As with any David v. Goliath tale, this was very watchable!
By this time as the interested part of the world is aware, the Bears of Mercer won going away, 78-71, as the Duke Blue Devils disintegrated over the final 110 seconds of the game.
This being the NCAA Tournament, Duke's season is over.
The most interesting part of Mercer's upset victory is that there are seven (7!) Senior classmen on their team!
In this era of, as the pundits put it, "one and done," this for all intents and purposes, is almost unheard of outside of, say, the Ivy League where students attend institutions of higher learning to actually get an education.
The common post-scholastic career for the best basketball players today is to play one year of college ball, then declare for the professional basketball draft, and leave formal learning in the rear view mirror.
Most universities understand this is the best way to not exactly build but have a successful basketball program, and plan accordingly, including passing out full-ride scholarships like Santa's eleves handing out candy canes.
Mercer University, who I'd never heard of 'til this afternoon, is to be complimented for however they run their athletic program... it's clearly something more than stalking inner city playgrounds with scholarships in their coach's pocket.
Now, about those Knicks...
When my buddy Marty and I were talking about the Duke loss to Mercer, we touched on this evening's upcoming New York at Philadelphia NBA game,
M: "Knicks going for their eight straight win tonight."
D: "...and the 76ers are looking to avoid their 23rd straight loss."
M: "Shouldn't be a problem... they can't lay down against bad teams if they hope to make the playoffs."
(Several seconds of silence....)
M&D, almost simultaneously: "They'll probably choke and lose it."
We both chuckled at our pessimism about a team we've collectively been following for more than 125 years and which has broken more hearts than the 1962-1968 Mets!
The game itself was the second one in a row both boring and frustrating.
Wednesday the New Yorkers had eeked out an improbable home court win over the top team in the East, the Indiana Pacers, and while I'm still not certain how they pulled it off, even in winning it was an awful game.
This evening was another excrucuatingly interminable one... for the first 28 minutes. It was like neither team was interested in winning.
Then, for the rest of the third quarter and the first seven minutes of the fourth, the Knicks came alive and started playing serious, and exciting, team ball.
Instead of J.R. Smith dribbling across half-court and heaving up an off-target 30-foot shot with 14-16 seconds left on the 24-seond clock, suddenly there were multiple passes to find the most open man, picks 'n' rolls, drives to the basket... you know, the stuff winning teams do.
With 5:14 left in the game, the Knicks were up by 17 points, coach Mike Woodson began resting his regulars and even Red Auerbach might have lit a cigar at that juncture.
Then things began to change, though with 1:40 left it was still 91-82 even though the Knicks hadn't scored in over three minutes.
The 76ers were scoring... intermittantly... so no one got too tense. A missed three-pointer, then a two-pointer made the next time down the floor.
Next possession, another miss but Philadelphia grabbed the ball, one of a remarkable 19 (to the Knicks' nine) offensive rebounds they had on the night, and score off that.
For their part the Knicks stopped scoring entirely as the backcourt of Shannon Brown and Toure' Murry seemed to be lost without Carmelo Anthony or Amar'e Stoudemire to pass the ball to, and were outscored 16-1 with that single point when Murry hit one of two free throws at the 0:58.3 mark.
With 32½ second left, and the lead 92-90, Woodson put four of his starters back on the court, which resulted in Anthony hitting one of two from the line with 0:07.3 to go after the 76ers' James Anderson threw the ball out of bounds trying to pass to Thaddeus Young, positioning himself for a go-ahead three-point shot from the left corner.
Needing three points to tie, with two seconds left, Michael Carter-Williams' shot went in, then out... Philadelphia's 19th offensive rebound and put-back by Young went in at the buzzer and the Knicks had a one-point victory, one which in the overall scope of their play, they really didn't deserve.
I can't wait for baseball season to start later tonight in, of all places, Australia!
Talking college basketball, #1 team Florida starts four Seniors. Lot to be said for the program Billy Donovan runs.
Duke job has been promised to Steve Wojciechowski.