Game 077:(6) Maine 47, (3) Boston University 45 America East Quarterfinals Saturday, March 5, 2005 Events Center - Binghamton, NY
When you drive east into Boston along the MassPike, you'll pass by the home of the local pro baseball team. Last May, Red Sox CEO Larry Lucchino asked Tom Brennan to throw out the first ball at a game, saying that he'd like the Vermont basketball coach to bring "some of that good University of Vermont karma to Fenway Park." The folks in Burlington certainly wouldn't call it a coincidence, but five months later the Sox won their first World Series title in 86 years.
Before that world's baseball championship, the Beantown Nine had been known as hardnosed competitors who had great regular seasons but could never win the big one. This was a reputation carefully sculpted and honed over generations. But now, the ghosts may have simply packed up and drove their ghost buggies a few miles down the MassPike to the campus of Vermont's America East colleagues, Boston University. Perhaps they've taken up haunts at The Roof, meaning to bolster the misfortunes of BU's star-crossed basketball program. After coming up just short in the playoffs three straight times to wipe out three straight seasons with 20-plus wins, a Curse can't be too far out of the question.
There's no Babe Ruth or Bucky Bleepin' Dent or Aaron Boone to add lyricism and romance to the Terriers' supposed hex. Their tormentors have not been household names - they're more of the neighborhood variety. They're players like Vermont's David Hehn, who hit a waning-moments jumper in the 2003 title game that sent the Catamounts to their first NCAA Tournament. Last year, it was 6'3" D.J. Munir from Stony Brook, who hit the winning shot to ice the Seawolves' shock 8-over-1 upset in the America East semifinals, right there on BU's home floor.
Now you can add a 6'3" guard from Maine named Chris Markwood to the list. He lurked around the edges of the game all night, through an ugly first half that ended with a 18-13 Terrier lead, and a nip-and-tuck second period featured seven lead changes in the last five minutes. When the clock read 0:10, the scoreboard flashed 45-44 in favor of BU.
Out of a 30-second timeout, the Black Bears took a speedy six seconds to run the length of the floor. An unguarded Markwood looked around for an open teammate, found that he was the unguarded one, toed the line and lifted off. His fifth, sixth and seventh points of the night gave Maine a two-point lead.
What was striking about the next and final thre seconds was their serenity and quietude. After the ball swished through the net, the Terriers quickly moved down the court, and senior Chaz Carr calmly hoisted a three-point attempt, which fell away from the rim, flat to the floor. When the buzzer sounded, the defeated white-clads walked off the court hushed, in what seemed like slow motion.
Unmitigated losing gets old quickly. Mediocrity isn't interesting at all. But there's something endearing about teams that win and win and win, then fail in the final moments of the games that count. The recent success of the Hub's pro teams has caused general smugness, a change in the city's complexion, and an absolutely unbearable Sports Guy. Maybe it's time for Red Sox fans conflicted by the sudden stripping of their Lovable Loser status to trade in their worn-out ballcaps for Terrier sweatshirts.
And for a team that often draws fewer than 200 fans to January league games, the romance of near-miss failure - a Curse, if you will - might even spur sales. Then they can have fun trying to figure out who or what is responsible for it.
BU coach Dennis Wolff, a thinking man's thinking man, had a far more direct explanation for the loss. "Basketball is a very simple game," he said. "If you're going to shoot 28%, you're not going to win."
In our reptilian brains, we all know that all instances of sports hoodoo are usually just products of sportwriters' imagination - just like the Curse Of The Bambino was. The players go out into the field and play the games, and the names and faces change on a yearly basis while the team names stay the same. To spin a series of unrelated events into colorful narrative is what sportswriters do, and so to that end, I'm just trying to do my job here.