Big East Live Blog, Day 1
Bringing you all five days from the Garden live.
Greetings from the Mecca of basketball, Madison Square Garden. It’s Championship Week and for the next five days I’ll be on hand for the mother of all conference brackets, the Big East Tournament. With the decision to include all 16 teams in the fun, the tournament has now become a college hoops heads dream, a near full week of the countries best doing battle for the right to be called the Beast of the East.
This year in particular will be exceptionally fun to watch with upwards of 8 teams in contention for an NCAA Tournament bid and three potential number 1 seeds in action in the form of Connecticut, Pitt and Louisville.
I’ve been hear a grand total of 30 minutes and I’ve already gotten to take in some of the fun and festivities of the event. As I was making my way to the media entrance at the Garden I ran into some Cincinnati fans who had driven from Ohio to see their beloved Bearcats throw down with DePaul in the opening game which tips off in a few minutes. They were decked out in red from head to toe and psyching themselves up for what should hopefully be a solid first game. Let’s take a look at the match ups.
Game 1: No. 16 DePaul vs. No. 9 Cincinnati
To say the Blue Demons struggled this year would be like saying Starbury came with a “Caution” label when he signed with Boston. DePaul was 0-18 in the Big East this year and just 8-23 overall. For fans of high flying dunks though, there is sophomore forward Dar Tucker. The 6-4 Tucker averaged 18.2 ppg and 5.2 rpg while putting down at least a handful of jams that made people stand up out of their seat. I’ll be keeping my fingers crossed for a fast break opportunity.
For Cincinnati this game may be of more importance. At 18-13 (8-10) they are on the outside looking in as far as the NCAA Tournament is concerned, but a strong run this week could be enough to make the committee think twice about the Bearcats given that other major conferences are imploding down the stretch. Deonta Vaughn is the go to guy here, doing a little bit of everything on the court. The junior guard saw his scoring numbers dip a bit this year but that was as a result of some added fire power in the form of freshman big Yancy Gates. The massive 6-9, 255 pound freshman lived up to the early season hype, averaging a double-double on the year (10 and 10) while shooting nearly 50% from the floor.
Cincinnati seems to have more fans in the building (which isn’t saying much seeing as how attendance is maybe a couple hundred right now), but DePaul gets the nod for spirit as they brought their pep band for the game. Dibs the Blue Demon is one of the more underrated mascots and he is at present time making some fun faces at the Bearcat fans who ponied up the extra dow to garner seats directly under the basket.
Two minutes until game time for game 1 of today’s quadruple-header. Grab a seat, strap in, grab the chips and get set for a full day of action from the Garden!
– Both teams come out exactly like all teams that play the opening game of a conference tournament do: slow. At the 11:24 mark DePaul is clinging to a 14-11 lead thanks in part to some poor shot selection by the Bearcats. Yancy Gates (who made the Big East All-Freshman team by the way) is struggling from the floor, but for a dude packing 255 pounds he is nimble to say the least and has a feathery soft touch on his baby hook.
– Under four timeout in the first half and Cinci is starting to take control of the ball game and they lead for the first time 22-20. Solid perimeter defense has led to several turnovers by DePaul, though I’m loving their pep band. Even when they aren’t playing music during the timeouts, the band almost always has some kind of chant going to psyche out the Bearcats. Yancy Gates has been grabbing a breather, but some nice high low action by forwards Darnell Wilks and Anthony McClain has led to easy buckets inside for Cincinnati. Guard Deonta Vaughn has done an excellent job pacing the offense so far; he’s only knocked down one field goal but has doled out three assists.
– After a brief 5-0 run by DePaul, Darnell Wilks hits a three on a broken play for Cincinnati that gives them a 27-25 lead going into the half. DePaul had a chance with the final possession but wasted it, committing a shot clock violation with five seconds remaining in the half. Blue Demon point guard Will Walker is the high point man thus far with 10. Nothing too impressive from either side yet in a low scoring affair. There are plenty of open seats on press row right now, mainly those set aside for pro scouts. Something tells me that when Greg Monroe and Georgetown take the floor in a little more than an hour, many of those seats will be filled.
– Deonta Vaughn’s offensive game has woken up to start the second half. A gorgeous stutter step finish in the lane followed up by a steal and a good ol’ fashion three point play has Cincinnati up five and DePaul coach Jerry Wainwright red in the face.
– Dar Tucker is having a rough afternoon. He has just 2 points on 1-3 shooting at the 15 minute mark in the second half, having only played 10 minutes due to foul trouble. Finding himself double teamed along the sideline a few moments ago he threw a wild pass that went over the head of teammate Will Walker on the other side of the floor. The lone bright spot for Tucker came three minutes into the second half when he was able to knock down a pretty floater in the lane off a spin move. The swingman has some nice upside to him and will start popping up on draft boards by his senior year if he can continue to develop and improve his shot selection.
– Here comes DePaul! The Blue Demons behind the sudden hot shooting of freshman Jeremiah Kelly (12 points) have tied things up at 41-41 at the under 12 official timeout. Kelly was a top 150 recruit out of Philadelphia having played at American Christian Academy. He only averaged 4.1 ppg during the regular season, but under the bright lights of the Garden, the rook is putting together one of his best games of the year.
– Cincinnati looks shell shocked right now down 51-43 with 7:04 to go. Dar Tucker must have heard me because he has scored 6 quick points on a variety of tough off balance shots in the lane. He also gets props for being able to pull off the old school t-shirt under the jersey look; his color choice is blue of course. The Blue Demons are shooting 47 percent from the field compared to just 37 percent for the Bearcats who seemingly have lost the ability to create good looks for themselves on the offensive end. Whatever Wainwright said to his squad at the half, its working, DePaul is playing with a new sense of urgency at both ends of the floor.
– Don’t count out the Bearcats just yet. After pushing ahead by as many as 10, DePaul’s defense has had a couple of lapses the last few series down the floor. A deep three by Deonta Vaughn with a hand in his face has cut the deficit to five with 3:49 to go. DePaul is showing balance offensively with Tucker, Kelly and Walker all in double figures. Also, how about sophomore big man Mac Koshwal who has 8 points, 9 rebounds 5 assists. It’s March which means if you want to win, unsung heroes are going to need to step up.
– Despite Cincinnati having more fans in attendance (or at least more people wearing red) this is a decidedly pro DePaul arena thanks in large part to the Blue Demon pep band. There has been plenty of reason to celebrate with their team leading it 59-50 with 2:10 to go. With Deonta Vaughn unable to get free from the additional attention he is seeing from the defense right now, the Bearcats are going inside to Gates who just hit 1 of 2 from the charity stripe. It looks like Cincinnati is going to start putting DePaul at the line to slow this game down.
– To chants of “warm up the bus, warm up that bus” from the DePaul pep band, Cincinnati saw their season come to an end 67-57. The Blue Demons had four players reach double figure scoring led by Will Walker and Dar Tucker who each netted 17 points. Player of the game nod has to go to Tucker though who scored 15 in the second half after seeing limited action in the first half due to foul trouble.
After the game head coach Jerry Wainwright said he was thrilled for his team to finally reap the rewards of all the time they spent practicing during the season. A little factual tidbit for you stat nuts as well, being that this is the first 16-team tournament ever at the conference level, this is the first time that a 16 seed has ever won a first round game.
Game 2: No. 12 Georgetown vs. No. 13 St. John’s
For the NBA Draft fanatics out there, this one offers a little more along the lines of player who will be seeing action in the League one day. Greg Monroe will hear his name called in the lottery, be it this year or next, and DaJuan Summers for all his early struggles has the makings for a future pro one day as well.
The match up to keep an eye on will be inside where Monroe will be going head to head with Red Storm sophomore Justin Burrell. The Bronx native was a top 100 recruit a year ago and at a burly 6-8, 240 pounds will be able to physically match up with the taller more athletic Monroe. While the Storm can’t match the talent of the Hoya backcourt, the combination of Paris Horne and D.J. Kennedy should have enough athleticism to at least keep pace. Four minutes in St. John’s has themselves a 4-3 lead.
– About 9 minutes into the first half and Georgetown’s size is getting the job done. The Hoyas lead it 13-9 after freshman big Henry Sims just played taps with himself off the glass for a put back. Both teams are off the marking as far as shooting is concerned with G-town at 38 percent from the floor and St. John’s at 27 percent, mainly due to the fact that they can’t get a clean look inside with the amount of length Georgetown possesses around the rim.
– Under 8 timeout and the Red Storm are hanging tough. Georgetown’s length and size are creating all kinds of problems trying to get the ball in the paint, but the sweet shooting of leading scorer Paris Horne is keeping the Johnnies close, trailing 17-14. Greg Monroe is getting active inside, with 7 early points. He is simply too big to handle one on one and with Justin Burrell riding the pine after picking up two early fouls, the Hoyas are able to simply lob the ball inside to their star freshman.
– Horne and Kennedy are making me look good with the pre game ink I gave them, having scored the first 20 St. John’s points. As it stands the Hoyas are clinging to a 24-23 lead at the under 4 official timeout. Chris Wright (11 points) has managed to keep Georgetown in it with some good looking finishes in the lane and a long pull up three. This one is starting to look eerily similar to St. John’s overtime upset that they pulled one week ago today.
– Arbitrary rant here. Given the amount of attention Greg Monroe has gotten this year, its easy to forget how good some of the other members of Georgetown’s freshman class are. Guard Jason Clark out of Arlington, VA and Baltimore’s Henry Sims were both highly touted recruits as well. Clark hasn’t had a great first half so far (0 points, 2 fouls) but Sims is showing some nice flashes. The 6-10 big saw very little playing time this season, but he is a versatile athlete, proven by the long jumper he just knocked down by rotating behind the play on the perimeter. Tie ball game at 28 with 38.2 seconds remaining in the half.
– Halftime hits with St. John’s pulling ahead 30-28 on a couple of free throws with less than five seconds. Statistically speaking there are no outliers that point to why the Red Storm are in control right now aside from a 3-5 showing from beyond the arc compared to just 1-6 for G’town. What isn’t in question right now is the confidence St. John’s is showing. Paris Horne has an undeniable swagger right now and why not? The combo guard has netted 15 points on 4-9 shooting and a perfect 6-6 from the charity stripe. Georgetown has been sloppy offensively and Greg Monroe was held scoreless for the final 8 minutes of the half thanks to a rotating cast of characters in the post. Neither team shot well (both under 40 percent) so whoever comes out firing has a shot to pull away early. My money is still on the Hoyas given the trouble their size has given St. John’s inside and the 23-15 edge they hold on the boards.
– Scary moment here at the Garden and something I have never seen at a basketball game before; at the end of a fast break St. John’s D.J. Kennedy collided head to head with one of the referees. Both individuals seem fine and both were able to walk off the floor under their own power. Kennedy is taking a breather on the bench right now while the official went back to the locker room to receive some treatment for a cut he suffered. We’re at the 16:19 mark and the Johnnies are still leading this one 36-33 with DaJuan Summers shooting a pair for the Hoyas.
– Couple of observations as we hit the under 16 timeout in the second half. This is a decidedly pro-Red Storm crowd. Yes it’s New York, but given the lack of success for St. John’s and how well Georgetown fans usually travel, I figured it would be a more even divide.
– St. John’s Justin Burrell is sporting the pseudo mohawk that seems to be becoming more popular amongst players in the college ranks as a means of getting up for big games. Prior to their upset of then No. 3 North Carolina, Maryland’s Adrian Bowie and Landon Milbourne decided to rock that look as well. It worked for the Terps, could that be the case for Burrell and St. John’s?
– St. John’s wants this ball game more right now. They lead it 41-37 with 11:55 to go and with good reason. While Georgetown is mouthing off about missed calls and slogging it back on defense, the Red Storm players are burning up the floor, diving out of bounds after loose balls and showing the kind of heart it takes to win in March. The Hoyas need someone to step up soon. Chris Wright can’t be the only option and Greg Monroe hasn’t been attacking the rim with much fever to speak of. Sims and Julian Vaughn will be holding things down in the front court coming out of this time out, let’s see how they fair.
– My question is answered quickly as Vaughn is responsible for two straight turnovers and a foul that turn into five points at the other end. He grabs some pine, St. John’s grabs a nine point lead.
– Monroe finally shows a flash of the ability that is so enticing to NBA scouts. The freshman finishes a gorgeous spin move in transition with a soft lay in to pull Georgetown within five points. The next time down the floor things get interesting as Burrell and his fo-hawk are guilty of committing an intentional foul for “excessive contact” against Jason Clark. The Red Storm fans are decidedly against the call but Clark nails both freebies and DaJuan Summers draws a shooting foul with some silly handles in the lane. Under 8 timeout and its a good one 46-43 St. John’s.
– The Georgetown contingency sitting behind me finally has something to cheer about as Jesse Sapp’s long three gives Georgetown its first lead since before the half. Norm Roberts called a quick timeout, but with a pair of quick turnovers out of the break, the tide looks like it is starting to swing the way of the Hoyas. Either way, the fans are getting their money’s worth in this one and they are enjoying every second of it. Looking around, I don’t think there has been a single call in the last 5 minutes that hasn’t prompted at least one fan to jump out of his or her chair to voice their opinions to the men in stripes. G’town is out in front 49-48 with 4:50 to go.
– In one of the more impressive displays of athleticism I have seen in a while, DaJuan Summers gets his legs cut out from under him as he takes off for the rim. Despite this, he still manages to get to the rim and hang onto the iron for dear life before righting himself and landing with a big smile on his face. Who says pressure situations aren’t fun?
– Paris Horne will not be denied. Dude just sliced through the lane, crashed into Julian Vaughn, took the contact and the bucket with a shot at a three point play on the other side of this timeout. Horne now has a game high 19 points and has tied the game up at 52. Also, for those of you keeping track at home, we’re now well into hour five of blogging. Thanks to everyone who has hopped on the wagon for this one, hope you brought plenty of snacks!
– The roof is ready to blow. In the last minute of action Justin Burrell finished an old fashioned three-point play and fouled out Greg Monroe. The Hoyas come back down the floor and calmly drain a three pointer. We’re down to just over a minute and the Red Storm are looking to complete upset two of the day, they lead 59-57.
– Very interesting situation now. Red Storm lead by three with 20 ticks to go. Georgetown is in double bonus and at the line shooting two. Austin Freeman hits both, one point game, Johnnies basketball and Georgetown is going to send them to the line to shoot two. Guess who, Mr. Fohawk himself, Justin Burrell.
– You can call it 2 for 2 now if you’re pulling for the underdogs. Burrell knocks down both free throws and Georgetown opts to go for broke and runs the clock down to five seconds before being left with a corner three point attempt from Nikita Mescheriakov (28.2 percent from beyond the arc this year). The shot hits the top of the backboard and goes out of bounds much to the dismay of the Hoya fans who start to file out (they would have to anyway unless the bought a ticket for the second session tonight). The Johnnies get the ball into Quincy Roberts who saw about as much playing time in the first half as I did, but he still knocks down both freebies to send the game to its final score of 64-59 in favor of the Red Storm. Back with more after the press conference in a little bit!
– A visibly happy Norm Roberts addressed the media just a few minutes ago and had nothing but praise for his team. Like Jerry Wainwright of DePaul, Roberts said he thought expanding the tournament to 16 teams was a great idea (funny considering neither team would have been playing today in the old 12 team format). Regardless if you liked or disliked the expansion to all teams this year, with both games going to the lower seed this afternoon, it looks like the 16 team format is here to stay.
– As far as the game is concerned, first huge props have to go to Paris Horne. The combo guard took over during stretches of the game and hit some big shots in the closing minutes to finish with a game high 23 points. It’s fun to look at these final statistics though. Rebounds, shooting percentage, turnovers and essentially every other stat was almost equal between the Johnnies and the Hoyas; so what was the difference maker? It’s cliche, but free throws were the difference in the final tally. The Red Storm converted 24-29 attempts while the Hoyas connected on 20-27. Also, as I already mentioned, Georgetown got a terrible look at the basket in their last possession, a contested three from the corner that bounced over the backboard.
– We’ve hit the first intermission of the week with a little under a two hour break before Notre Dame and Rutgers tip off at 7 PM ET. I’ll be back a little before then with a preview for that match up, until then, I’ll be hunting for food in the bowels of the Garden.
– So I decided to make my hiatus a short one. I took about a half hour to tuck in some dinner, mainly hot dogs and garlic bread (you have to love media buffets). On to more important news though, the Big East just announced some of their more prestigious awards at a press conference only moments ago. The conference Scholar Athlete of the Year is Alex Ruoff of West Virginia who apparently has been on the Dean’s List every semester of college; a deadly three point shot and solid grades to boot. Greg Monroe took home Rookie of the Year honors which wasn’t really a major shock, neither was Hasheem Thabeet earning Defensive Player of the Year. Player of the Year voting was apparently very close, with five different individuals receiving first place votes. In the end it was a tie between Thabeet and Pitt’s DeJuan Blair, so congratulations to them and all the winners. Notre Dame and Rutgers are both warming up and tip off is less than hour away, I’ll be back in a little bit with a game preview.
Game 3: No. 15 Rutgers vs. No. 10 Notre Dame
The first game of our night double-header presents an interesting match up between a program that sorely underachieved this season versus one that I think is on the break of being solid. Let’s start with Rutgers since I’m from the Garden State. Out of all the college basketball friends I talk to, and there’s a lot, I’m the only one who is optimistic about the team’s future. This was a top 30 recruiting class for head coach Fred Hill that featured All-American Mike Rosario from the famed St. Anthony’s High School and massive Greg Echenique was a top 10 center for his class. The rest of the production has come from guards Anthony Farmer and Corey Chandler with some help inside from junior Hamady Ndiaye who has taken baby steps in his development. Senior J.R. Inman has dropped off a lot this season but is still a threat in spurts.
The story on Notre Dame begins and ends with two-time All Big East forward Luke Harangody. The junior has wrapped another monster season, averaging 23.7 ppg and 12.1 rpg. The Fighting Irish are balanced though with Kyle McAlarney, Ryan Ayers and Tory Jackson all scoring in double figures as well. McAlarney and Ayers are both deadly from beyond the arc, that can’t be stressed enough, and Jackson has paced the offense dishing out more than 5 apg. Notre Dame has certainly not lived up to early expectations though that had them potentially making a Final Four run. Either way, if they get hot, they could make some noise in this tournament, and given how this morning went I’m not ruling out anything.
Side note, I saw McAlarney miss three straight three-pointers during warm ups; I don’t think that has ever happened…ever.
We’ve got 30 minutes until tip off, so hang tight and we’ll get the night rolling.
– So for the first time all day both schools have pep bands performing for the game. I’m liking Rutgers so far, they’re doing a lot of souped up renditions of some great classic rock songs. I like the energy that Notre Dame brings, but whenever they play the famed Irish fight song it just seems out of place. I feel like I’m stuck in the middle of Rudy and Sean Astin is going to come barreling through press row on his way to sacking that QB from Georgia Tech. Maybe it’s just me; 10 minutes until tip.
– There are a few thousand people in attendance for this game, more so than I saw for either of the morning contests. The somewhat surprising thing is there are at least twice the number of Notre Dame fans in the building as there are Rutgers fans. Maybe it’s because that leprechaun is one of the most recognized mascots in the world, but whatever it may be, the Irish faithful are in full force tonight.
– Harangody opens the scoring for Notre Dame with his patented mid-range jumper; I say patented because nobody else has a shot that looks so awkward but seemingly goes in more often than not. The junior also looks like he’s sporting a nice black eye on his left side, I’m not sure what it’s from but it’s safe to assume he got it mixing it up inside. Mike Rosario drilled an NBA-range three when Tory Jackson gave him just a little too much space the next time down the floor. Irish lead it early 6-5.
– Rosario hits another long two and then comes away with a rebound inside after getting scrappy with Harangody. I like Rosario’s game a lot, he’s a smart player (as are all who play under Bob Hurley of St. Anthony’s) and he has a great shot which he can hit from a stand still or on the move. It’s always unexpected when a player of his caliber goes to a non-traditional basketball school like Rutgers, but don’t be shocked if he follows in the footsteps of former Scarlet Knight great Quincy Douby and winds up hearing his name called on draft night in the future.
– Potential one-on-one showdown alert. Rosario tries to get fancy while being guarded by Ryan Ayers. He breaks Ayers with a quick crossover and a spin move (his handles are nice) only to have the Notre Dame defender recover and block his shot. Rosario retrieved the rebound, tried to pull up for a long three, but Ayers was there, so the Rutgers star was forced to pass off. On the ensuing trip down the floor, Ayers tried to take Rosario baseline only to be cut off by Greg Echenique and he too was forced to kick. Something to keep an eye on as the game continues, it’s 9-6 Rutgers at the under 12 timeout.
– McAlarney gets his second three of the half to put Notre Dame ahead for the first time 16-13; that gets the Irish fans going. A few moments later a loose ball that is deflected out of bounds by Echenique is said to be last touched by Notre Dame as we head into the 8 minute timeout. This also gets the Irish fans going.
–Hamady Ndiaye just blocked a shot into the Rutgers bench with his elbow. I will repeat that. Hamady Ndiaye just blocked a shot into the Rutgers bench with his elbow.
– If this game was being decided by mascots, Notre Dame would be winning by 50. While the Leprechaun has been on his feet the entire half jumping around, the Scarlet Knight has been on his rear end sitting with the cheerleaders; I haven’t seen him move in ten minutes. In actuality, Notre Dame is leading 25-17 at the 3:20 mark due in large part to what else: perimeter shooter. McAlarney and Ayers each have a pair from beyond the arc. Rutgers has gotten a great first half from Ndiaye though who has already almost doubled his season scoring average with 8 points and has hauled in 3 rebounds. Did I mention he blocked a shot with his elbow?
– How many offensive rebounds does it take Luke Harangody to score a put back? Apparently more than three as the power forward was unsuccessful in the Irish’s last trip down floor. Still, it’s a typical hard nosed half for the big fella, 7 points, 6 rebounds and a 9 points Notre Dame lead with a minute to go in the first half.
– The half ends with Rosario putting up a contested, running three-pointer that is well off the mark. Notre Dame leads it 28-19 largely on the strength of their excellent defense that has forced Rutgers into just 8-33 shooting in the first half. After starting off solid, Rosario and Echenique combined to score just 9 points on 4-16 shooting. Harangody is well on his way to another double-double with 7 and 7 at the half. Ryan Ayers has played solid at both ends of the floor and aside from a slow half for Tory Jackson, it has been business as usual for the Irish despite the low score. It should be a competitive second half, but Rutgers badly needs some shots to start falling otherwise this one could end quickly. Lets not forget though, Rutgers was in a similar spot about two weeks ago, and despite losing at Notre Dame 70-65, they made it a game down the stretch.
– The second half opens up chippy. Echenique is strong inside on the block but cant get anything to drop for him. On a move inside he is fouled going up for a shot by Harangody; the two get tied up and Echenique winds up catching ‘Gody across the face with an unintentional left hand that the refs miss. I doubt anything will come of this, but both players looked heated. It may not help matters than a few plays later Echenique drew a charge on the driving Harangody.
– Rutgers has gotten exactly what it needed to start this half, a 12-5 run sparked by a couple of baskets from Mike Rosario. Ndiaye added another bucket as well to reach double figures, a rarity for him. The Irish are trying to reestablish their interior play but are being frustrated by the Scarlet Knight front court. At the under 16 break the Irish are clinging to a 33-32 lead, but Ayers will have three free throws coming at the restart courtesy of a shooting foul from beyond the arc. Also for those of you tracking (which right now I can only assume is me, myself and I) we’re into hour 9 of blogging today. Remember, for each hour that I blog today, a cup of coffee will be donated to my breakfast tomorrow morning.
– Ever wonder how many cheerleaders a 6-11 center is capable of taking out when he dives for a loose ball? The answer is 4. Thank you Hamady Ndiaye
– After a brief scare, Notre Dame has regained control of this one, pushing the lead back to double figures at 42-32. The Irish have gotten out and run a couple of times and just punctuated their short run with a tough bucket plus the harm courtesy of Tory Jackson who appears to have woken up in the second half. Just under twelve to go and Rutgers is looking like it may fail to extend the underdog win streak which currently stands at two.
– Well, clearly someone on the Rutgers bench is reading this, because as soon as I posted that last comment, the Scarlet Knights went to work. Ndiaye is the man responsible for getting Rutgers back into the ball game, finishing a tough lay in with contact, then following that up with a huge two-handed jam. On his way down the floor he made sure to add a fist pump with his tongue wagging the whole way. The junior big man has already recorded a season high with 14 points and he leads all scorers. Corey Chandler is getting in on the action as well, connecting on a pretty stop and pop from 18. Inside of the seven minutes remaining and Rutgers is refusing to go quietly, they trail 48-42.
– What is the quickest way to kill a team’s momentum. If you guessed drilling a three-pointer you’re half right. The correct answer is Kyle McAlarney. Coming out of the timeout the superb marksmen drained another one to push the lead back to nine.
– Mike Rosario refuses to let Rutgers fall out of the picture, drilling a contested three, but Mike Brey’s Irish are playing smart, tough basketball. Notre Dame works the shot clock down to 5 before Tory Jackson connects on a pull up from eight feet. After the two teams trade possessions and the Irish miss on a one-and-one, Jackson comes away with a steal that leads to an easy two at the other end. The Rutgers faithful are starting to head for the exits at the Irish control this one 59-50 with just 30 seconds remaining. On another note, Rosario giving it his all took a nasty spill under his own basket trying to save a loose ball. He left the floor under his own power but will watch his season end from the bench.
– Notre Dame wins by a final of 61-50 in what head coach Mike Brey called a good position game defensively for his team. “We’ve been in survival mode since January 20th,” said Brey. “Our approach to this week is let’s make it interesting.” Luke Harangody was held scoreless in the second half but finished with 11 rebounds. Tory Jackson, Ayers and McAlarney all finished in double figures for the Irish while Ndiaye and Rosario did the honors for Rutgers. Up next is the final for day one between South Florida and Seton Hall.
Game Four: No. 14 South Florida vs. No. 11 Seton Hall
This one is all about the match up between Jeremy Hazell and Dominique Jones. Hazell has spent the majority of the year near the top of the national scoring race, pumping in 22.5 ppg, while athletic forward Robert Mitchell has been a nice inside presence, putting in 15 and 8 each night. Another name to keep an eye on is freshman Jordan Theodore from Patterson Catholic in New Jersey. The undersized speedster can give headaches to opposing defenses if left to run wild.
South Florida is led by Jones who followed up a fantastic freshman campaign with an even better sophomore season. The 6-4 guard posted averages of 18 points, 5.5 rebounds and 3.8 assists on the year. Maryland transfer Augustus Gilchrist has been a nice addition inside, bringing his athletic 6-10 frame to the middle and giving the Bulls a much needed scoring option in the front court. It’s been a long day to say the least, but I’ve got one more in me, so here we go with the nightcap for day one!
– Opening thought: I wonder how much it cost to fly in the USF pep band? They’re the biggest group I’ve seen thus far and had the longest trip of any school that played today. Also, Bulls center Alex Rivas is wearing the ultra high socks, the ones that go up under the shorts. I’m usually not a big fan of that look unless your name is Jason Terry, but Rivas is going to get the green light from me on this because he is playing good interior defense to open the game. Of course, that interior defense doesn’t do much to stop Jeremy Hazell from raining in an NBA three to open the game for Seton Hall.
– My dream of a shootout between Hazell and Dominique Jones may already be brewing in the opening two minutes as Jones comes right back down the floor and drills a three of his own.
– This game is proving to be the fastest one so far today in the opening five minutes. Seton Hall’s Eugene Harvey has been a nice running mate early on with Jeremy Hazell. After the sophomore drained a long two from the corner, Harvey came away with a steal at the other end of the floor which he took coast to coast for a converted three-point play. Moments later, Hazell connects again, this time from beyond the arc. It’s been a little over a month since the Bronx native last scored 30+ in a game, but with 8 already in the first five minutes, you better believe Pirate fans are thinking big game from their star.
– At the 13:30 mark Seton Hall is out in front 16-8 over the Bulls. Random observation time. May it’s the swagger he carries, maybe it’s because he is the best player on the floor, whatever it is, Jeremy Hazell reminds me very much of 100 meter spring champion Usain Bolt. On the other end, Dominique Jones is just flat out playing hard. He went cold on a couple of possessions but just followed up one of his shots, got the put back plus the harm, so he’ll have one more coming on the other side of this official timeout.
– The Seton Hall pep band is playing Blink 182′s “All The Small Things”. Now while this was a favorite song of mine during my junior high years, seeing as how it only consists of a whopping three notes, it sounds atrocious when performed by a brass ensemble. No offense Pirates, I’m just saying.
– Seton Hall’s perimeter defense is fantastic right now. On one possession South Florida was forced to pass off in the air on three-point attempts twice and then a seemingly wide open look for Dominique Jones disappeared before he realized what hit him. The Bulls still made the trip down the floor work for them though as Justin Leemow was able to sneak backdoor for a quick reverse. Eugene Harvey was able to get in the lane and draw contact at the other end of the floor and knock home one of two freebies. At 8:40 its a 21-12 game in favor of Seton Hall. Bobby Gonzalez is happy.
– Jeremy Hazell is on his game tonight. Dude grabs an offensive rebound, dribbles a circle around two defenders, then hits a runner along the baseline. Did I mention that a year ago Hazell was a streaky shooting freshman who posted 12 ppg and was considered an offensive liability? Jones is doing his best to keep pace and has 5 points and 5 boards. Just under six to go in the opening half and the Hall is still in control by eight, 25-17. As the South Florida dancers make their way on to the floor they get a rather raucous round of applause from the Notre Dame fans who have stayed for game two of the evening.
– Thanks to a mini run put together by junior Chris Howard (8 points so far), USF finds themselves all knotted up at 27 with a little under three to go. Seton Hall is still running their offense effectively, but its like someone put a lid on the hoop. Jordan Theodore only moments ago had an open three get 90 percent of the way down before rimming out.
– Cue Alex Rivas with the big offensive rebound and a soft put back. The dude is three-fourths arms and is using it to his advantage inside. Howard comes back with another big shot, nailing his second straight dagger from beyond the arc. Bulls are looking good with this run, they lead it 32-30 at the half as Seton Hall misses a put back at the buzzer.
– So during the half I’ve been looking over the tournament bracket and the crazy about the 16 team format is that we don’t even get to see the top four seeds until day three. Louisville, Pitt, Connecticut and Villanova all have two-round byes. You have to wonder who will be at more of a disadvantage, the teams who have to play one or two games before the third round, or the big dogs who have to sit around for almost a week before playing hungry teams that will be plenty hungry to knock off a higher seed. Something worth considering.
– As a journalist who covers Maryland basketball it is difficult to watch Augustus Gilchrist perfectly execute a pick and roll and the top of the key, then thrown down a two handed put back. To think what could have been. South Florida is holding court with a 39-37 advantage a few minutes into the second half despite the fact that Dominique Jones is being rendered useless by freshman Jordan Theodore. The undersized rook is playing Jones tight all over the floor and has used his quickness to counter the strong upper body of the sophomore scoring machine.
– Coming out of the official timeout South Florida tries to run Jones off a double screen along the baseline. The Pirates overplay it and force the ball into Gilchrist in the post who shorts a baby hook thanks to tough D by senior John Garcia. The Hall stays strong and after a pair of finishes in the lane by Hazell, they regain the lead 44-39 with 13:45 remaining.
– Any confusion I had about whether or not this was a Seton Hall or USF crowd was cleared up after the building exploded courtesy of a fast break jam by Hazell. He’s score six straight for the Pirates and now has a game high 18. The Bulls call time trailing by seven.
– Jeremy Hazell just drilled another three-pointer, giving him 20 points for the game. So much for my Hazell v. Jones shootout, as Dominique is still stuck on 7. What is important though is Hazell was knocked to the floor after that last jumper and appears to have tweaked something in his neck. He has been testing it out ever since he hopped back up and has grimaced at least twice already. Something to keep an eye on to see if it has any effect on his game.
– The scouting report on Augustus Gilchrist coming out of high school was athletic big man with ability to step out and shoot away from the basket. Someone must have caught him on a good day; dude has air balled three 18-footers tonight and aside from his big dunk, has been inactive with 8 points and 3 rebounds.
– While there is certainly plenty of time with 7:39 remaining, this one is starting to feel over with the Pirates ahead 55-45. Maybe it’s because it’s the end of a long day, maybe it’s because the fans have become subdued. Regardless, the Pirates have very methodically pulled away in this game slightly. The teams will trade missed baskets and then the Hall will net a quick one before the squads trade misses again. It’s been going on like this for a few minutes now, but Eugene Harvey has snuck into double figures proving to be a nice second option once again for Hazell.
– I’m really enjoying watching Jordan Theodore play. I know I’ve mentioned him several times already, but as a freshman I can already tell that he is going to be a very solid four-year player for head coach Bobby Gonzalez. The kid hustles, shows good court vision, is very quick and isn’t afraid to sacrifice his body (which he has done several times tonight.) The stat line on him right now shows just 5 points and a single assist, but it’s all the little things he does well, like make the extra pass, that tells me Theodore will be a solid floor general down the line. Under 5 minutes to go, 9 point Hall lead.
– With less than three minutes to go things are starting to grind to a halt as both teams begin to foul on defense as a result of fatigue setting in. While the Pirates are hitting on their free throws, USF continues to bury themselves by failing to convert on their chances. With 2 minutes even remaining its a 64-50 Pirate lead.
– One minute to go and the mainly pro-Seton Hall crowd comes to their feet as the Pirates start to work the clock down leading by 18. This is going to be the biggest margin of victory today.
– And there you have it, Seton Hall wraps up day one of the Big East Tournament with a convincing 68-54 win over South Florida. Their prize: a match up with Syracuse tomorrow night. Jeremy Hazell led all scorers with 23 points; Eugene Harvey and Robert Mitchell each reached double-figures as well. Dominique Jones managed a solid, but quiet, 14 points, 7 rebounds and 7 assists.
– So after nearly 12 solid hours of basketball and blogging we have four teams ready for round two and four that are done for the week. For South Florida and Rutgers this is probably it for the year, but Cincinnati and Georgetown should be expecting phone calls from the NIT fairly soon. Tomorrow is another packed day with 4 more games on the docket starting at noon. So while I go ice my fingers be sure to catch up on sleep and be ready for more action from New York tomorrow!