Friday, March 16, 2012
Finally, a little drama in the Music City
By Chris Low
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Now that’s more like it.
This city is known for its music, specifically the country variety.
But it was compelling basketball that had Bridgestone Arena rocking in the two afternoon games Friday, and after a pretty flat day Thursday in the NCAA tournament, we needed a little drama.
The start to the Cincinnati-Texas game didn’t look like much. The Longhorns had more air balls than points midway through the first half.
But after managing just four field goals in the first half, Texas dug itself out of a 19-point hole early in the second half and actually had a pair of chances to take the lead in the final minutes before falling 65-59 to Cincinnati.
“You know nothing’s going to be just handed to you in this tournament,” Cincinnati senior guard Dion Dixon said. “We’ve got a veteran team. We’ve been here before. We know that it takes 40 minutes.”
Friday's second game in Nashville was the essence of what makes this tournament the spectacle it is.
St. Bonaventure, a small Franciscan Catholic school located about an hour from Buffalo, N.Y., took No. 3 seed Florida State to the wire before losing 66-63.
The Bonnies led the whole way, and their passionate fans were as much the story as the team itself. The school has only about 2,400 students, and it sounded like just about all of them were in the arena for most of the game.
“A week ago, we were planning on playing in the CBI [College Basketball Invitational], and here we are in the Big Dance with a chance to tie the game up,” St. Bonaventure coach Mark Schmidt said. “You couldn’t ask for more.”
Even after Florida State showed tremendous resolve and finally took its first lead with about five minutes to play, the Bonnies had their chances to pull off the shocker.
St. Bonaventure's Jordan Gathers heads for the bench late as FSU players celebrate behind him.
“That’s the ACC [tournament] champs. We’re the little Bonnies, and we’re going toe to toe with them,” Schmidt said. “That’s a credit to my guys.”
But therein lies the beauty of this tournament, and why people skip work and skip school every year for what’s now the second round of this hoops extravaganza.
“That’s why they call it March Madness,” Schmidt said. “Can the underdog compete with the big dog and have enough to knock them off?”
In this case, the Bonnies didn’t have enough, but that had more to do with Florida State than it did with anything St. Bonaventure didn’t do.
More precisely, it had everything to do with the Seminoles’ 27-year-old senior forward, Bernard James, whose story already has been an inspiration to hoops fans and non-hoops fans all over the country. James served six years in the Air Force, with three deployments to the Middle East.
On Friday, he was an inspiration to his teammates, and at times, put them on his back and carried them.
“The finality of it all hits you," James said. "Nobody wants to go home.”
There were stretches in the game during which James was screaming at his teammates and telling them to simply get him the ball. He finished 8-of-11 from the field with 19 points and nine rebounds.
“As a point guard, when a 6-foot-10 Army veteran, or an Air Force veteran, is screaming at you, you listen,” Florida State guard Luke Loucks said. “So, you know, a few plays we weren’t even running any plays. I was kind of waiting people out, giving him the ball, and obviously you look at the stat sheet and he was producing all night long.”
It also says something about Florida State's resolve that the Seminoles could win with their leading scorer, guard Michael Snaer, going 0-for-7 and failing to score a point.
"We've been kind of a resilient team all year," Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton said. "We've been in a lot of these close games, and this was another typical ACC blowout by three points."