Live, from New York, the city whose landmarks are famous all over the world, a world center for shipping, transportation, communications, finance, fashions and above all else entertainment. A city that pulsates always because of the millions of people who live here, work here, visit here. And in the heart of the metropolis, the great arena: Madison Square Garden.
Howard Cosell's voice rang through the PA system at the great arena.
In the locker room, the Farm Boys had a surprise visitor, perhaps one of the best motivational speakers of our time. It was a man they had seen on the projection screen before each game this year, and this time, for the NIT Final Four, he was there in the flesh.
If tomorrow wasn't promised, what would you give for today? Forget everything else. Forget that there was any sunlight left. What would you spend today thinking about - yourself, or the man that is beside you? Or the man that you know you'd give EVERYTHING in your heart for? We get one opportunity in life, one chance in life, to do whatever you're going to do, to lay your foundation and to make whatever mark you're going to make. Whatever legacy you're going to leave - LEAVE your legacy!
And it's found through effort. Wins and losses come a dime a dozen, but effort? NOBODY can judge effort. Because effort is between you and you. Effort ain't got nothin' to do with nobody else.
So that team that think they're ready to see you - they THINK what they seen on film - they ain't saw what film shows! Because every day is a new day; every moment is a new moment! So now you got to go out and show them that I'm a different creature NOW than I was five minutes ago.
Because I'm pissed off for greatness. Because if you ain't pissed off for greatness, that mean you okay with being mediocre, and ain't no man in here okay with being just basic. So let's do what we do- tonight, we don't gotta worry about taking no breaks. Let's do what we gotta do!
But perhaps the Card were a little too amped up for the game, as Z opened up play with an awry shot off his spin move that he has put on display a lot as of late. However, Terrell Vinson airmailed it right back, landing out of bounds and giving Stanford its first test against the press.
It's all good like Mo Thugs with some chick whose name escapes me who actually provides the majority of the vocals. Stanford breaks with ease, and Josh Owens made Prodigy and other rap conspiracy theorists happy by getting to his left shoulder on a guy named Sean Carter. It ain't about the Roc tonight, sir.
Second time against the press- not a turnover, but a deflection: Mann throws it off Jay-Z's foot, and Stanford resets. Gives Stanford another chance to face the press, and another success: Randle throws Anthony Brown a dime from half court to the right wing, and Ant swishes it. Good sign for the sophomore - he showed early he was pissed off for greatness.
When Aaron Bright entered, it gave everyone the opportunity to see the NIT's two remaining smallest players square off. Bright vs. Chaz Williams, the Brooklyn kid who got the loudest ovation of all UMASS starters.
Early on, it was Bright's battle, hitting a quick three to force Derek Kellogg into an early timeout (beautiful little two-man game with Dwight Powell on that play; D-Peezy had a shot fake from the top of the key, got to 15- kick it out to Aaron on that there left wing! Got ‘em, coach!) and later taking a charge as Maxie Esho was going to the rack. Advantage Breezy, right?
Well, Mr. Williams had been in there from the jump and made an instant impact, giving the Farm Boys a little taste of Chaz-ket-ball right off the bat with an acrobatic finish at the rim after getting a screen at the top of the key, then later getting fouled by Chasson on a three (Williams hit ‘em all. Tough to make all three, standing there on an island, in front of your fam in the Mecca of college basketball, but as Chaz said after the game, "it's never nerves when you're playing basketball").
Despite those five Williams tallies, Chaz was having trouble doing what he does best, as the Cardinal were sending a bevy of men his way. Besides that, Stanford was absolutely taking it to the Minutemen. That three Aaron hit made it 23-14 Stanford, and the Farm Boys even extended the lead after Kellogg's first timeout thanks to a Rock Island Rook trey, right in Jesse Morgan's grill-ski.
Through two mandatories, Stanford was a-clickin' offensively. Nine for 15 from the floor, 3-5 on threes, 5-5 on frees, seven assists on those nine made buckets.
But Kevo, haven't you learned by now that when you jot those kinds of notes down, the game pulls a 180 on you?
But Kevo's basketball conscience, there's no way Stanford would go four for its next 28 from the field, not with the way Stanford is moving the ball and handling UMASS's pressure D. No chance in hell.
Ha-ha-ha. Soon as I write that, guess what? The second ten minutes of the game gets underway, and that UMASS pressure was starting to kick in and speed up the Farm Boys. UMASS would inch its way back into it, but the Minutemen couldn't quite knock down the door yet.
Two reasons, both of which were prominent in both halves. One, UMASS was shooting itself in the foot left and right. In perhaps the biggest helter-skelter sequence of the season for Stanford, Bright turned it over down by the basket, and Freddie Riley tried to get out on the break with an outlet pass right to a white jersey (Chasson's). Bright dusted himself off, tried it again, only to be blocked Jay-Z on a left wing three. Six seconds later, Chaz-ma-tazz was all the way down on the other end of the court, missing a layup. Lucky for him, he had to maroon jerseys awaiting the weak side rebound. Unlucky for him, those two marooners collided with each other, and Chasson came away with the rock.
Two, Anthony Brown. By now, UMASS was in the midst of its run that brought them back into this bad boy- volume-shooter extraordinaire Freddie Riley bombed one in to cut it six. A Chaz layup cut it to five after JO split a pair (oh those missed freebies were starting to mount too…) and Raphiael Putney, a member of the Atlantic 10 All-skin-and-bones athlete team, drained a three in Zimmermann's face to bring the house down after missing a tip-dunk. The Minutemen contingent (Derek Kellogg wasn't lying on Monday- they really did have 2,500 there) had been loud all game, and now they were roaring with the Putney trey. After all, they hadn't seen a two-point deficit in minutes.
Which is why Anthony Brown's mid-range jumper out of the 30-second Dawkins timeout was all so important. It settled the Card down, gave them some breathing room, and was the impetus for a little 6-2 spurt to put the Farm Boys up six (how ‘bout that Bright to Huestis alley-oop play off the end-line out of bounds play with two ticks on the shotty-toy?! UMASS was caught with its pants down on that play).
Regardless of the little run, things were generally trending towards the 5-seed's side, as all the "wow" plays were starting to be made by the Minutemen. Dwight Powell tried to take back some of that "wow" factor for the Card, cocking back on the right baseline as he goes up for the slam…
"No chance, such is what you got," Putney said with the rejection. "No chance in hell!"
It was down to three after Zimmermann gifted Javorn Farrell a couple of freebies with 1.8 to go in the half, and Stanford was fortunate to still have that lead after finishing the half 3-21.
Had to at least get the ball in play to run off the final 1.8, and Farrell made it difficult, stealing the inbounds pass and hoisting…damn near went it.
Correction: Stanford was VERY fortunate to still be up 36-33 entering halftime. For me, this game was starting to feel a lot like the Cal game in Haas Pavilion - not necessarily in the style of play, but just the circumstances. Good shots were starting to be hard to come by, good offensive flow for that matter too. Stanford led Cal at the half in that one, too…and you remember it from there.
After spending my whole halftime trying to get down from the third deck press row to the court to catch up with Landry Fields (you may or may not see the interview online, not sure if it's going to be posted. Actually, I'm pretty sure it's posted now. I wrote that last sentence at 3 am Wednesday morning/Tuesday night), I had to rush back up to the 8th floor of 8 Penn Plaza to catch the second half, which was fast approaching. Past the Stanford bench, through the most important NIT big-wigs seating area, around the UMASS bench, up into the UMASS cheering section, past the little kids section cheering for Stanford.
Too late c- I couldn't make it back in time. Had to settle on a step ‘til the next dead ball. By the time I got back to my seat, a couple of minutes had passed, and the lead was down to one. Yet still, UMASS couldn't break through that barrier…no matter how poorly Stanford was executing on the offensive end (and yes, that spell somehow did get to 4-28, bringing back memories of the Oregon State Pac-10 tournament game to close out 2010-11).
Enter the Joshes. They combined for five of the team's six blocks, but it felt like more than that. UMASS had tied it, and was looking to tie again, when Huestis served as rim protector not once, but twice on the same possession, denying both Farrell and Chazmaster Supreme. But perhaps his best defensive play I already skipped over, when in the first half Mr. Montana blocked Maxie Esho's dunk off an alley-oop pass- yes, blocked a dunk off an alley-oop. It didn't go down in the book as a block, but hell, that's what it was. Give the man some respect! Owens was just as effective defensively down the stretch, swatting away a couple of shots of his own, including one on Chaz with the Card up two later in the half, and rebounding like a grown man at 6-8, 240 should.
Still, this one stayed close. The offense was picking up a bit for Stanford, with Aaron Bright and Anthony Brown (again) hitting jumpers to provide a little cushion, but the head-scratching continued with Powell throwing away an inbounds pass off two made Chaz freebies. Stanford's lead was two, then it was zero after Chaz under-handed an alley-oop to Maxie Esho on the fast break in what was definitely the best pass of the game and one of the sickest feeds I've seen all year. But the Card came right back, with Aaron finding Huestis untouched down low for the easy deuce.
And then it came - Mr. Volume Shooter himself, who had missed a plethora of potential bring-down-the-house threes, drilled one. Finally, UMASS took the lead.
An NCAA Tournament team might have run Stanford out of the gym from that point on with a foul-plagued Chasson Randle (he picked up his fourth at the 13:38 mark!) and if the Cardinal continued to shoot sub-40 percent on the game (by the way, how about all those rebounds? 99 for the game, 83 through the under-12… ridiculous! Welcome to "Full UMASS", I suppose).
But this was the NIT, and the offensive miscues weren't going to bite Stanford too hard, nor would that potential momentum boost of a Freddie Riley three. This was the NIT, and Anthony Brown was in it to win it, drilling a trey late in the shot clock from the left wing to put Stanford up 52-50.
This was the NIT, and Josh Owens wasn't going to let his career end tonight. Certainly not after he had already dunked on Esho and (sort of) Jay-Z for an and-1 opportunity in the first half. Certainly not when Huestis pushed it ahead to him on the fast break, and JO had Carter in his sights for another dunk.
But Josh would never get to finish his phrase with a "-NATI", as Sean Carter was able to whip out the Eye of Horus just in the nick of time to coax Owens into front-rimming a dunk attempt. He should have known better than to test the fate of the secret society - I mean, doesn't Exeter probably have some sort of Skull & Bones training wheels program?
You could tell by the look on Owens' face that he was about ready to murder somebody after missing that phi-slamma jamma. Luckily for his sake, it was the under-eight timeout, and he had some time to cool off.
So did his team, as Dawkins regrouped his bunch by running a play that gave Bright a wide-open mid-range right wing jumper, which the Bellevue Boy proceeded to drill. Owens got right on the defensive end, swatting Lil' Chaz's runner (which I already mentioned). Then it was Brown, Brown, Brown time, hitting another clutch jumper to put the Card up four.
It appeared as though Stanford was starting to pull away, with UMASS out of sync and Maxie Esho settling for a baseline jumper.
"He can shoot that all freakin' day," I said to myself.
"I got you, Kevo!" was his mythical response as Esho rattled one in to cut it to two.
Then came the scary part, with Chasson Randle charging through the lane with a seemingly clear path to the hoop. But in popped Terrell Vinson, looking to foul Randle out of this mess. Randle somehow made the layup with his off hand, but what's the call? Put the hands on them hips, elbows forming a triangle with the side of your figure, zebra!
Then came the play of the year, showing how the future of Stanford basketball can be so Bright (though he wasn't directly involved in this). The lead was five, and the time was 3:54. Stanford ran clock with the ball, and Anthony Brown missed a three. But Josh Owens kept it alive, and fed it out to Chasson.
Chasson must have smirked when he got the pass; from my vantage point I could not tell. But I've never seen a four-star freshman so in command of a situation as he stared down Chaz Williams and implied, "you don't want it with me".
So Chaz tried to hurry Randle up and force some action. Nothing a little jab step to create separation and re-start the five-count couldn't solve. With each re-setting of the five count, that smirk must have turned into a grin because Chasson knew everyone knew what was going to happen, and he also knew that everyone knew there was no way in hell he was going to be stopped.
Wait for eight. Get the high ball screen to get some leeway. Penetrate and see how the defense reacts. They collapse. Cool - I got my man Anthony Brown, who has been strokin' it all game long, wide open on the right wing.
It had been 60 seconds since UMASS had touched the ball, and now the Minutemen were down eight with fewer than three minutes to play. It wasn't quite game, but it was as big of a dagger as could be at the time.
There was still 2:54 to play, but Stanford didn't shoot another field goal the rest of the way. That meant one of two things- either Stanford was getting worked by the press, or they were getting fouled. Happened to be the latter, as Stanford didn't turn it over in that final three minutes.
But the charity stripe had been malevolent to the Cardinal, as they had hit just five of their last 11 after making their first five. Unfortunately for the Minutemen, they chose to start off by fouling Stanford's best free throw shooter, Aaron Bright. He had to contend with a 1-and-1 situation, but it mattered not, hitting four in a row.
Chaz scurried down the court with his team down 11. Layup. Foul. We'll try Powell this time.
No problemo. 2-2.
Chaz scurried down the court with his team down 11. Layup. Foul (wait - didn't I just say that?). We'll try Anthony Brown this time.
Little problemo. 1-2.
Chaz scurried down the court with his team down ten. Layup. Foul - except it's on Aaron Bright for an and-1 potential. Missed freebie, but Esho gets the rebound and puts it back in.
Damn, this is just a six-point game, and Powell can only expand it by one after splitting a pair.
So Chaz scurried down the court with his team down seven. Awkward shot - no way. Loose ball. Jump ball. Stanford ball.
The game unraveled from there - despite Kellogg pleading for his team to hack, UMASS let 21 seconds pass before placing a finger on Chasson Randle, who did continue the split streak. But by this time, Chaz was out of gaz, airmailing a three with 29 seconds left, and that was it. Chasson hit a couple of free throws just in case a Stanford fan was stupid enough somewhere to take a Stanford -9 line, Farrell threw away the ensuing inbounds to Chasson, and that was it.
And, just like 21 years before, the Stanford Cardinal knocked off the UMASS Minutemen in the NIT semifinals. The A10 school can have the NCAA tourney wins all they want, but, like I said, this was the NIT! Stanford owns UMASS in the NIT!
The Card have finished their role as Mid-Major Slayers, knocking off UMASS in the last high-major/mid-major battle of 2011-12. Now it's on to play another one-percenter school- the Golden Gophers of Minnesota. Will Tubbyball prevail, or can a Johnny Dawkins-coached team cut down nets for the first time?
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