Saturday, November 27, 2010

Four Games in Twenty Five Hours - Part I - NIT Preseason Tip-Off - Day 2

When I was at the Jets game on Sunday with my good friends Tieff and Karen, a Villanova alum, we were talking about the Preseason NIT Tip-Off.   We already had know that Karen couldn't make Wednesday's doubleheader,  but then I told her that the championship was Friday, which she didn't realize.  Karen wanted to go, and Tieff and I, never ones to pass up good live college basketball,  decided  to join in, even though we had our season tickets to the Hofstra game Friday vs. Wagner.

Thus while the Jets made their historic comeback on the Texans, the plan was hatched.  Go to the Garden for an afternoon matinee, then leave the championship game early to head to the Hofstra game.  We didn't know who was playing in the championship game for sure, but we had a feeling Nova was going to be there.  Sure enough after Wednesday's night's action,  which Mal, Tieff and I had attended, the games were set for Friday - VCU vs. UCLA in the consolation game at 2:30.  Then at 5:00 PM, it was Tennessee vs. Villanova for the championship.

We met Karen right in front of the Garden entrance and got to our seats right before the start of the game.  It was a sparse crowd to begin the second day of the Tip-off at MSG, similar to the crowd for the start of the VCU- Tennessee game on Wednesday night.   Most of the crowd would be late arriving Nova fans.  But there was still a decent amount of VCU fans, and later it seemed there were more Volunteer fans than on Wednesday night.

With an absolutely terrific VCU pep band spurring them along, the Rams raced out to an early 6-0 lead.  Or more precisely , Jamie Skeen led the Rams out to a 6-0 lead, scoring all six of VCU's points in what would turnout to be a terrific day for the Wake Forest transfer.   UCLA would score ten of the next sixteen points and cut the lead to 12-10 on a Reeves Nelson dunk.

But unlike their first half vs. Tennessee, VCU would find their shooting stroke vs. UCLA.   A 11-2 run capped by a Tony Veal layup put the Rams up 23-12 with 8:53 left in the first half.    The lead would still be eleven, 34-23 on a Bradford Burgess three pointer with 5:00 minutes exactly left in the half.   And it looked like VCU was poised to extend the lead on the Bruins.

However, fueled by four VCU turnovers,  UCLA responded with a 14-4 run as a Joshua Smith steal off of Joey Rodriguez led to a Malcolm Lee layup and the Bruins were only down one, 38-37 with 1:17 left.   VCU would end the half up 40-37 as who else, Skeen with a layup, gave the Rams the three point cushion.

One thing was clearly evident.  Both teams were shooting much better in the first half of this game then they did in their previous games on Wednesday, as shown by the picture on the left.  However, both teams were also very sloppy with the ball with a combined 22 turnovers in the first half.  Joey Rodriguez' struggles from Wednesday continued over in the first 20 minutes of this game.  Rodriguez had four turnovers in the first half and was only 1 for 5 from the field for three points.

But as VCU fans were enjoying their pep band play a an awesome set of songs during halftime, they could thank Jamie Skeen for the first half lead.  Skeen was the best player on the court, scoring ten of VCU's first twelve points, and scoring twelve in the half.    He is an accomplished post player, passes well for a big man, can also block shots, gets to the foul line often and is very good free throw shooter for a big man (shooting nearly 78 percent from the line this season).

The second half started off very similar to the first half.  Skeen scored the first four points for the Rams and VCU extended their lead to ten 53-43 with fourteen minutes remaining in the game.  The lead remained ten, 60-50 when Joey Rodriguez hit his third three pointer of the game and the second of the half.   And the lead would continue to grow to thirteen, as the Rams remained hot from the field with Rob Brandenburg hitting a layup to put VCU up 69-56 with about seven minutes left.

It looked like UCLA was done, but someone forgot to tell the Bruins that.   Led by Malcolm Lee, Tyler Honeycutt and Reeves Nelson, UCLA outscored VCU 16-6 to cut the lead to 75-72 with 3:29 left.  The lead remained three 80-77 with 1:29 left when UCLA had a chance to tie.

During halftime, Karen, Tieff and I discussed who was going to win.   Both thought UCLA was going to comeback and win.   I said whichever team has less turnovers at the end of the game is going to win, and I thought VCU would win due to that.

The Bruins had a chance with 1:29 left but Darius Theus stole the ball from Honeycutt which led to Jamie Skeen's layup to put VCU up 82-77 and UCLA never got closer.   It was also UCLA's 21st turnover on the day, compared to VCU's 13.

The Rams would win 89-83. Skeen nearly had another double with 23 points and 9 rebounds.  He also added 3 assists and 2 blocks.  Rodriguez had a huge second half with three 3 pointers to finish with 14 points.  Burgess was 3 for 3 on three pointers for 15 points.  The Rams shot 48 percent from the field including 10 of 22 from beyond the arc. UCLA had four players in double figures led by Malcolm Lee's 23 points, which included 5 of 7 from three.  Nelson and Honeycutt each had double doubles - Nelson with 20 points and 10 rebounds, while Honeycutt had 18 points and 13 rebounds.

The Rams' pep band continued an absolutely terrific performance with a post game set while Tennessee and Villanova warmed up on the floor.  Meanwhile,  a lot of late arriving Tennessee and Villanova fans started filling the seats before the championship game.  Karen was very excited, because it was first time that she was seeing her alma mater live in a while.

Then right around 5:30, the lights dimmed. And as only the World's Most Famous Arena can really do, both teams' starting lineups were introduced under spotlights. Even though this was a "preseason" tournament being played in November, it's still pretty cool when the Garden puts it's special touch on such an event.  To put icing on the cake, the VCU pep band hung around and played the national anthem for the second game, then left right after.  A fitting encore for one of the best pep bands in college basketball who gave a MSG concert like performance on Friday.

As for the second game, it was clearly evident early on that Tennessee's suffocating defense was causing problem's for Villanova's offense, just as it had for VCU on Wednesday.  The Wildcats missed nine of their first ten field goal attempts and the Volunteers jumped out to an early 10-4 lead with 13:44 left in the first half.

What made matters worse for Villanova is that two thirds of the Wildcats terrific trifecta of guards, Corey Fisher and Malik Wayns each picked up two quick fouls not even seven and a half minutes into the game.  Tennessee would maintain its lead on Nova as Tobias' Harris three pointer put the Volunteers up 22-14  with 8:41 left in the first half.

The now shorthanded Wildcats just couldn't get on track in the first half as the quagmire, foul plagued pace definitely favored the defense heavy Volunteers.  Four free throws by Tobias Harris and Scotty Hopson put Tennessee up 30-20 with 5:27 left.  Nova would answer with seven straight points to cut the lead to 30-27 with 3:50 left.  But Nova would not get any closer as neither team would score a field goal the last four and a half minutes of the first half.

Tennessee would outscore Villanova 5-3 at the charity stripe and take the lead at halftime 35-30.  It was definitely Pat Riley Era New York Knicks basketball with lots of fouls called.  Let's just say there were more whistles during the first half than at a crossing guard convention.   We decided that we were going to leave because we wanted to get to the Hofstra game and Karen had plans as well in the evening.

As for the rest of the game itself, as Tieff and I were on the slowest possible LIRR train from Penn Station to Mineola, I followed the game on my cell phone. Villanova did rally in the second half and actually took a lead for the first time in the entire game when Antonio Pena put the Wildcats up 41-39.  But eventually, the Volunteers wore Nova down and won 78-68.

Thanks to the Tennessee defense, Villanova shot an ugly 30 percent from the field including an unseemly 4 of 21 from beyond the arc. Star Nova guard Corey Fisher had only three points on 1 of 10 shooting, which seemed an awful lot like Joey Rodriguez' performance against the same Volunteers two days earlier. In fact, the Nova guard trifecta of Fisher, Wayns and Stokes, which had scored 61 against UCLA, only scored a combined 25 points against Tennessee on 7 of 30 shooting.

Hopson again led Tennessee with 18 points as four Volunteers scored in double figures.  Cameron Tatum added 17, while Harris had 15 points and 9 rebounds and Brian Williams added 12 points and 7 rebounds.  Tennessee shot 45 percent from the field.   And if you were wondering how foul plagued this game was, well both teams combined for SEVENTY ONE free throws.   Folks, it doesn't get any uglier than that.

But still, it was a fun way to spend a Friday.  Two live college basketball  games with two dear friends. And now Tieff and I were off to our third game of the day, a Friday night date at the Mack Center with Wagner facing Hofstra.

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