"Whoever thinks of going to bed before twelve o'clock is a scoundrel." - Samuel Johnson
Back in my college days, and probably for a while thereafter, my friends and I would go out on a random Saturday night early in March, and after approximately stop three, stumble toward a television.
"Dude, this game can't be live, can it?"
"No way, it's 12:15. It can't be."
"It is, man, look!"
Welcome to Late Night At The MAAC
or MAAC After Dark
, as it's been called in its various reincarnations in these parts.
And, although I'm sure an accurate look at the history would probably prove me wrong, it just seemed like every year that last quarterfinal game was nuts: bizarre stuff would happen, last-second shots, craziness that you only see when the werewolves ruled the night (vampires were not quite the rage they are today).
Lots of tournaments have their games that go well into the night, but the MAAC - by scheduling six games (two women's semifinal games to start the proceedings) - tends to be later than the rest. Sure enough, even with a Loyola-Niagara game that didn't seem exceedingly long, tipoff for Manhattan-Siena was at 10:15 p.m. which may or may not be past my usual weekday bedtime.
The crowd took on the feel of the late night U.S. Open tennis crowds. There weren't many there, but those that were - a good percentage likely under the influence of an adult beverage or five - made their voices heard, sometimes with language that would likely have been colorful had it been cogent.
Manhattan had far more depth, Siena only plays six players, freshman point guard Evan Hymes was on the sidelines with an injury, and the Jaspers raced to an early lead. This couldn't be a blowout, could it? How disappointing.
But if there was a home team at this year's MAAC, it was Siena, about 90 minutes from Springfield, and after Hymes (at 5-foot-8 and 140 pounds being generous) limped onto the court, the Saints responded. Manhattan came back with a run of their own, but Siena counterpunched again, getting to within 29-28, when we got our first "MAAC After Dark
" moment with seven minutes left in the first half.
Less than a minute after Norwegian Torgrim Sommerfeldt - deep on Steve Masiello's bench - checked into the game, he was involved in an altercation with Siena star OD Anosike, the nation's leading rebounder and clearly the biggest hope his team had for an upset.
While Anosike shouldn't be absolved of all blame, it certainly looked like Sommerfeldt was out to pick a fight, and Anosike had just picked up his second foul just before his arrival on the scene. As the two teams stared each other down, Masiello ran out on the court to play peacemaker, but - somewhat stealthily - gave Sommerfeldt (who wouldn't return to the game) a nice pat on the shoulder.
Siena coach Mitch Buonaguro certainly thought he had been duped. When the officials went to check the monitor to see what punishment needed to be doled out, he got in the face of Masiello - more than 20 years his junior - and they had to be separated. The crowd roared, fans were screaming at each other, the place (despite being only about 20 percent full) seemed ready to explode.
Welcome to Late Night at the MAAC
Anosike ended up with his third foul, but Siena was able to survive to lead 41-39 at the half thanks to seniors Brendan Walters and Owen Wignot, two players who were not called on to carry much of the scoring load under normal circumstances.
Siena and Wignot, much to the delight of the partisan crowd, got the lead up to as much as eight midway through the second half, but the late game is never that easy. Manhattan's depth, senior inspiration from Kidani Brutus, and junior George Beamon - one of those classic players who falls through the cracks to us at the Mid-majority because they're a little too small - led the Jaspers back.
As the clock struck midnight, neither team led by more than four in the final seven minutes, as it has to be in MAAC After Dark
, and after Anosike gave Siena a 75-73 lead, Brutus answered with a three-pointer from the top of the key with 44 seconds to go to put the Jaspers in front. The Jaspers led 78-75 when the ball came to Wignot, a good 25 feet out with 10 ticks left.
Wignot, an artist on the side whose father played professional soccer, had hit only 21 three-pointers all season coming in, but given MAAC After Dark
protocol, it was nothing but net.
Masiello got a time out, Brutus subsequently got a tremendous look that won the game for the Jaspers.
At least he thought it did. The crowd thought it did. Even the freaking clock operator thought it did as time mysteriously stopped with 0.4 still on the board.
But the ball defied about 16 laws of known physics, and - like a rigged roulette wheel - went from halfway in the basket to spinning out.
After about the 24th check of the monitor of the evening (at one "check the monitor" stoppage, Masiello became so incensed that he started like a little kid in the back of a car on a long trip, "Can we play now?" "Can we play now?" "Can we play now?"), it was pretty obvious that the clock should have expired and we were headed to overtime.
It was 12:15 on Sunday morning. Of course we were. "O wild and wondrous midnight,
There is a might in thee
To make the charmed body
Almost like spirit be,
And give it some faint glimpses
-James Russell Lowell, Midnight
Alas, the mortality would belong to Masiello and the Jaspers, who would see their fine season come to an end at the hands of the Siena Six, who seemed to have new life when Brutus' shot rolled out. Beamon would pull Manhattan within 83-82 with 1:30 left, but it would be the last field goal of the contest.
Down 84-82, the Jaspers got two shots in the waning seconds, but it wasn't to be. Another upset for Late Night at the MAAC.
By now it was 12:35 a.m. on a day that started 13 hours and four games earlier. It was a day I won't soon forget.
But even the scoundrels have to think of sleep sometime, so home I went.