HoopsHD is always hovering around the edge of legitimacy (see Puppet, The), but thanks to the good folks at the Big 10 we are kicking it up a notch this week with a media credential to the Big 10 Tourney in DC. From his prime perch in the 2nd row Jon Teitel will be bringing you daily updates of much of the action from the Verizon Center via a series of photo essays. Day 1 tipped off with 2 games (Penn State-Nebraska and Rutgers-Ohio State) and there was as much excitement off the court as on it.
You know it is a big deal because you cannot even get out of the Gallery Place metro stop without seeing all of the signs:
After spending most of the past 2 decades in Chicago and Indianapolis, the Big 10 tourney heads to DC this week before traveling north to Madison Square Garden next March. I had to work at my other job all afternoon so I assumed that I was going to miss all of Game 1, but thanks to an Ed Morrow layup in the final 30 seconds of regulation I was able to make it courtside for overtime. Despite not having a single senior on their roster, Penn State came out strong with a 12-2 run to take control in OT en route to a 76-67 win. Shep Garner scored 16 PTS for the Nittany Lions, but the big story came later that night when I learned that his cousin flew in for the game, an aspiring rapper…named Flavor Flav! My own best sighting of the day was when I was heading to the postgame press conference and almost bumped into ESPN sideline reporter Molly McGrath. Not only is she even more beautiful in person than on TV, but she actually stepped aside and waved me through so I could get by even though I was happy to yield the right of way: go Molly! At the press conference I failed to come up with a suitable question for Nebraska coach Tim Miles, but the big news was that his AD sent out a tweet that Miles will be back next year despite only winning 3 games over the past 2 months.
Then I asked Penn State FR PF Mike Watkins how he was able to play so well (18 PTS/11 REB/Big Ten Tourney-record 8 BLK) after a below-average performance against the Huskers on Valentine’s Day, and he just said that he had been working hard in practice during the past few weeks.
Game #2 featured a Rutgers team who had won only 3 games since Christmas by a combined 6 PTS facing an Ohio State team who has played in more Big 10 Tourney games over the past 13 years than anyone else. However, there is a reason that Coach Steve Pikiell led his former school (Stony Brook) to the postseason each of the past 5 years: the guy just knows how to win games in March. Somehow he did it last night despite his leading scorer (Corey Sanders) shooting 2-10 FG and his 2nd-leading scorer (Deshawn Freeman) fouling out with only 10 PTS. The key was Nigel Johnson, who scored 21 PTS while making a career-high 8-8 FT. I asked Nigel after the game if he had a lot of family/friends at the game since he grew up in Ashburn, VA, and he said that he indeed had quite a large cheering section in the building.
It also helped that Rutgers out-rebounded the Buckeyes 49-31 and that Ohio State left a ton of points at the FT line by only making 15-28 (and how do you shoot 54.2 FG% in the 1st half but only 23.8 FG% in the 2nd half?!). I asked OSU SO PG CJ Jackson if he got any satisfaction from playing some of the best basketball of his career over the past 2-3 weeks even though they had just lost to the Scarlet Knights, but he admitted that the only thing he cared about at that moment was that he and his teammates had not been able to come out on top.
I still cannot get over the amazing seat I had on press row, as I was THIS close to the court:
…which allowed me to get great views of the Ohio State band/mascot:
It is also fascinating to look around and see other blasts from the past all over the arena: Buckeyes student assistant Greg Oden (who actually sat in the 1st row of the stands rather then on the bench), Compass Media radio analyst/NBA champion Rick Mahorn (sitting about 5 seats away from me on press row), BTN coordinating producer Bill Friedman (my former co-worker from 20 years ago in Bristol), etc. I did not get to attend the 1st 2 games on Thursday afternoon, but am heading out soon to catch Iowa-Indiana and then it’s off to a nearby bar to watch Arizona-Colorado in the Pac-12 quarterfinals with some fellow Wildcats. I hope everyone is enjoying Championship Week as much as I am, and check back tomorrow for my Day 2 photo essay about the Hawkeyes-Hoosiers!