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Tournament madness: To Barclays and back

March 14, 2014 Columns No Comments

BROOKLYN and NEW YORK – Two venues, four games. Two tournaments in a day. The logistics can be maddening. A ride to Secaucus train station is followed by a 10-minute train ride to Penn Station. Then pick up the subway to Barclays Center.

Well, game plan gone. The lot is full so it’s a drive to New York. The drive is fast, but there is traffic in midtown and virtually every parking lot has no vacancy. Still salvage a space in one at 7th and 36th, three blocks from MSG and the subway. Finally, a connection without a wait as the Brooklyn-bound train is on the track upon my arrival.

On the train a gentleman is singing Lean On Me. Why not? I am busy writing. He sings, I write. The schedule calls for two at the Atlantic 10 Tournament at Barclays Center followed by another subway excursion and the last two at the Big East.

On the train, I run into the family of La Salle forward Jerrell Wright. We talk basketball, which allows the trip to speed by. La Salle and St. Bonaventure, the noon combatants, split this season adding a little to the story line.

Game one: I must mention the alma mater, St. Bonaventure, is playing. It’s great seeing former classmates, schoolmates and fellow alumni. It’s tough at times, as some know I officiate and are not timid about asking about a call on the floor they do not agree with. It seems like Wright’s family made it on time. The 6-8 Junior is proving a tough matchup for the Bonnies to handle.

Bonaventure winds up holding off the Explorers 80-72. Both coaches, Mark Schmidt of Bona and La Salle’s Dr. John Giannini, agree it was the Bonnies’ ability to make plays in the stretch. Next up for the Bonnies is top seed Saint Louis. For now, Schmidt will enjoy this for “about 15 minutes” before worrying about the Billikens.

In the interview room, I find out Seton Hall has upset Villanova at the Garden. It’s a nice win for Kevin Willard and Co. Dayton and Fordham battle, with the Flyers getting out to a quick 11-3 lead.

The Rams fall behind by 21 and go into intermission down 19. The second half sees them come out more focused and aggressive. Utilizing the three-pointer and getting stops, the Rams had it to a two-possession deficit with eight minutes left. At that point, Dayton showed why they have posted over 20 wins. They stopped the Ram run and went on a short spurt of their own to seal the 87-74 victory.

March Madness can at time spell March Sadness – when players see their careers come to a close. Such was the case for Fordham’s Branden Frazier. He grew up not far from Barclays and played at nearby Bishop Loughlin. On this afternoon, his stellar career wold end with a game-high 30-point effort. Afterwards he praised his teammates for battling hard all year. “They are my brothers to me,” said Frazier.

The media meal is a culinary delight, highlighted by steak and an ice cream bar. “I love March Madness,” says one A-10 staff member filling a plate.

I catch eight minutes of Richmond-Duquesne before heading to the Garden. The Spiders are leading Duquesne early as I get set to hit the cold and the two trains to Manhattan and the Big East quarterfinals.

barclays

The Barclays Center after early quarterfinal games on Thursday (Ray Floriani photo)

I get some writing done on the train, then get to MSG after a fifteen-minute trip. There are seven minutes left in the half as I settle in. Creighton owns a double-digit lead. The Garden is packed and being treated to an excellent Doug McDermott first half. The Blue Jays lead 49-29 at the break and McDermott has a Big East Tournament record 27 first-half points. Courtside neighbor and Daly Dose of Hoops editor Jaden Daly tells me Creighton had a 144 efficiency the first half while holding DePaul to 88. Not surprised about the defense, as Creighton defends very well, but that part of their game tends to get overlooked.

At the half the DePaul and Creighton dance teams grace the Garden floor with two excellent performances.

The second half sees DePaul get the deficit to a manageable 11 with just under 12 minutes left. They get no closer. Creighton closes out an 84-62 victory. McDermott finishes with 35 points.

DePaul coach Oliver Purnell was pleased his team got a win over Georgetown the night before and, in his estimation, battled tough tonight. “Creighton,” he said, “is going to represent the league very well in the NCAA tournament.”

Doug McDermott was asked to comment on the recent Sports Illustrated cover modeled after the one featuring Larry Bird in the Seventies. Comparisons flatter, but as Doug McDermott said, “there can be only one Larry Bird.”

The final game saw Marquette get out to an early eight-point lead. Xavier stayed close and eventually went into halftime with a two-point lead thanks to a Semaj Christon layup a second prior to the buzzer.

For those of you scoring at home, Marquette mentor Buzz Willams had the sport coat off by the ten-minute mark. Post play is not for the faint of heart. They are battling for position inside with the accent on physicality. I leave around 10 minutes to go with Xavier holding a narrow lead – have to get my car as the garage shuts at midnight.

I fork over $49 dollars, but no complaint. Eleven hours ago I was desperate for a place to park.

I get home and see Xavier held off Marquette. The Big East semis include two charter members, Seton Hall and Providence in the opener, and the newcomers, Creighton and Xavier in the nigh cap. It should be fun. They call it March Madness for a reason.

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