ATB: Rest, Ye Merry GentlemenPosted by jstevrtc on February 25th, 2011
The Lede. Who doesn’t love a nice thick Thursday full of excellent college hoops storylines? We’ve got 17 more days to talk bubble teams and seed lines, and we’ll get to the big boys here soon enough. Tonight we start the ATB in the only place even considered for the honor, a 3,000-seat gym in Shreveport, Louisiana. Gold Dome. 0-28. Centenary.
Your Watercooler Moment. This entire season has been a lame duck endeavor for the Centenary Gentlemen. This is their last season in Division I, and not only are they demoting themselves, they’re sublimating straight to Division III after this year. For weeks they’ve been the only D-I team without a win. All season long up until a couple of weeks ago, while we were worried about undefeated squads, Centenary was unvictorious. As evening began to fall on the college season, prognosticators began glancing at Centenary’s schedule, wondering if a win was going to happen for the Gentlemen, and which game presented the most likely chance. We mean no disrespect to any supporters of the Western Illinois Leathernecks, the school, or the team itself, but when you looked at the records of Centenary’s upcoming opponents and you noticed that WIU, on its own floor, had only beaten the Gentlemen by six back on December 4th, the return game on February 24th was the one at which you pointed as a possible win for CC. The nation wanted it. It takes a lot of guts for kids to lose 28 times in a row, go through the practices and hear the whispers for an entire year, and still show up night after night.
Tonight, Centenary led early, held an eight point bulge at halftime. The tweets started. They added to the lead throughout the second half. More tweets, more predictions. Then, the final…a 73-60 — the 73-60 — victory. The RTC seismograph needle quivered but never achieved any greater amplitude because there simply weren’t enough people in the crowd to rush anything, but that’s fine. It’s not good to gorge after a lengthy fast. But the Gentlemen had enough backers across the country tonight, if not in their gym, and we don’t see it as coincidence that two Centenarians chose tonight to have career highs in scoring — Maxx Nakwaasah tied his with 24 (and 11 boards), and Jonathan Blount put up 19 for the first time ever. We’ll be honest, we were tempted to use the winners as the butt of a few good-natured jokes in this writeup; we heard a few during the night about how Centenary is now part of the weak wobbling mass of bubble teams after their win. One of our Facebook friends even had a nice line about how there should be a pay-per-view grudge match between CC and CalTech. But let’s not do that. After 28 tries in a season that was going to result in relegation no matter what, tonight was the night of the Gentlemen. They closed. They made the sale. They watched the dealer pull 28 straight six-card twenty-ones, but on try #29, they put all their chips into the circle and finally won. It was they who got the phone number of the knockout at the nightclub while their friends watched, astonished. It was their night. You’ll hear no jokes from us, and we hope none from anywhere else. Tonight, we tip our caps and raise our glasses to the story of the night. To the lesson you taught us, and your efforts all season long. To you…the Gentlemen, indeed.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
- Pitt, Peaking. Pittsburgh gave a little more ammunition to all the pundits who felt the Panthers should have been ranked #1 back on Monday and took to drilling by word and by tweet the pollsters who put them sixth in the coaches’ rankings. It wasn’t just that Pitt scored a 71-58 win over West Virginia. The Mountaineers owned a one-point halftime lead, and the beginning of the second half showed why the Panthers are everyone’s current favorite title team. They went on a 17-5 run to open, and it felt even more decisive than that. You don’t just do that to a solid club like WVU and then grind your knee on the back of their neck like a cop apprehending a criminal…not unless you’ve got the talent and discipline to take it all in Houston.
- Marquette, Maximizing. Without question, the team that helped itself the most tonight was Marquette. All night long, the Golden Eagles (man, we still prefer Warriors) had the look in their collective eye of a team that knew they needed a big win, and freaking fast. Not only did they knock off 15th-ranked Connecticut for their first win over a ranked team all year, but they did it at the XL Center, which will definitely suffice for a road win. Kemba Walker actually looked gassed in the overtime, or at the very least frustrated, committing multiple turnovers and missing multiple shots. By contrast, Darius Johnson-Odom flourished, contributing nine in extra time. Marquette still has games at home against Providence and Cincinnati, and they’ll end the regular season at Seton Hall, so there’s still room for error. But time and time again, we’ve heard that the selection committee’s most important criteria are who’d you play, where’d you play, and how did you do. Tonight’s win was impressive on all three fronts.
- Does This One Go To Eleven? As I write this, it just ended. Saint Mary’s could have locked up the WCC in their own building, and all they had to do was beat the team that’s held the league title for ten consecutive years. Objective not achieved. Gonzaga picked up a massive 89-85 road win, improving to 20-9 and tying SMC at the top of the conference at 10-3. Mark Few, as everyone knows, is not a demonstrative man, no matter how big the win or disappointing a loss. After the overtime buzzer sounded to end it, Few was caught by ESPN2’s cameras pumping his fists and slapping his assistants on the back and chest. Two weeks ago we were pumping the Gaels, who are now making us look like schmucks by dropping three in a row.
- Arizona Falls Into the Trap. Arizona got caught napping by a slightly overachieving USC team, if you ask us. It’s not that USC didn’t play well in their 65-57 win over the Wildcats at the Galen Center, but UA looked like they were playing in a swamp the whole night. Derrick Williams was held to eight points on a rough 3-11 shooting night, and provided little assistance on defense inside as Nikola Vucevic (25/12) and Alex Stepheson (12/10) rolled to double-doubles for the Trojans. Williams has been so fantastic to watch all year that it’s easy to give him a pass on this one, but we’ll chalk this loss up to Arizona looking ahead to senior night on Saturday against the team they have a mere one game lead on in the Pac-10 standings — a UCLA team that’s won 10 of 12 and playing as well as anyone.
- Sleeping Dawgs. Georgia are not the opportunists that Marquette are. Or maybe they were just up against a Florida team that knows this is no time to start dropping seed lines, had won five in a row coming into this one, and is probably Billy Donovan’s best team since the Brewer/Horford/Noah days. Still, UGA had their chances. When a solid road win would virtually punch your ticket to The Dance and you’ve got a two point lead after the under-8 media time out, well…there’s only one kind of coffee served at the NCAA Tournament, and that coffee’s for closers. These are the opportunities you have to capitalize on.
- Easy, Husky Fans. Hey, Connecticut fans. You have no right to boo this team. Back in October, very few people thought they’d be where they are now. They’ve given you a lot of excitement this year — more than you expected. And a day after these players find that they’re playing for a probated program because of something with which they had nothing to do, on a night where their head coach isn’t there because he’s attending the funeral of a dead relative, you boo them? Sickening.
Tweet of the Night. On this night, the choice was obvious.
RTC Live. A couple of good ones this evening…
Gonzaga 89, St. Mary’s 85 (OT). It was supposed to be different this time around, but tonight’s result in Moraga, California, represented more of the same, as Gonzaga kept its hopes alive for an eleventh straight regular season conference title. They did it by going inside time and time again — Sam Dower came off the bench for 21 points in 7-8 shooting and 7-7 FTs, including four straight down the stretch of overtime to salt the game away. Elias Harris contributed 18/6,while big Robert Sacre added 13/6 himself. St. Mary’s had no answer for the bigger Zags in the paint, but they utilized their talented backcourt to hit ten threes, led by Rob Jones’ four and Matthew Dellavadova’s three, to bring the Gaels to the brink of a WCC title. Mickey McConnel went for 15/10 assts in another solid performance, but it was his wide-open layup that missed long at the end of the game that will haunt St. Mary’s fans for years to come. A shot he probably makes 95 times out of 100 was easily in his grasp, but he felt pressure and simply lofted it a little long. The WCC regular season title is now up for grabs heading into the final weekend. Both teams are now 10-3 in the league, but SMC has a much tougher game at home against Portland (who beat the Gaels in the Rose City) while the Zags will play moribund San Diego.
Oakland 103, UMKC 90. When late February rolls around, keeping your team healthy and rested becomes an important factor as the season enters its home stretch. When Keith Benson and the Oakland Golden Grizzlies come to town for a Summit League date, it becomes that much more important to have all hands on deck. Without leading scorer Jay Couisnard (left knee) and starting forward Trinity Hall (concussion), the UMKC Kangaroos learned that lesson Thursday night in Kansas City, as OU dispatched the home ‘Roos 103-90. Benson went for 26 points and 14 rebounds, and Reggie Hamilton played a key role with 28 points in as many minutes. The ‘Roos were in it early, thanks to hot shooting from Spencer Johnson, but the perimeter success would eventually run out and UMKC couldn’t keep up. With Couisnard and Hall already out (perhaps a preventative move, with the weight of the Summit League tournament declaring an automatic bid recipient), further attrition set in when Johnson fouled out, then Max Rockmann shortly after following an inspiring 20-point performance. As Oakland took advantage of the suddenly thin rotation, UMKC threw a zone look to contain Benson’s inside prowess. However, with their front line topping out at 6’6, plugging the middle wouldn’t stop the bleeding. As Hamilton iced the game from the stripe, Oakland moved to 21-10 on the year, while UMKC fell to 16-12 and 9-7 in Summit League play. The good news for the Kangaroos is that Brown expects to have Couisnard and Hall back in time for the conference tournament.