BROOKLYN, N.Y. - Let's be honest, the Barclays Center is not a Mid-majority facility. Nor does it pretend to be. With a total cost of $1 billion (must be said in Austin Powers voice to get true effect), its concourse features a few high-class establishments, a place where they will carve a sandwich the way you want, buy Jay-Z's Rocawear (of course), or get some sushi, if you please.
But we're allowed to party every once in a while, aren't we? We can't penny-pinch forever. There has to be a time, once a year or so, where we get together with our friends and we just let our hair down for a few days and say, 'Screw it'. Obviously, we have to be careful not to get used to it, a few weeks of this and we'll be broke.
The Atlantic-10 has been perhaps the most maligned conference in the Mid-majority world this season. Not because of the poor play it has displayed, but quite the opposite, it has - as a whole - played too well, leading people to come out of the Internet and television woodwork to declare - most of the time without prompting - that they can't possibly be part of anything Mid-majority.
As we've said on several occasions this season, we really don't care what others think. We have our definitions, and the Atlantic-10 is Mid-majority (you can look it up here somewhere), and so I'm going to enjoy the party this week. And try not to go broke.
Sadly, I missed the fun to begin the proceedings when Richmond had an all-time meltdown against Charlotte
, but real life beckoned, at least for the first two games of the tournament.
It's quite ironic that the one year Xavier comes back to the Mid-majority (after being made an exception by going to the NCAA Tournament 11 of the last 12 years), that they've struggled. Even more amusing that after this year, the Musketeers will likely leave us and go to the Big East.
Extremely young, Xavier still found a way to finish seventh in the 16-team conference and was a slight favorite over somewhat disappointing Saint Joseph's Thursday night. There were probably more VCU (who got the winner Friday) fans than those for either team, and it was obvious from the opening tip that this game was probably going to come down to the final possession or two, even with Xavier's Brad Redford doing his best Rotnei Clarke impersonation for most of it.
But midway through the second half, Travis Taylor - the best post player on either team on this night - and Semaj Christon led the Musketeers on a 10-0 run to give them an eight-point lead and they threatened to pull away, which would have been disappointing, but the Hawks never say die. At least they're not supposed to, although confidence could not have been too high for a team that barely qualified for this party (sadly, defending champ St. Bonaventure, Rhode Island, Fordham, and Duquesne were not invited to this event because they finished at the bottom of the A-10 standings, we still have to have some kind of budget).
However, New York native junior Halil Kanacevic, who hasn't always been in the press for good news this season
, decided that being a 6-foot-8 point-forward wasn't going to get it done, he should probably shoot a couple of times, too, especially when Xavier was barely guarding him. Seven points from Kanacevic gave the Hawks the lead, and then - forced to guard him again - he kicked to a wide open Carl Jones, who would go 1-for-10 from the field on the night, but his #superhoop
put Saint Joe's up 48-44 with 7:45 left.
So we inevitably got our great finish, which wasn't quite as bizarre as Charlotte-Richmond, but was still perhaps the strangest ending (short of maybe Liberty-Western Carolina
) I've seen this season.
Kanacevic picked up a ridiculous fifth foul with 2:04 left after getting frustrated by turning the ball over, and so the momentum appeared to switch to the Musketeers.
The teams traded free throws with Christon giving Xavier a 57-56 lead with 1:07 left. The squads then traded turnovers and it looked like time was going to run out on the Hawks after a discombobulated possession, but Langston Galloway - who only took six shots in the game - finally drove to the basket out of desperation and got a foul call on Christon with 1.4 seconds left.
His first free throw used all of the rim, sitting on the front for what seemed like an eternity before falling in. The second one swished through and Saint Joe's coach Phil Martelli called his final time out to set up his defense. He probably didn't draw up what Xavier did next.
My first time coaching basketball was the winter after I graduated college when I coached 11-12 year-old recreation basketball in my hometown. Obviously, everyone had to play and we had one boy who was a great kid, but had trouble getting up and down the floor with everyone else. However, in fooling around before and after practice, he was remarkably accurate from half-court with a two-handed set shot.
So I came up with a plan. We'd give him the ball near half-court and let him shoot. If he made it, great. But most times when he missed, he would at least hit the backboard, so I'd have the rest of team line up as if it were a football kickoff and just run toward the basket as he threw it. Memories get fuzzy over the years, but I think we did it three times. Twice we got the offensive rebound, but never were able to finish it, although I seem to remember we came really close once.
Chris Mack would later say that the intent was just to throw a Hail Mary-type ball, but Justin Martin chucked the ball the whole length of the floor, so far that it hit the bottom of the Saint Joe's backboard. Miraculously, it caromed right into the hands of junior Isaiah Philmore, who just as miraculously now had a layup to win the game (remember the clock doesn't start until it's touched by a player, not the backboard), but he was probably just as stunned as anyone else, and the ball agonizingly came off the back of the rim as the buzzer sounded.
You always feel bad for guys like Philmore in situations like this, he kept shaking his head as he walked off the floor and his teammates tried to console him. But as he should know with the name Isaiah, this game will hurt you.
Somewhere some coach saw that play, though, and I guarantee a designed version of it will show up in a last-second situation, probably when we least expect it. Most inventions are accidental, after all.
Whether we do or not, there was one sure thing: This was my kind of party.