It’s been a serendipitous March Madness for me. It started March 4th at Fairleigh Dickinson’s Stratis Arena in Hackensack, N.J. As I sat in the front row of the postgame press conference the Northeast Conference representative put the name cards of who would be in the conference. I was hoping they’d seat Demetre Roberts in front of me and that’s what the name card said. At 5 foot 8 inches, Meech, Demetre’s nickname since watching him at Mt. Vernon High School, is the smallest player on FDU. He was diminutive as a freshman in high school but now he’s a Division 1 beast.
I watched him dunk twice during warmups. He ended up at FDU because his coach at Division 2 St. Thomas Aquinas brought him and two other STAC players to FDU when he became FDU’s coach. In their 5 years together Meech scored over 2,000 points. Now he was heading to the Big Dance. FDU qualified as the NEC representative by winning the semifinal 70-50. Meech led them with 18 points, 5 assists, 2 rebounds and 2 steals. I asked him how much joy he got finshing this game out? With just under a minute to go and the shot clock running down Meech hit a 3 to finish off St. Francis of PA. He answered, “I dream of moments like that…coach kinda get on me for putting the fork in too early but at that moment I had to.” To his left his coach Tobin Anderson was smiling and we all had a laugh. It was glorious.
FDU would go on a news making NCAA Tournament run. Beating Texas Southern on March 15th at the First Four in Dayton, OH. Then two days later FDU shocked the world beating Number 1 seed Purdue 63-58 in Columbus, OH on March 17th. FDU’s magical run ended two days later on March 19th in Columbus when they lost to Florida Atlantic. FDU didn’t get to move on to the Sweet 16 at Madison Square Garden. But two wins in the tournament helped Tobin Anderson get the coaching job at Iona University and Meech solidified legendary status in the Vern.
After the NEC Tournament I headed to Atlantic City, NJ and covered Iona’s MAAC Tournament championship. They were dominant winning 74-54 in the quarterfinals against Mt. St. Mary’s on March 8th. They beat Niagara in the semifinals 71-59 on March 10th and won the championship on March 11th beating Marist 76-55. On March 12th Iona learned they were heading to the first round of the NCAA tournament in Albany, NY to play UCONN.
After covering Iona in AC, I drove to Princeton for the Semifinals and Finals of the Ivy League Tournament. On March 12th I watched Yale easily handle Cornell 80-60. In the second semifinal Penn played Princeton. Penn started two players from Long Island. Jordan Dingle from Valley Steam and Nick Spinoso from Port Washington. It was a great game. With 2:04 left Spinoso scored to make it 71-70. The game was decided at 1:23 by a mysterious charge call against Spinoso on a layup that would’ve given Penn the lead. Later in the postgame press conference I asked Princeton Coach Mitch Henderson about it. I could tell he didn’t like me saying a foul should not have been called, but he tipped his hand by saying, “Keeshawn Kellman drew the first charge of his career.” At 6 feet, 9 inches and 240 pounds Kellman is imposing and not easily knocked down. As Spinoso spun to score the shot Kellman rolled with him and fell. Once the referee blew the whistle Penn would never score again. Princeton won 77-70. They moved on to the Ivy League final and beat Yale 55-48 on Sunday March 12th. Both games were close and won by 7 points. As I turn this in Princeton is still dancing. They went on to beat Arizona 59-56 on March 16th and Missouri 78-63 on March 18th. At press time, Princeton was set to play Creighton in Louisville on March 24th. The Ivy League Tournament got them ready for their miracle run.
I covered the Albany regional March 19-21. In the first game on Friday March 19th St. Mary’s College from Moraga, CA beat Virginia Commenwealth University 63-51. Iona played UCONN in the second of four opening round games that Friday. Iona’s Coach Rick Pitino said in the post game press conference, “the first half was just about as well as we played all year.” Iona led 39-37 after the first half. In the press conference after the game I asked Coach Pitino, “I thought they won in the second half in the first two minutes and you called a timeout to stem the tide…was there anything you could have done to have beaten them in this game?” Pitino answered, “Well, we had their best player 0-6 on the perimeter in the first half. When they ran that curl play, that stagger play, our five man didn’t hedge out, and we worked on that all week, and that was a big play. And you’re right about the two minutes.” Iona lost the second half 50-24. The final score was UCONN 87 Iona 63. On Tuesday March 21st Rick Pitino held his first news conference as St. John’s head coach at Madison Square Garden. In the next game in Albany on Friday March 19th Miami would have to rally from trailing by 8 points with under four and a half minutes to go to win. They beat Drake 63-56 on the back of a 10 point scoring run that ended with 11 seconds left. Miami’s full court press won them the game.
Next up was Indiana playing Kent State. Indiana won 71-60 in the nightcap of the four games from the Albany first round. These games set the stage for Sunday’s second round of the Albany Regional. UCONN handled St. Mary’s well, especially in the second half. After leading by one at halftime they outscored St. Mary’s 39-25 in the second half and won 70-55. As I left the court between games on Sunday the Miami players were getting ready to go out for their game against Indiana. The winner would advance to the Sweet 16 in Kansas City, MO.
I took the opportunity to speak with Jordan Miller. I mentioned the time earlier this season at Mohegan Sun Arena when a zoom question came into the press conference and his coach Jim Larranaga was confused about who was asking it. I chuckled when his Coach said, “I don’t do well with zoom questions.” When I looked up at the podium Jordan was smiling at me. Coach Larranaga is old school. Jordan and I laughed about it in Albany as we spoke in front of the big March Madness Bracket that shows the teams advancing as games are played. I asked Jordan about playing with two Mt. Vernon players, Greg Calixte and Jason Douglas-Stanley, when he was at George Mason. Then I pulled my fleece vest open to show the Mt. Vernon Basketball shirt I was wearing. He couldn’t have been nicer. I also noticed how loose the Hurricanes seemed before playing Indiana. I asked Norchad Omier how his ankle was feeling after I had learned it was injured and they weren’t sure he could play in the Drake game. He responded that it was fine. I knew then Indiana might be in for a long night. Final score Miami 85 Indiana 69. As we go to press Miami is getting ready for the number one seeded Houston Cougars, Friday March 24th.