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March 13, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

The Morning Dish – Thursday, March 13th, 2003

by Brian Seymour

College hoops-wise, most of New York City’s attention is being paid to the Big East Tournament, but a great story was played out Wednesday night well away from the glitz and glamour of Manhattan.

The Wagner Seahawks, who call NYC’s Staten Island home, dominated St. Francis (NY) en route to a 78-61 win in the championship of the Northeast Conference Tournament and their first-ever bid to the NCAA Tournament

New York’s mayor, Michael Bloomberg, was in attendance at the game, but no word if Staten Island’s most famous residents — the Wu-Tang Clan — made it to the game.

Method Man or no Method Man, the Seahawks (21-10) were nothing to (expletive deleted) with on their home floor, to paraphrase the title of one of Wu-Tang’s biggest songs. NEC Player of the Year Jermaine Hall scored 22 of his 27 points in the first half as Wagner raced to a big first-half lead and never looked back.

St. Francis (14-16) had been impressive in the season’s final weeks, but couldn’t match the energy of the Seahawks, their excited home crowd and their famous coach.

Oh, that’s right — did I mention Wagner is coached by Dereck Whittenburg, the former North Carolina State player who 20 years ago this month launched the most famous airball in college hoops history? That errant shot was grabbed by Lorenzo Charles and dunked on a seemingly frozen Houston squad in one of the most replayed moments in college basketball history.

Now, with a likely 16th seed awaiting them, Whittenberg and his Seahawks will get a chance to make more history next Thursday or Friday.

Side Dishes

Weber State holds on: Despite a bizarre finish which almost saw a fan cost it the game, Weber State was able to defeat Eastern Washington 60-57 and win the Big Sky’s championship game.

It looked as if the game was over when the Wildcats were fouled with a three point lead and 7.4 seconds left, but Weber State (26-5) was assessed a technical foul after a fan apparently threw an object onto the court. The crowd had been warned earlier in the game about throwing items on the floor.

The Eagles (18-12) were only able to convert one of the two technical free throws, after which Weber State made one of two free throws. A last-second desperation three-pointer wasn’t even close for EWU.

Jermaine Boyette had a huge second half for the Wildcats, scoring 21 of his 28 points in the final 20 minutes.

Irish out in Big East: St. John’s jumped out to a 23-point lead and held on in the face of a furious Notre Dame comeback to upset the Irish 83-80 in the first round of the Big East Tournament. The Red Storm (16-12) led by 21 points at halftime, but Notre Dame got hot late in the game, hitting eight straight shots at one point to cut the St. John’s lead to 82-80 with 1:10 left, though it would not score again.

Marcus Hatten scored 18 points for the Red Storm, who advance to meet Boston College in today’s quarterfinal round. Despite the win, St. John’s still likely needs to win the conference tournament to advance to the NCAA Tournament. Torin Francis’ 19 points led the Irish.

Meanwhile, the rest of the favored teams in the Big East were able to win their games — Providence defeated West Virginia, 73-50; Georgetown snuck by suspension-depleted Villanova, 46-41 and Seton Hall likely punched its NCAA ticket with a 67-52 win over Miami.

Upsets abound in C-USA: DePaul’s NCAA Tournament hopes are over after falling 76-74 to South Florida in the first round of the Conference USA Tournament, which saw three of the four higher seeded teams lose.

The seventh-seeded Blue Demons fell to 16-12, almost certainly too many losses for an at-large bid despite their RPI of 52. Reggie Kohn scored 23 points on seven three-pointers for South Florida (15-13), who advance to meet Memphis.

Meanwhile, No. 5 seed Cincinnati (17-11) was also an upset victim, falling 63-61 to Southern Miss. USM’s Jasper Johnson scored a putback with 4 seconds left after getting two offensive rebounds to give the Golden Eagles the lead. Southern Miss gets surging Saint Louis in the next round.

In what was certainly a mild upset at best, No. 9 UAB pounded No. 8 Charlotte, 85-61. The Blazers will face top-seeded Marquette in the quarterfinals. In the other first round game, Tulane easily handled Houston, 74-52.

Tonight’s Menu

All of the major conferences are finally in action, including several teams who need wins to boost their hopes of earning at-large bids to the NCAA Tournament. No automatic bids will be earned today, but several teams will see their postseason hopes (or at least their NCAA Tournament hopes) dashed. In fact, today will be the busiest day of college hoops remaining this season with a total of 90 teams in action.

• The Big East Tournament continues with St. John’s looking to continue the upsets, this time against Boston College, the top seed in the East Division.

• The Pac 10 Tournament kicks off and includes an intriguing contest between No. 1 Arizona and UCLA that will likely be Steve Lavin’s final game as head coach of the Bruins. Another key game is Oregon against Arizona State, with the Ducks possibly needing a win to ensure an at-large bid.

• The always entertaining ACC Tournament has only the play-in game between Clemson and Florida State. It’s OK to pretend that ACC Tournament doesn’t start until Friday.

• The Big Ten Tournament’s key contests include Indiana and Minnesota needing wins over Penn State and Northwestern respectively.

• The SEC Tournament’s contests have been reshuffled thanks to Georgia’s withdrawal from the tournament, so the only really intriguing first round matchup is Arkansas against LSU. The Tigers are another one of those teams that absolutely must win.

• Conference USA’s postseason tournament almost always features some big upsets and the first round was no different. Expect one of the top seeds to be upended in today’s quarterfinals.

• Two teams in the Mountain West are in must-win situations — Wyoming, pitted against Colorado State and host UNLV, which faces San Diego State.

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