By HAL McCOY
It’s free. No charge. Just walk right in and sit right down. And two bags of popcorn, a 20-ounce bottle of Diet Pepsi, a 20-ounce bottle of water and a Reese’s Cup cost $4.5o.
True, Building 8 on the Sinclair College campus is difficult to locate and bread crumbs are recommended to find one’s way back to the car.
But it is great entertainment and fun basketball to watch, especially highly recruited Sinclair guard Sean McNeil.
On Tuesday night, in front of 102 fans (by actual head count), Sinclair’s Tartans defeated Clark State, 99-76, in the first round of the National Junior College tournament.
McNeil, a 6-foot-4 guard from Union, Ky., is under a nation-wide watch by Division I schools, including Dayton and West Virginia, among many, many more. UD coach Anthony Grant has watched McNeil in Building 8, as has West Virginia’s Bob Huggins.
On this cold, frigid night, University of Arkansas head coach Mike Anderson was in the house watching McNeil heat up the gym with 37 points and Kansas State University offered McNeil a scholarship after the game.
Clark State did everything but put handcuffs on him and that might not have stopped him.
Early in the game, McNeil was smacked hard on the left biceps and spent most of the game rubbing it when he didn’t have the ball. Early in the second half he was nearly beheaded when an opponent stole the ball from him, nearly taking McNeil’s right ear with him.
“That’s the way it always is, he gets beat to death every game,” said Sinclair coach Jeff Price. But beat on him, pound on him, trip him, shove him and punch him, it doesn’t matter. He plays on.
McNeil played the first 38 minutes and 14 seconds of the 40-minute game, never taking a seat until 1:46 was left and the Tartans had the game stuffed in their travel bags.
McNeil is a pure picture-perfect shooter with half-court range. His first three-pointer was Steph Curry-esque and was launched from West Third Street. And it barely disturbed the inert nets.
McNeil can get a shot off any time he wishes with an astonishingly swift release. He was 12 for 23, 7 for 14 from three and 8 for 9 from the free throw line.
He scored 17 in the first half to push Sinclair to a 43-33 intermission advantage. But he didn’t touch the ball for the first 5 1/2 minutes of the second half and Clark State crept to within 47-45.
Enough was enough. In two quick possessions McNeil hit a two and a three and the Tartans were on their way.
And where are they headed? Off to play Cuyahoga Community College, the No. 14 ranked team in the country, Friday in Circleville.
“We lost to them twice during the season,” said Price. “Our No. 0 (Ronnell Turner) missed a shot at the buzzer that would have won one of those games and our No. 1 (Isaiah Collier) missed a shot at the buzzer that would have won the other game.”
Question? Why wasn’t McNeil taking the last shots? A Cuyahoga player probably had him in a full nelson at the top of the key. And Turner did score 14 Tuesday and Collier scored nine. The best help on this night for McNeil came from Tre’maine Gray with 22.
WRIGHT STATE took the first step forward in the Horizon League tournament Tuesday night with a 71-56 pie-in-the-face win over IUPUI in the Nutter Center. And it wasn’t that close. The Raiders led by as many as 23 late in the game.
As the No. 1 seed, the Raiders got to play the quarterfinals at home and won for the 15th time in the Nutter Center, their most home wins as a Division I team.
The tournament moves to Detroit the rest of the way as Wright State, the No. 1 seed, has a chance to win the league for the second straight year and earn a second straight NCAA bid. They play Wisconsin-Green Bay next Monday in Little Caesar’s Arena.
Bill Wampler led the Raiders with 18 while Loudon Love contributed 13 points and nine rebounds against IUPUI as the Raiders won their 20th game this season.
NOW IT IS the University of Dayton’s challenge. After being stunned at home Friday by Rhode Island, the Flyers play a team they should handle in LaSalle — but they should have handled Rhode Island, too, but lost in overtime, 71-70.
Destiny is in UD’s grasp. It they beat LaSalle and then beat a tough Duquesne team in Pittsburgh Saturday, the Flyers will finish in the top four of the Atlantic 10 conference and get a double bye in the tournament.
IT IS A CLEAR as the face on the Big Ben clock that both Wright State and Dayton have to win their league tournaments to get automatic bids to the NCAA.
If they don’t, at-large bids are precarious and probably won’t happen.
And here is one for you to chew and swallow? If both lose in their league tournaments, would both get NIT bids and would the NIT dare match them up against one another in UD Arena?
Say it is so, NIT.
HOW IMPORTANT CAN one player be to a team? Just ask Duke. Since super-sensational freshman Zion Williamson blew a sneaker and hurt himself, Duke was been a half-step above ordinary.
The Blue Devils played a weak Wake Forest Tuesday night at home in Cameron Fieldhouse, where they lose about once every equinox. But without Williamson, it took a last second missed shot by Wake Forest (11-18 and 4-and-13 in the ACC) to save Duke from an extremely humbling setback.