If it’s March, the blog is mostly about basketball, though I do have a few other non-sports posts percolating in the next little while.
But this is the time of year I do a lot of care and feeding of my hoops addiction. (It actually started a week early this year with three games in a nine-hour span last Saturday — UNC-Greensboro at Davidson men, High Point at Winthrop women and Belmont Abbey at Queens men. It was tiring, but it turned out to be more fun than a person should be allowed to have.
I’m watching three games, two of them fairly closely, in the South Atlantic Conference tournament in Hickory today, and I’ll finish the week in High Point with at least the four first-round games in the Big South women’s tournament on Friday. That should tide me over until March Madness starts on TV.
I had originally planned on being somewhere else tonight, instead of here at the SAC tournament. My primary assignment, covering the Queens men’s basketball team, figured on extending to tonight’s Conference Carolinas championship game. But on Monday, March Madness struck a day early. The top-seeded Royals lost a first-round home game to No. 8 Belmont Abbey, 84-81, just two days after Queens had won the second regular-season meeting of the two teams on the same home court.
My sports reporting ethical standards, of course, don’t allow me to root openly for anybody, and you have to avoid getting caught up in the emotion of the things that unfold around you. But it was easy to feel the disappointment of the Queens players, who didn’t want to go out with a loss on their home court. (Their season shouldn’t be over, as the Royals will almost certainly be in the Division II tournament field when it’s announced tomorrow night.)
But it was also easy to feel happy for the Crusaders, who got the most satisfying win of their up-and-down season. Richard Barbee, a senior guard from Virginia, scored his 2,000th career point in the game. And while he said the right things — about being happier to get the win for the team — you could tell that getting the career milestone meant something too.
Anyway, as the second game of the day is under way here in Hickory, in a nice community college gym with a horrendous background for shooters, it’s been nice to see familiar faces here following the Wingate Bulldogs. The school where I teach sent both its teams to the semifinals after a two-year absence.
Wingate’s women advanced to the finals by overcoming a familiar nemesis, and I mean that in the sense of Captain Ahab vs. the White Whale type stuff. The No. 2 seeded Bulldogs defeated what had to be one of the more threatening No. 6 seeds in a conference tournament anywhere — at least in the minds of its opponent.
“Half of the players wanted them, and half of them didn’t,” Wingate coach Barbara Nelson said of the matchup with Carson-Newman. The Eagles had beaten Wingate in six of their eight previous meetings, including the last four in a row.
“They’re just a difficult team to play, because they change defenses a lot,” she said. “A team has to concentrate on offense. The fact that we only had three turnovers in the second half helped.”
The Bulldogs also got 23 offensive rebounds, some of which were attributable to their missing their first 12 shots of the game. They survived a cold streak that lasted most of the first half, and after being down by 12, took control of the game with a 24-4 run in the second half.
“We had to get some first-half jitters out of the way,” said guard CC Brooks, the only senior on the team, who scored a game-high 16 points. “We hit shots in practice just fine, so we just tried to calm down and look at it as practice.”
If Allen Iverson were dead, he’d be rolling over in his grave.
Anyway, Wingate’s 69-57 victory puts the Bulldogs in the championship game for the first time since 2008, when they won it and advanced to the Division II Elite Eight.
The first men’s semifinal is in progress right now between Tusculum and Lincoln Memorial (nicknamed, of course, the Railsplitters). After that, Wingate and Catawba will renew another familiar conference rivalry.
The Bulldog men have put together a very good 18-9 season despite not having a senior on the roster. They’ve got a nice collection of scorers, but can also play solid defense. But they’re up against the team that nobody ever wants to play in this tournament.
Coached by Jim Baker, who played at the Salisbury school in the Seventies, the Indians are trying to get to their fifth straight championship game, and in that span they’ve gotten there from the top of the pack and the middle (two No. 1 seeds and a No. 4). Now for variety, they’re trying it from the bottom. The No. 7 seed in this tournament, Catawba knocked off No. 2 Anderson in the first round.
It should be a fun game, but that’s going to be for another post. It’s a long week and I’m going to have to pace myself.