"He who laughs best today will also laugh last." - Friedrich Nietzsche
Game #9-294: Mount Saint Mary`s Mountaineers at Bryant BulldogsJanuary 17, 2013 7:00 pm
Chace Athletic Center
SMITHFIELD, R.I. - It didn't occur to me until I was about to depart that this was not my first trip to watch a basketball game at Bryant. I really don't remember the year, but it was definitely more than a decade ago that my friend Phil had a part-time job doing radio for the University of Bridgeport and he asked if I wanted to do some color.
Sure, I had nothing to do that night. Where the hell is Bryant?
I really didn't remember much about it, but some quick research (i.e. checking the media guide) told me it was probably early in the 1998-99 season, a lopsided victory for Bryant, of which they didn't have many - even in Division II - in those days. For some reason, we had to broadcast from the stands with rickety old wooden bleachers, which is pretty much par for the course at most Division II schools (and high schools, obviously)
So when Bryant announced they were going Division I a few years ago, I started to do a spit take. But then I remembered I did the same when Quinnipiac, Sacred Heart, and a few others did, and in the end, it's been fun. I pretty much described most of the NEC, and you know I love the NEC, so the more the merrier, even Bryant.
Max Good, formerly at UNLV as an interim coach (and Eastern Kentucky way back in the 1980s), had done quite the Division II reclamation project, leading Bryant to five straight Division II tournaments including the final game in 2005. But Good took over at Loyola Marymount (where he still is), meaning he wouldn't be able to see Bryant into Division I, a job that fell to Tim O'Shea. O'Shea left Ohio after five straight winning seasons in 2008.Wait a minute, he left Ohio - the Ohio in the MAC - to come to Bryant
, which hadn't played a second of Division I basketball? O'Shea was an East Coast guy and had plenty of coaching roots in New England, sure, but really?
There had to be some moments in his first four seasons that O'Shea wondered, as Bryant - predictably, I guess - went 20-97, including a 1-29 season and a 2-26 struggle last season.
But, almost miraculously, in its first year of eligibility for the NCAA Tournament, suddenly O'Shea and Bryant have turned it all around. The Bulldogs won at Boston College and Lehigh in the non-conference campaign, and came into last Thursday's game against Mount St. Mary's atop the NEC with a 3-0 record.
So back to Bryant I went. Yea, I was going to the hottest college basketball team in New England, but I was really going to see if those wooden bleachers were really still there.
The Chace Wellness Center (yes, that's spelled correctly)
got renovations in 2001, and the outside looked much nicer than I remembered. I got there an hour before the game and there was a ticket table set up, but no one to actually buy the tickets from. When a young woman finally came over, she didn't really know where the tickets went. I tried the concession stand, but after a simple purchase of a Diet Coke, the cash register refused to open no matter what codes were typed in.
Growing pains, I guess, and as I walked in, I noticed a shiny new court, a new press row, a relatively modern scoreboard, and ... the same wooden bleachers.
Really? I didn't know whether to be upset or thrilled.
And in all honesty, I probably give too much thought to what a team's home gym looks like. Although I love to compare and contrast as I strive to see as many venues as possible, facilities do not directly correlate into a team's success. After all, if it did, the Mid-majority would be in big trouble, wouldn't we?
As it turned out, from a tactical standpoint, Mount St. Mary's was the more interesting team on this night. "Mount Mayhem" as new head coach Jamion Christian - a former Shaka Smart assistant - tries to mimic VCU, and The Mount was able to get off to a great start. But when I saw a 1-2-2 half-court trapping zone at this level, I cringed.
One season, when the other coach and I decided we had a lot of players, but probably weren't going to be very good, we decided to emulate the Grinnell system of shooting superhoops at every opportunity and trying to push tempo by trying to get the other team to shoot quickly.
The full-court pressure part of it was actually not terrible, it caused some turnovers and pushed tempo. The constant substitution was a little disconcerting, but the biggest problem was the half-court defense of choice: the 1-2-2 trap. We gave up layup after layup, with one post player scoring 48 on us one night as she just stood under the basket and waited for someone else to get double-teamed to show herself for easy points.
It looked like Bryant junior Alex Francis was going to have the same kind of night Thursday. He finished the first half with 14 points on 7-for-7 shooting, none of them outside three feet from the hoop. Still The Mount was able to hang around (down 35-31 at the half), but Francis had six points in the first two minutes of the second half (he actually missed a shot, but got it back and put it in), and when Dyami Starks - silent in the first half - started the heat up, Bryant started to pull away.
But although The Mount wasn't able to cut into the lead (trailing 61-50 with 5:10 left), there was a strategy shift by Christian, who was still pressing, but doing it man-to-man, with some trapping. As it turned out, a slightly altered Mount Mayhem exposed some weakness in Bryant, in particular ballhandling.
Suddenly, the Bryant lead was 7, 5, 4, and then a single point when Rashad Whack drilled a superhoop with 2:05 left. It looked like The Mount's chance had passed when Julian Norfleet missed a chance to tie the game on a #superhoop, but Bryant turned it over in the backcourt and freshman Shivaughn Wiggins (who would finish with a career-high 20 points on 8-for-10 shooting) tied the game at 67 with a superhoop with 15 seconds left.
Senior Frankie Dobbs, who generally had a miserable night, ended up with a 30-footer that came up short and we were stunningly headed to overtime. This wasn't in my script, this was supposed to be about Bryant, guys, to make my story better.
The Mount led 72-69 midway through overtime and Bryant - who doesn't have a deep bench - appeared to be wilting under the pressure. But remember Dobbs? Yes, he was having a tough night, but senior leadership is about stepping up when your team needs it and he responded with a superhoop to tie the game. Just like a coach's son, I guess, his dad Happy is a Bryant assistant.
From there, it went back and forth until Bryant got the ball down one. With time running out, freshman Shane McLaughlin - who was probably only in the game because Joe O'Shea fouled out and had taken two shots in conference play in his career - drove to his left and made a tough running layup to put Bryant up. Norfleet got a decent look at the buzzer, but Bryant's dream season continued, albeit barely.
In the end, the crowd was announced at 909 on a Thursday night (which seemed pretty accurate), one of which was their biggest fan, Bryce Lavalla, who picked the right jersey to wear in Alex Francis on this night.
For Bryant, though, they really don't care what I think about their gym or their move to Division I or their wooden bleachers, do they? They're 5-0 (6-0 after beating Wagner Saturday) in the NEC with a chance to host conference tournament games and possibly (gasp) go to the NCAA Tournament. Right now, they might be the best basketball team in New England.
Last laugh, indeed.
at BRYANT 79, MOUNT SAINT MARY`S 78
MOUNT SAINT MARY`S 6-10 (1-4) -- J. Norfleet 3-10 0-0 6; S. Wiggins 8-10 1-2 20; S. Prescott 5-11 4-9 16; R. Whack 7-16 0-0 17; K. Parker 2-5 0-0 5; R. Barber 1-1 0-0 2; K. Krajina 3-3 2-2 8; X. Owens 1-2 0-0 2; T. Danaher 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 31-59 7-13 78.
BRYANT 12-4 (5-0) -- F. Dobbs 2-8 5-6 10; C. Maynard 5-9 3-3 13; A. Francis 11-12 3-3 25; D. Starks 6-11 4-5 18; J. O'Shea 3-5 4-5 11; S. McLaughlin 1-1 0-0 2; V. Kondratyev 0-2 0-0 0; C. McMath 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-48 19-22 79.
Three-point goals: MSM 9-28 (R. Whack 3-10; S. Prescott 2-7; J. Norfleet 0-5; K. Parker 1-3; S. Wiggins 3-3), BRY 4-16 (F. Dobbs 1-4; D. Starks 2-7; C. Maynard 0-3; J. O'Shea 1-2); Rebounds: MSM 20 (S. Prescott 7), BRY 25 (C. Maynard 9); Assists: MSM 13 (J. Norfleet 7), BRY 20 (F. Dobbs 8); Total Fouls -- MSM 21, BRY 14; Fouled Out: MSM-K. Krajina; BRY-J. O'Shea.
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