Tuesday, March 15, 2011

March 15, 2001: The Pirates stop a Cyclone

BOISE, Idaho - The cheerleaders and band members and students were swarming the court, with the purple-colored jerseys of the Hampton University basketball team lost somewhere in the shuffle. There, on the sideline near the scorer's table, was coach Steve Merfeld, being carried around the court by player David Johnson, with Merfeld pumping his arms and legs in unabashed joy. There, somewhere in the mob, was Travis Williams, the latest Hampton hero, the man who had thrown the stone that had slain Goliath. And there, on the opposite bench, sat the Iowa State Cyclones, including two future NBA players, sitting in stunned silence, some with tears streaming down their faces.

Flash back now to the 7:00 mark of the second half. Martin Rancik had just made a basket to put Iowa State ahead 57-48. After trailing 31-27 at halftime, the second-seeded Cyclones were starting to assert themselves. Those pesky Pirates from Hampton - what conference did they play in again? Did it even matter? - were finally going to go away.

Not so fast. Little did anybody realize it at the time, but Rancik's basket would represent the last points Iowa State would score in the 2000-01 season.

Hampton's comeback would be slow and steady, but nonetheless amazing. It took them just more than four minutes to score six points, as an Isaac Jefferson basket cut the deficit to 57-54 with 2:53 left. Another minute, and Travis Williams was blocking a shot by Rancik and Marseilles Brown was turning the subsequent fast break into a layup to make it 57-56. Hampton was 1:44 away from the unthinkable.

It was unthinkable, but not unprecidented. After all, a 15 seed had beaten a 2 seed three previous times. But this game, against a team that was a breath from the Final Four a year ago, didn't seem a likely candidate to be the fourth time. Iowa State was big and deep, and Hampton was ... well, did anybody figure out yet what conference they played in? We could at least confirm they're from Virginia, right?

Hampton needed nearly all of that final 1:44 to get their go ahead basket. It came when Brown found Williams inside, and Williams hit that little four-foot leaner to give Hampton a shocking 58-57 lead. From there, it the chaos of last-second defending, and watching Jamaal Tinsley, the future NBA point guard, miss a makeable layup on the final play.

And then it was over. And there was dancing and jumping and smiling and celebrating by Hampton, and that famous, now-iconic image of the coach being carried around the floor. And there was sadness and shock for Iowa State. And there was the sound, nationwide, of NCAA brackets being ripped up or burned or tossed away, including one bracket in one dorm room in the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

It was March Madness in a nutshell.

No comments:

Post a Comment