It’s a good bet that just about anybody reading out there couldn’t name one player on the Furman University women’s basketball team. Before today, I couldn’t.
But now I am a fan of theirs, because they played a game that reminded me of why I love post-season tournament basketball.
I don’t attend too many sporting events as a paying customer, but I found a guy on Craigslist willing to sell me tickets to the first two days of the Southern Conference tournament here in Charlotte at a bargain price. And I’m on spring break and had no coverage assignments for the those days. So I watched three first round women’s games today and will go for six — two women’s quarterfinals and four men’s first round — tomorrow starting at the ungodly hour of 9 a.m. I don’t think I’ve ever attended a sports event with an earlier starting time, except for a dove hunt. (One reason I no longer do outdoor sports.)
But back to Furman. They played Davidson in the last of the day’s three games. The Paladins (it’s a name for a knight) entered the game as the No. 11 and last-seeded team in the tournament. They sported a 6-23 record and had lost their last 10 games. That’s a team with every excuse to go through the motions and call it a season.
Instead, they did what a conference tournament allows you to do — take advantage of one last opportunity to make a statement, no matter how lousy your season has been.
Furman came from 15 points behind with 15 minutes left in the game to take a 73-67 win over a No. 6-seed Davidson team which was essentially playing a home game and had beaten them twice in the regular season. The Paladins were led by 5-foot-8 point guard Lee Stephens, who scored 14 of her eventual 23 points before the game was 10 minutes old and stepped up again in the stretch.
It completed a sweep by the lower-seeded teams, as No. 10 Elon easily beat No. 7 Wofford 67-53 and No. 9 UNC-Greensboro edged No. 8 Western Carolina 57-55.
The Elon-Wofford game didn’t look much like an upset, as the Terriers (whose hat I may have to give in and buy from the souvenir vendor — great logo!) couldn’t survive a first half from hell. They shot 18.7 percent (7-for-37) from the field. And even when they did something good, it turned to dust. Wofford’s game was summed up by a first-half sequence in which a Terrier guard made a nifty steal and headed for an uncontested layup at the other end of the court — only to dribble the ball off her foot at the Elon free throw line.
I enjoyed watching Elon’s point guard, a flashy freshman named Ali Ford from nearby Morganton, who hit five three-pointers on the way to a 21-point night. She also had eight turnovers, but that comes with the territory when a first-year player runs the offense.
Western Carolina and UNC-Greensboro actually tied for the No. 8 spot in the standings and the game was that kind of close in the second half after UNCG had taken a 10-point halftime lead. Lakiah Hyson’s two free throws with 18 seconds to play won it for the Spartans.
It was fun to be back in the Bojangles Coliseum, the latest name for the original Charlotte Coliseum, built in the 1950s. I told someone that I think Michael Jordan was playing for the North Carolina Tar Heels in the last college basketball game I saw played there. (The first time, I saw Pat Conroy, who I understand has written some books since he ended a basketball career as a point guard for The Citadel in the mid-1960s.)
I’m looking forward to tomorrow, when we’ll see how much hoops a man can stand. I think I’m up to it.