buckeyes of Ohio State. Though the game was on ESPN2, the boys at Bristol sent their A1 team of Brent Musburger and Bobby Knight. Musburger, Knight and all of America that watched were treated to a great game.

The game did not start out looking like a classic. Butler came out with a barrage of three pointers and early on, Xavier looked like they were going to be buried by the trifecta avalanche (yes there will be a lot of snow storm references in this posting, so you have been forewarned). The Bulldogs hit four three pointers in the first seven minutes and went out to a 20-6 lead.

Butler's lead looked like a snow drift at 32-17 with 6:43 left in the first half as Gordon Hayward had thirteen points in barely over the first thirteen minutes. However, Xavier's Brad Redford would drill two three pointers to help the Musketeers to cut the lead in half to 39-32 at halftime.

Xavier would extend the end of the first half momentum into the first four and half minutes as the Musketeers went on a 15-2 run, forcing four Bulldog turnovers. Jason Love and Jordan Crawford combined for 13 of those 15 Xavier points.

So what was a 39-32 Butler lead was now 47-41 Xavier with 15:34 left in the game. And the Musketeers would hold that lead for nearly eleven minutes until Ronald Nored's two free throws tied the game at 60 with a little over four minutes left. Xavier would regain the lead as Crawford and Love scored six of the last eight points the Musketeers would score.

Shelvin Mack would hit two free throws to cut Xavier's lead to one, 68-67 with 36 seconds left. Then the last 36 seconds would turn into the Gordon Hayward show. First Hayward would force a jump ball which turned the ball over to Butler since they had the possession arrow. Then Hayward would rebound a miss by Mack with 32 seconds left to setup the Bulldogs' final possession. Then after Willie Veasley missed a shot and lost the ball, Hayward scrambled to pick up the loose ball and put in a layup with 1.2 seconds left to put Butler up 69-68.

Then the most bizarre ending to a game that I have ever seen took place. Xavier called time out after the layup and the referees reviewed to see how much time was left on the clock. During this time,the ball was knocked away and Mack picked it up in the Bulldogs backcourt. Around 14.7 seconds left when Mack picked the ball up, the game clock stopped for about a second or so, then started again.

The refs then decided to use a stop watch while reviewing the replay to see how long the clock had stopped and then to see what time really was left on the clock, if there was any time. Well, they used the stop watch and they came to the conclusion that the Hayward layup counted barely, but that there was no time left in the game. The referees said the game was over. Needless to say that Xavier coach Chris Mack was furious at the decision and the Xavier team stormed off the court losing 69-68. Truly truly bizarre.

But the game was a coming out party for Gordon Hayward. The Bulldogs forward had 22 points on 6 of 11 shooting, including 4 of 5 from beyond the arc and pulled down 14 rebounds. More importantly Hayward was huge in the second half. Every loose ball that Butler got , it seemed it was Hayward coming up with it. Truly an outstanding performance. Jordan Crawford was almost as good for Xavier. Almost.

The wacky ending at Hinkle Fieldhouse was just the beginning to a wild day full of bizarre occurrences. In Florida, Richmond was coming off a loss to South Carolina where the Spiders were up on the Gamecocks 32-24 at the half, before giving up 52 second half points eventually losing to South Carolina by 18 points.

Well Florida went out to a first half lead against the Spiders. Guess what the score was at the half? 32-24 Florida. So guess what happened? Yup, Richmond came out and shut down the Gators in the second half, limiting Florida to 21 points and David Gonzalvez had four 3 pointers to lead the Spiders to a 56-53 upset victory. Florida was held to 26 percent shooting in the second half, including 1 of 9 from beyond the arc. Richmond is now 8-3 and has a signature road win on their resume come tournament time.

Speaking of resume wins, Old Dominion had one three seasons ago when they last made the NCAA Tournament in 2007. That season, the Monarchs went on the road to Georgetown and knocked off the eventual Final Four member Hoyas 75-62. It was the only game that Georgetown played that season in the McDonough Arena on campus (they play all their games at the Verizon Center), So a little over three years later, there were the same two teams again at the only game played this season at McDonough Arena.

Could history repeat itself? Yes, it did.

The game turned out to be shown here locally on SNY, so I got to watch the upset unfold. Before the game started, I honestly thought this was a bad matchup for the Monarchs. ODU's strength is their frontcourt and Greg Monroe and Julian Vaughn certainly were a formidable matchup for Gerald Lee and Frank Hassell. I thought this was come down to the backcourts and I thought Georgetown's was superior.

But ODU's guard/forward Ben Finney set out to prove me wrong. ODU came out in the first half on fire, and Finney was the spark. Finney scored 10 first half points as Old Dominion went out to an eleven point halftime lead, 32-21. The Monarchs would extend the lead in the second half to sixteen 47-31 with 13:53 left.

A lot of this was due to a smart game plan by the Monarchs. Drive the lane and kick to the open man underneath for an easy layup or find Finney or Trian Iliadis for the open three. Finney and Illiadis combined to shoot six of eight from beyond the arc (the rest of the Monarchs, who struggle to shoot the three, were 1 of 8 combined). The Hoyas got snowed under due to eighteen turnovers (many of which were due to ODU's defense and many of which were due to sloppy play by Georgetown), the Monarchs had thirteen more FG attempts. And ODU cashed in, shooting 45 percent overall.

The Monarchs had to hold on at the end as they nearly blew their sixteen point lead, but they won 61-57. ODU now has beaten a ranked Georgetown team again on the Hoyas homecourt for the second time in three years and gave GTown their first loss on the season. And the Monarchs now have their own signature win for their NCAA Tournament resume.

Finally, another team put a signature win on their Tournament resume as Wichita State held on at home to knock off previously undefeated and ranked Texas Tech 85-83. The Shockers went 28 of 34 from the line to help plow the road and seal the deal for their tenth win in eleven games. Clevin Hannah and J.T. Durley combined for 44 points in the win.

As I see the snow mount up in my front yard, I am wondering if I will get to see the Holiday Festival tomorrow. My guess is that the games will go on. I just wonder if I will be able to get there to see them live. Stay warm and stay safe tonight.

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