First, Syracuse got bullied by the Butler Bulldogs. Then, Kansas State and Xavier put on a thriller from start to finish. AND most importantly, Gus Johnson finally got a day of basketball worthy of his golden pipes. March Madness continues…
Kansas State Outlasts Xavier
Whoa. Or as Gus Johnson likes to say, “haHA!” It took the length of an NBA game to determine the winner of the regional semifinal in Salt Lake City on Thursday night. What a thriller. Kansas State looked poised to win it at the end of regulation and again at the close of overtime, but it wasn’t until double overtime that they finally closed out the Xavier Musketeers. It was by far the 2010 tournament’s greatest game. It was also called by the voice of March Madness, Gus Johnson. Unfortunately, the game ended in anticlimactic fashion (don’t they always) with KSU up five, but who cares. The game was fantastic. Here’s how we reached the first overtime and then another.
End of regulation: Kansas State up three with one foul remaining. The endless debate of whether to foul or not affected the outcome of yet another game. KSU coach, Frank Martin, instructed his players to foul, and they did. Unfortunately, the official choked on his whistle and failed to call the first foul, leading another KSU player to commit another foul…while Xavier’s Terrell Holloway was hoisting a desperation three. Oops. Holloway stepped to the foul line and calmly drained all three attempts to tie the game with 6 seconds to go. The plan to foul obviously backfired, but it’s hard to blame Martin. The official clearly failed to whistle the first foul even though KSU’s Denis Clemente had both hands wrapped around Holloway. Nonetheless, to overtime we went…
End of Overtime One: Kansas State was up two with 19 seconds left as Chris Merriewether went to the line. He bricked the first and sank the second. Instead of a four point, two possession lead, Kansas State was up only three. Plenty of time for Xavier to hit their 700th clutch three of the night (slight exaggeration). Holloway brought the ball up court, dribbled around, couldn’t get an open look, and finally gave it up to Jordan Crawford as time continued to tick away. At this point I was wondering if they’d even get off a decent shot. I was right. Crawford hoisted a three from about 35 feet away (essentially the parking lot) … and drained it. I needed a towel to wash the exploded pieces of Gus Johnson’s head off my TV. Gus was in heaven.
Generally, the team that surrenders devastating shots to allow overtimes loses a game like this because of the emotional damage done by letting a win slip away. Therefore, Kansas State deserves credit for fighting back every time and, because of two clutch threes by Jacob Pullen, coming out on top. The finish may not have been as exciting as one would have liked, but there’s hope. We know Gus Johnson has plenty left in the tank for Saturday night.
Another 1 Bites the Dust
Syracuse put on an ugly performance as the Big East continued its campaign to discredit what was once considered the country’s strongest conference. Not only were the Orangemen outplayed, but they were outworked the entire game as well. Butler didn’t win by playing a perfect game either. In some respects they were as brutal as Syracuse, even shooting a lower field goal percentage and shooting significantly lower from beyond the arc. Instead, Butler won with defense, forcing 18 Syracuse turnovers to go along with 13 steals.
Syracuse fought back from a ten point halftime deficit to regain the lead but couldn’t overcome the Butler Bulldogs or themselves. Syracuse forward, Rick Jackson, put on a clinic for the “basketball forwards with brick hands” camp. He was dreadful. Allowing easy rebounds and scoring opportunities to pass right through his hands, especially in critical moments. At one point, I thought Jim Boeheim was going to drop kick him to the groin. Seriously, he was that mad. Jackson wasn’t the only one though. Down the stretch, and especially in the final minute, Scoop Jardine fell in love with himself so much that he failed to get the ball to Syracuse’s best player, Wes Johnson. Maybe I’m wrong, but you’d think you’d want the ball in the hands of your best player when you’re down four with a minute to go. Johnson got the ball once in that time.
Let’s give credit to Butler too. They forced Syracuse into sloppy offensive sets and held them to 43% from the field, 8% below their season average. Butler also came through in the clutch. Most notably, Willie Veasley’s enormous three with Butler nursing a one point lead. His three from the corner was classic. First, it hit off the front of the rim, then off the backboard, and then sunk through the net. Gus Johnson couldn’t believe it. Neither could Syracuse. In the 1:50 remaining after the shot, Syracuse went 2/5 and never got back within three. I’m glad I didn’t put too much stock in the Big East this year (hitting myself with my mouse right now).
West Virginia, Kentucky; Ugly, but good enough to win
West Virginia looked sloppy early before taking a commanding lead. Then they looked sloppy again. Despite a significant lead, the Mountaineers failed to completely close out Washington until the final seconds expired. Or, as Jay Bilas put it, “West Virginia is the only thing keeping Washington in this game right now.” Please, West Virginia, clean it up so someone in the Big East lands in the Final Four. Thanks.
Kentucky wasn’t much better. The Wildcats used a 30-6 first half run to jump out to a 16 point halftime lead. They then closed the game on a 22-11 run. That essentially sums up the game. Cornell was overmatched and it showed as Kentucky raced up and down the court. All my TV showed were blobs of red flying by. Kentucky was just too athletic for the fundamentally sound Cornell “whatever the heck they are.” It was an admirable effort, especially cutting the lead to 6 late in the second half, but Kentucky was ultimately too much. Here’s hoping Bob Huggins and his classy sweat suits prevail on Saturday night.