I was going to write a single word recap this morning – something along the lines of Wow! – and not just because I’m pretty hungover and want to go back to bed. Rather, Saint John’s 61-59 improbable come from behind victory Thursday was so jaw dropping that I wonder whether even I can do it justice. Or at least parts of it were jaw dropping anyway. Most of it was the normal sort of early season affair between two evenly matched but not very good teams, with the advantage to the older and more experienced one. Rutgers was up by seven at halftime by virtue of a 7-minute SJU scoring drought midway through the first that resulted in a 12-0 Rutgers run. Not long after I wrote “this could have been much worse” in my notes it became so: Rutgers opened the 2nd half with a quick 7-0 run to go up by 15 and still led by 16 at the 15 minute mark and the game looked all but over. But Saint John’s kept plugging away until an 8-0 run pulled them within 6 at around the 5 minute mark, at which point it all became too much for Rutgers and they choked – they managed just a single field goal and a single FT in the last 5.5 minutes. Saint John’s was up 1 with 9 seconds left when Felix Balamou – who speaking of choking had just missed two free throws – fouled poor Corey Sanders twice at midcourt, first knocking him askew with a vicious hip check and then taking him out by sweeping the leg. (Do you have a problem with that. No sensei.) Neither foul was called and after a Christian Jones FT the game winning Rutgers three was waved off, coming as it did a split second after the buzzer. Regarding the non-call I felt bad for Rutgers, almost as bad as I did a couple of years ago in the BET when drunkards Jim Burr and Tim Higgins missed Justin Brownlee dancing a victory tarantella and throwing the ball out of bounds with a couple of seconds left on the clock, an act of officiating so egregious that it led to Higgins retirement and the adoption of booth review. (Burr had no sense of shame, so he hung around for several more years.) Ha! Just kidding, I don’t feel bad for them at all. Screw Rutgers … Really good job I thought by Mullin keeping his kids heads in the game. Because they could have folded like a house of cheap cards. I expect seeing a bench full of Hall of Fame basketball players telling you everything is going to okay is a bit of a comfort. As opposed to say an 85 year old guy in a bad toupee with tomato sauce on his lapel … So Mullin remains undefeated at three and oh. The odds of returning undefeated from Hawaii are approximately infinity to one, but I’m willing to enjoy this while it lasts. Because I’m a half glass full kind of guy
PLAYERS: Recently reinstated Sir Dominick Balamou had 8 points, 11 rebounds and 7 assists in his first game since high school more or less. At the risk of alienating readers by patting myself on the back once again – oh, who am I kidding, my smugness is one of my most endearing qualities – I’m constrained to point out that I declared myself president of the Balamou fan club two games into his college career and predicted that he had a bright future. I just didn’t say how long it would take for that future to get here … A double double from Mvouika, who continues to impress … Sima had 13 points, 9 rebounds and 7 blocks in 39 minutes, which is a pretty absurd stat line from a freshman three games into his college career. As a bonus he seems to be money from the free throw line … Mussini had 13 points on 14 shots and seven rebounds, but zero assists. Will be much better off when he finally gets off the ball … Durand Johnson doesn’t make a lot of shots but seems to have the knack for making the important ones. This is the second game in a row he’s hit a big three when they needed one … Christian Jones had seven points but two only rebounds. That’s only one more rebound than Albaveckovich, and he’s awful … Darien Williams looks so far like one of those guys who should be a good player but isn’t. I’m thinking specifically here of the late Tyler Jones. Anyway he injured his shoulder in the first half and never returned.
NOTES: Steve Lavin did halftime and post-game commentary live from Carnesecca, which was a little awkward to put it mildly – it was like if a guy whose girl friend of 5 years dumped him because he couldn’t get it up later had to come back and describe the action while her new boyfriend Chris fucked the shit out of her. Anyway, Lavin was his usual amalgamation of vapidity and hail-fellow-well-met and displayed all the charm of a stick insect. He said for example that “it’s good to be back home,” which this isn’t your home, get out, that Saint John’s “is shorthanded,” which of course they are, you didn’t recruit an eligible player after 2011, and that “Chris Mullin has a bright future,” which is like Wally Pipp describing Lou Gehrig as a pretty good ball player. On the fashion front I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Lavin’s elaborate bouffant hairdo, which rose a good four inches off his forehead and was molded into what seemed to be a replica of the Flat Iron Building. In contrast to his usual grooming – vainglorious mousse and spray on tan – this new look has a degree of utility to it: if his career as a commentator goes into the shitter he can always audition for a Kid ‘n Play tribute band …. Rutgers University was founded in 1766, in New Jersey, which despite its reputation is not the worst state in the union and never will be until California falls into the ocean. As you might expect over nearly 250 years Rutgers has graduated any number of notable alumni; they run the gamut from the respected film actress Asia Carrera (born Jessica Steinhauser I kid you not) to Nobel Prize winners Milton Freeman and Toni Morrison; Ozzie Nelson quarterbacked the football team in the 20s; and James Gandolfini went there, as did Jim Valvano, NBA commissioner David Stern, former FBI director Louie Freeh, comedienne and giantess Judy Gold, chef Mario Batali, and Avery Brooks (Hawk on TVs Spenser for Hire); and oh yeah, Mr. Quincy Magoo was Rutgers grad, class of 1928 … The Rutgers Scarlet Knights were originally known as the Rutgers Queensmen. Perhaps worried that they would be portrayed as something less than butch they later changed their name to the Chanticleers, this a reference to a rooster in a fable popularized in Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. This also was an unfortunate choice, for a couple of reasons. First, most Rutgers grads could not spell Chanticleer and even if they could none of them have ever heard of Chaucer. And second it gave opposing fans the opportunity to ridicule Rutgers players by calling them chickens and cocks. After the student body rejected a bunch of names – including the Redmen – the Scarlett Knight was unveiled in the late 50s …. Rutgers has been playing basketball since 1914, but except for a brief flirtation with success under Tom Young in the mid 70s, not very well. The ‘76 team though, featuring Phil Sellers, current coach Eddie Jordan and Hollis Copeland, entered the NCAA tournament undefeated – Indiana was undefeated that year as well – before losing to Michigan in the national semifinals … One of RU’s victims that year were the 1976 Redmen, one of Lou’s better teams and among the first in a long line of disappointments I remember well. Starters Frank Alagia, Glen Williams, George Johnson, Beaver Smith and Cecil Rellford went 23-4 in the regular season, losing only to undefeated Indiana in the Holiday Festival and then later on the road to Georgetown, Providence and Princeton. Saint John’s ended the season with two losses, first to Rutgers in the ECAC Metro tournament, and then later to eventual champion Indiana in the first round of the NCAA tournament. I don’t often give Lou a pass when it comes to his myriad NCAA failures, but that year Rutgers had to face Princeton, Uconn and VMI to make the Final Four – talk about your soft draw – whereas Lou had Indiana, North Carolina and Alabama in his half of the opening round bracket.