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Atlantic 10 to Big East: On the conference road (and rails)

March 17, 2015 Columns No Comments

BROOKLYN, N.Y. – In actuality, the day begins in New York at Penn Station. The first stop is the Atlantic 10 Tournament at the Barclays Center. The evening finishes at MSG for the Big East. A basketball odyssey of one day, two venues, two conferences, two boroughs, eight teams. Countless enjoyment for a basketball connoisseur.

10:45 a.m. – On the 2 train Brooklyn-bound out of Penn Station. No one in La Salle or Davidson gear spotted. Train is filled with later morning commuters and those entrenched in their 9 to 5 routine.

11:00 a.m. – Ran into Jack Rodgers, a former high school coach who ran an outstanding girls program in Harrison, NJ. Jack is headed to Barclays. He also talks about meeting Fordham coach Tom Pecora the other night and finding him to be friendly and with a keen basketball mind.

barclayssubway

The first stop of the busy day: The Barclays Center, via the subway. (Ray Floriani photo)

11:30 a.m. – Settling in at Barclays. Off to a media lunch that is nothing short of outstanding. On the floor coach John Giannini of La Salle watches his team warm up. The La Salle mentor is covering all bases for this meeting with top seed Davidson.

12:20 p.m. – With Steve Zack on his way to a career game and Jerrell Wright doing his usual damage, La Salle grabs an early lead.

12:35 p.m. – Davidson cannot find the touch. La Salle’s lead hits 18.

12:50 p.m. – Davidson cans a three at the buzzer to cut the deficit to nine. Momentum shift?

1:30 p.m. – Davidson cuts it to four. The key, La Salle never relinquishes the lead. Meanwhile, Explorers are still feasting inside.

2:00 p.m. – Davidson gradually finds the range. It is a one-point Explorer lead with a minute left. On the final possession, deadly three-point shooter Tyler Kalinoski takes it to the basket, puts it high on the glass. It kisses the glass and goes in as the buzzer sounds. Davidson 67, La Salle 66.

2:15 p.m. – Davidson coach Bob Mckillop feels genuine sorrow for La Salle, who played hard and led almost the entire way. La Salle coach John Giannini, naturally disappointed by the loss, felt the most for his seniors. Good people, good players who gave their all.

2:40 p.m. – VCU- Richmond is turning into a role reversal. Richmond is pushing the pace and forcing VCU turnovers. The Rams, on the other hand, are utilizing the three-point shot to trim deficits.

3:30 p.m. – Richmond “wins” the first four minutes of the second half 6-2. They expand a four-point halftime lead to eight at the 16-minute mark.

4:15 p.m. – Just under eight to go, Richmond still leads in a two-possession game. VCU has not been able to get that lead.

4:20 p.m. – During timeouts, how can you not notice: The VCU Dance Team is outstanding. Beauty and grace, not “havoc”.

4:30 p.m. – VCU will not go away, Richmond by one, two minutes left, another thrilling finish in sight.

5:00 p.m. – The last two minutes the Rams come up big. A three-pointer by Mo Alie-Cox with 95 seconds left gives VCU the lead. VCU closes out a 70-67 victory. Tough one for Richmond to say the least.

6:00 p.m. – Between games the media meal, great as always here, and touching base with a number of St. Bonaventure fans and assistant coach Steve Curran. I usually head to the garden for the last two of the day. Tonight, just one as the alma mater, St. Bonaventure, faces Dayton.

6:40 p.m. – Bonnies “win” the first four minutes 11-7. Dayton responds and leads by two at the under-12 minute timeout. To little surprise, Bonaventure has to limit transition and close out on shooters.

7:40 p.m. – Bonnies lead 37-36. Limiting transition and perimeter close outs are priorities, and the Bonnies have done both. On the other hand, 6-6 forward Kendall Pollard has been a matchup problem. The Dayton sophomore is effective in the paint and on the perimeter.

8:25 p.m. – There is 3:11 to go. Bonnies lead 65-64. Crunch time. In the stretch Dayton comes up big. With seconds remaining the Bonnies get the ball. My thinking is being down two, “roll the dice” and try a game-winning three. Not a good idea to tie and look at five more minutes against a team that swept you in the regular season. Bonnies opt to penetrate, Dayton steals and gets a run out field goal at the buzzer.

8:30 p.m. – The final is 75-71 Dayton.

8:35 p.m. – Dayton coach Archie Miller applauds the Bonaventure game plan and effort. He mentions Marcus Posley (26 points) and Dion Wright (24) as major factors and outstanding for the Bonnies. Miller does not worry about facing a team you beat twice already. He feels if you did it twice just play your game and execute. Not a bad concept, as sometimes the team with the two wins can tense up and worry about that adage of “can’t beat a team three times” as opposed to just playing.

8:40 p.m. – Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt pleased with the overall effort against a team that beat them soundly twice this season. Schmidt noted the Bonnies shot much better today than in the previous meetings. The thinking was they came out shooting well and built confidence on that. With 18 wins, and victories in six of the last eight, he hopes for post season. Especially for the seniors.

9:10 p.m. – Before heading out, I catch a few minutes of George Washington-Rhode Island. Appears this one may go to the wire as it seems to be fairly evenly matched early. Leave before halftime. GW led by two at the half. Rhode Island was dominant in the second half in a 71-58 victory. The only “blow out” (and not that lopsided) of the four today. Before heading out there is a buzz in the media room. Report is Villanova edged Providence at the Garden on a controversial call.

9:30 p.m. – On to the two train on the subway to Madison square Garden. Figure to catch a good portion of the second Big East semifinal, Georgetown-Xavier. The unofficial Jesuit championship. Actually, Gonzaga might have something to say about that. Still replaying parts of that Bonaventure-Dayton game over in my mind.

9:45 p.m. – Quiet train ride with just a few revelers heading into Manhattan for a night on the town.

10:30 p.m. – Settled in at MSG for what should be a good final 20 minutes of action. A few media members mention the end of the Villanova game as “debatable” regarding a questioned foul against Providence at the end. Most of the ‘Nova talk centered on their seeding projections. Regardless who wins Xavier-Georgetown, feeling is Villanova will cut down the nets Saturday night.

10:45 p.m. – Xavier, ahead 35-26 at the half, expands the lead to 17 at the 16-minute media time out. Musketeers “won” the first four 7-2 and are in good position.

11:15 p.m. – Georgetown gets its first field goal at the 12:25 mark, an inside shot by Jabril Trawick.

11:30 p.m. – Tempers flare with Xavier up 20 and the 8-minute time out upon us.

11:40 p.m. – Possibly fueled by the minor flare up, Georgetown goes on a run, getting the deficit to single digits. Georgetown has found the range and freshman Isaac Copeland is on fire.

11:50 p.m. – Xavier a few minutes earlier appeared to have the final game ticket punched. Now they hold on for dear life.

12:00 p.m. – Xavier holds on 65-63 to meet Villanova in the final. Copeland finished with 18 points, while Matt Stainbrook came up big for Xavier with a game-high 21 points.

It is midnight and the question is how do two non-overtime games take the better part of five hours? That’s another discussion. Suffice to say, a memorable 12 hours or half a day of tournament basketball.

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