Wednesday, March 23, 2011

From the FreeP: Watching BU keep up with Kansas through first half was something special

By Shep Hayes/DFP Staff

As the clock struck seven in Tulsa, Okla., on Friday, the sun set over the Arkansas River. Slowly, quietly and without protest, the great ball of fire slid under the horizon and darkness began to fall on the “Gateway to Oklahoma’s Green Country.”

A few blocks east of where the river separates the city into two parts, on the edge of downtown Tulsa, the sun was also setting on the 2010-11 Boston University men’s basketball season. In front of a mostly hostile crowd that had made the four-hour drive down from Lawrence, Kan., the Terriers slipped out of the bright lights of March Madness.

Thirty-five games after the season began in mid-November against Northeastern University, the Terriers’ season came to a close in the second round of the NCAA Tournament against the No. 1 University of Kansas Jayhawks

The Terriers, the No. 16 seed in the Southwest regional, would not make history. In 107 prior attempts, the 16 seeds had lost to the one seeds. Friday night, of course, was no different. For the 108th straight time in NCAA history, the lower ranked team lost.

Not that the loss was a shock to anyone. No Terrier fan is deranged enough to think that BU could knock off the second-best team in the entire country. You would literally have to have been insane to think that.

Unlike the quiet exit of the sun, however, the Terriers exited with at least a bit of a bang. When the game began an hour earlier, just before 6 p.m. local time, the ball was tossed in the air and the Terriers spent the next 20 minutes going toe-to-toe with Kansas. BU kept a respectable game pace, hit shots and turned John Holland into a household name.

For that one hour, BU played above-average basketball. When Marv Albert and Steve Kerr threw the broadcast back to the studio in New York, the Terriers trailed the Jayhawks by just four points. Holland was causing a buzz both on television and on the Internet, as he dropped 15 of BU’s 29 first-half points.

In the second half, of course, Kansas pulled away, doing what the No. 1 seed always does in the first round. It changed the tempo of the game, dominated in the paint, and simply reminded the world of all the reasons President Obama had picked the team to win the national title. The Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff, whom BU had managed to avoid in the first half, became the dominant rebounders they always were yet again, and led the charge to separate the Jayhawks from the Terriers.

For those 20 minutes of the first half, however, it was a different game, a different team. The Terriers did what mid-majors do in March: they gave an established powerhouse of college athletics – a big-time program with a large budget, a deep recruiting class and a loyal fan base – a run for its money. They stirred the pot, drew some attention and kept us on the edge of our seats.

It was awesome.

That is what March is all about, of course: seeing David outplay Goliath.

For that week, between the moment Holland sunk not one, but two free throws on the court of Agganis Arena to win the America East Championship to when that same Holland was the leading scorer with a game-high 19 points on the court of the BOK Center, Terrier Nation rose up out of the shadows to cheer on one of the most impressive basketball teams this mid-major has ever faced.

We were all entranced, either in person at The Greek, or watching at home on ESPN2 as Holland, the lone senior on a young and unproven squad, led the charge against the Stony Brook University Seawolves in the second half of the AE conference title game, an honestly remarkable comeback.

We hung on the edge of our seats, waiting and holding back as the basketball slipped through the hoop in the final seconds of that game and the deal was sealed.

We stormed the court seconds later, after our team pulled off a comeback that did not seem impossible, but at least seemed highly improbable.

As CBS play-by-play man Gus Johnson once said, “This is March Madness.” Johnson’s quote, delivered at the end of regulation during an exciting second-round game between Xavier University and Ohio State University in 2007, can be applied perfectly to the events surrounding the team from Commonwealth Avenue last week.

We fill out our brackets, looking for that underdog who maybe, just maybe, can pull through and beat the big teams.

We try and find that Morehead State, Gonzaga or Richmond.

This year, BU was able to be a part of that discussion. BU was an underdog who, for at least one half, kept it interesting.

And, as anyone who has ever been even a slim part of Terrier Nation can tell you, that’s something special.

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