Saturday, January 21, 2006

May the Debating Begin...
By Imtiaz Mussa

So a couple of months ago, Zach was inspired to write about the greatest sporting event he had ever seen. David and Ben followed with their tales but I didn’t feel like I had one. All of that changed today. A few days ago, a friend of mine from my days living on Long Island asked me if there was a game going on at the Garden that we could catch. Looking at the schedule, I noticed St. John’s against Louisville but it was a bit soon. The next game was on Saturday, January 21, 2006 as the St. John’s Red Storm hosted the Pittsburgh Panthers.

Now while I am a North Carolina fan, I always like to see the Johnnies do well. After all, they are New York’s college basketball team. The Garden was hardly packed as people from higher levels scrambled down to get a better view of the action. The Red Storm were coming off a huge win against Louisville and at the time, everyone thought that it would be the biggest win of the season. But Norm Roberts’ team had other ideas.

They got off to a good not great start. Considering how poorly Pittsburgh played to start this game, the Johnnies should have had more than a 14-0 lead with fourteen minutes to go but any fan will take it. After all, Norm Roberts has built this team on defense. Point guard Eugene Lawrence, Shooting guard Daryll “Showtime” Hill, and small forward Anthony Mason Jr. are all extremely quick and especially pesky. Plus, they are not afraid to mix it up on the inside. Combine that with the size of Lamont Hamilton and Aaron Spears and you have a formidable starting five that can disrupt a team’s offense. Back to the game, Lamont Hamilton got off to a nice start as he had 11 points by the half. The Panthers’ offense managed to score 19 points in thirteen and a half minutes and trailed by 12. At that point, I knew that Pitt would probably make a serious run in the second half. After all, the ninth best team in the country and one of the final three undefeated teams couldn’t be this bad… right?

It would be a special halftime at the Garden as St. John’s honored 10 former members of the Redmen by bringing them out to the joy of the fans. Without doubt, the loudest cheers were for Chris Mullin, Mark Jackson, and coach Lou Carnesecca.

The second half started with fans jumping out of their seats with joy. Following a Pitt miss, Hamilton and Hill would connect on an alley-oop. For a moment, you just didn’t think Hamilton could get to that one. But within the first seven minutes, Pitt would cut a fourteen point lead to three. The few Panther fans in attendance were starting to drain the Red Storm faithful. But the Red Storm responded, stretching the lead back to 11 with 8:10 left. But Pitt would awaken, keeping the Johnnies scoreless for the next 5:55. Pitt would take a one point lead on a jumper by Carl Krauser but you just had that feeling that this would be a great finish. Lawrence would tie it with a free throw and the Red Storm would take the lead as Aaron Spears made one of two. Krauser, who was having an awful game missed a layup that lead to the biggest sequence of the game. Hamilton was by himself on the left side of the post, Hill would penetrate to the free throw line to draw Hamilton’s defender which allowed Hill to slip the pass to Hamilton for the layup. St. John’s by 3 with 33 seconds to go. Pitt got it to within one with 13 seconds to go thanks to an Aaron Gray layup. Keith Benjamin would foul Hamilton on the inbound and send him to the line. It made sense as Lamont was 2 of 4 from the free throw line. But he’d sink the free throws and it would be on Carl Krauser to tie it up. But he failed as Phil Missere grabbed the rebound and headed to line. He sunk the free throws that made it 55-50 and it was over. St. John’s had taken down an undefeated team. It was their second win against a top 20 team this week. The students stormed the court as the Pittsburgh fans walked away quietly. At that point, I thought to myself that St. John’s was on the road to recovery from the scandals of a few years ago.

It would turn out to be a day of exciting finishes. I managed to get back in time to watch Duke fall to Georgetown. That would leave only Florida, a team I saw beat Wake Forest in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic a few months ago as the only undefeated team. I would watch West Virginia nearly blow a big lead against UCLA but be saved by a steal by Gansey. That was followed by Villanova’s victory against Syracuse. But while that game was played, the eyes were on the Florida-Tennessee game. Bruce Pearl has rejuvenated the Volunteers as they will be looking to make the NCAA Tournament. Unable to see it on television, I had to settle for hearing updates as UConn-Louisville was getting ready to tip-off. And then, there were none. Florida fell to Tennessee 80-76 and with that, the debate as to which team is the best has officially begun. It will be a non-stop roller coaster ride heading into March Madness.


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