March 11, 2008 11:55 am ET by Kyle Whelliston
ALBANY, N.Y. -- The thing that people don't get from television is how hot it is inside a court-storming. I mean, it's sweltering and blistering (and a little humid) in there with all the body heat and kinetic energy. Oh, and loud too. Inside a court-storming, you'll find a sound that can never be duplicated on a recording or anywhere else in the world -- joyful yelling at 110 decibels in a tightly enclosed and constricted space.
I've been critical about students storming the court at times they shouldn't (the only two acceptable conditions: conference tourney championship, or a home win over a rival you haven't beaten in at least 15 recent tries). But there is one area in which I'm not shy about abusing my privilege as a member of the credentialed press: during Championship Week, I will hop over the table and run out on the floor -- no matter who's the winner -- and jump around with some crazy kids. In a suit. I will do that, and no security can stop me.
Last night here in Albany, Siena beat Rider 74-53 to claim its first MAAC championship since 2002. It was our fourth conference tournament in three days, and should have been our third court-storming. But as you'll soon see, it was not to be.
The OVC was the third autobid to be given out on Saturday night, but the Austin Peay fans were kept in check, and weren't allowed to run onto the floor.
Because that would have meant crossing the Polite But Firm Security Co.
Just a word about the venue. The SEC women's tournament was being held at the sparkling Sommet Center (formerly known as the Gaylord Entertainment Center), the NHL-caliber building the OVC's usually in for its semifinals and finals. So we had to make do with the Nashville Municipal Auditorium, a building nearly a half-century old with no modern amenties (like parking). This is about as mid-major as you can get.
Bally liked it, though. He's a fuckin' maniac for those Doodlebops.
Tennessee State, the OVC's only HBCU, was a surprise finalist out of the No. 6 seed. Because the students were on break, it was difficult for TSU to get together a band and cheerleaders. The band they brought was phenomenal, and wiped the floor with both the Murray and Austin Peay bands.
As for cheerleaders, they could only manage two dudes and a couple of boosters' daughters. They put on a show better than any opposing cheerleaders did, and brought down even the Austin Peay side of the house during the final.
But the team couldn't live up. Tennessee State was blown out in the title game -- this is Bruce Price, a high-scoring Tiger guard who tore an ACL while at Ohio State, transferred to TSU, then re-injured the same knee before 2006-07 and missed another season. He came one game away from the Big Dance.
Across town, Belmont won its third straight Atlantic Sun title. But their fans couldn't storm the court either. Security erected a rope barricade around the Belmont student section, and pushed back anybody who tried to cross it. There's an apt metaphor having to do with sex when you keep unbridled, youthful passion repressed like this. You know the one, I don't have to repeat it.
Happy happy Belmont, celebrating its three-peat.
The next day, after The Official Wife of the Mid-Majority™ and I pulled off an all-night tandem drive of over 900 miles to Binghamton, N.Y., the America East semis got under way. Here's the Hartford Hawk and some friends, and yes, Hartford did eat the Terriers. For lunch, though... it was an afternoon game.
Later on Sunday, we ran into an old nemesis.
At the sparsely-attended Rider-Marist MAAC semifinal, J.J. held a musical-baskets contest during a media time-out called Basketball Survivor. Always up-to-date with the cultural references, that J.J.. We'll expect a Basketball Idol contest somewhere around 2013.
And last night, Siena survived the MAAC. It's a moment none of them will ever forget.
But then, during the awards ceremony, Rider head coach Tommy Dempsey and his players came back out on the floor to congratulate the Saints during their championship trophy presentation. That, sadly, is something you don't see very often -- losing teams often disappear into the night and the summer -- and it was easily the classiest thing we've seen all week.
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