OBSERVATIONS: Who Wears Short Shorts In UD Arena?

By Hal McCoy

UNSOLICITED OBSERVATIONS, for the second day, from press row, second row, seat 12 at the NCAA First Four in UD Arena, where former Syracuse coach turned TV analyst Jim Boeheim is seated within a layup:

—STORIES, STORIES, STORIES: During the embryonic days of network television, there was a police drama show called the Naked City. At the end of the show, a narrator said, “There are eight million stories in the Naked City and this has been one of them.”

Dayton isn’t the Naked City. It is officially the Gem City, but for college basketball it is Mecca, Hoops Heaven, where it all starts for March Madness with the First Four.

And once again UD Arena was flush with fans for the second straight night, even though most couldn’t name one player on any of the four teams. Or the team nicknames.

No matter. It was college basketball, it was March Madness, it was First Four and it was Dayton Ohio USA.

And, yes, there are stories, maybe not eight million of them, but stories.

The first story on Wednesday was close to a Grimm’s Fairy Tale. It was nothing more than a game between two lowly No. 16 seeds. But the fans were treated and entertained by a game played by two teams exerting energy and perpetrating massive clutch plays as if it was THE game for the national championship.

It was Grambling State 88, Montana State 81 in overtime. Grambling is playing in its first-ever NCAA tournament and Montana State was after its first-ever NCAA tournament win.

Grambling trailed by 13 early in the second half, but a pair of quick-like-rabbits guards attacked the basket like hungry tigers attacking a gazelle. And these were hungry Tigers.

Jimei Cofer scored 19 and Jourdan Smith scored 18. Smith is 6-foot-7, but today he stands 7-foot-6. That’s how tall he looked when he grabbed a missed shot and nearly dislodged the rim from its moorings with a two-handed slam dunk in the dying moments to give Grambling a four-point game-clinching lead.

When last seen in UD Arena, last December against the Dayton Flyers, they lost by 30.

The story about Grambling State is not a positive one. Talk about strangers in paradise. . .or is it interlopers? Grambling State earned its inalienable right to be here by winning the SWAC.

But for a quick clue as to whether they really belong, well. . .before they began SWAC play, they played six teams that qualified for the NCAA tournament and were blown away from headlights to exhaust pipe by each one.

The awful accounting: Colorado 95-63, Iowa State 92-37, Dayton 76-46, Washington State 83-65, Drake 68-56, Florida 96-57.

But they did beat Champion Christian, 113-77. Oh, OK.

Grambling’s reward, if one cares to call it that, is a game against Purdue and the Leaning Tower of West Lafayette, 7-foot-4 Zach Edey.

It will be a massive challenge for the vastly undersized Tigers and their one big, 6-foot-11 Jonathan Aku from Nigeria. But, hey, what’s five inches?

—And there is a good story involving the Montana State basketball team.

His name is John Olmsted, a 6-foot-10 son of a copper miner in Chile. Olmsted was a walk-on at Arizona State and spent four years on the practice scout team.

He transferred to Montana State as a graduate student and came of basketball age late this season. He played only 27 total minutes in February, but became a major off-the-bench contributor in March. He had games of 15, 15 and 16 points during the Grizzlies four-game winning streak upon their arrival in Dayton.

That’s not bad for a guy who is so thin he could pass for a totem pole on Arizona’s Painted Desert.

“He has completely changed the dynamics of our team in the last couple of weeks with his play,” said coach Matt Logie. “John is a great story.”

He came off the bench against Grambling and played 28 minutes. He hit 4 of 5 shots and scored 10 points. Not bad for a kid who spent his first four collegiate years standing as cannon fodder in pratices, his only view of the floor during games was from a cushy folding chair.

—WHAT’S IN A NAME?: Nicknames are a must for star players and Montana State has a great one in Tyler Patterson. He is a three-point specialist and is from Snoqualmie, Wash.

So, of course, he is the Snoqualmie Sniper. The 6-foot-8 junior guard began play Wednesday against Grambling State with 72 three-pointers.

Snoqualmie? A popular name in Washington. There is Snoqualmie Falls, Snoqualmie Ridge and Snoqualmie Pass. Snoqualmie, population 14,000, is 28 miles east of Seattle.

The Snoqualmie Sniper’s long range shooting was a myth and a miss at UD Arena. He was 1 for 8 from three and had a critical three-point attempt in overtime returned to sender.

—TAKE THE LONG WAY: Colorado traveled 1,219 miless to Dayton and Boise State traveled 1,952 miles just so two best friends, the opposing coaches, could try to win an NCAA basketball game and the right to take the next step against Florida.

Colorado coach Tad Boyle and Boise State coach Leon Rice are air-tight friends.

“When I saw Boise next to our name, I was like, ‘Oh, gosh, are you kidding me?’ I don’t want to be playing Leon. I’ve watched his team a lot this year, which is a good thing,” said Boyle. “But he is one of my best friends in this business, without a doubt.”

The friendship may be on hold for a fortnight or two after Boyle’s Buffalos stopped Rice’s Boise State, 60-53

Colorado was led by German-born Tristan Da Silva, a 6-9 forward from Munich with 20 points. And he had aid from K.J. Simpson, a slim, wispy guard who scored 17 and Edie Lampkin Jr. with 11.

Boise State played in the First Four in UD Arena one other time and drew Dayton and 13,400 hostile voices. This time, no excuse, just poor target shooting with the basketball.

—SPECIAL AWARDS: As for a musical story, for sure, the Grambling State pep band wins the blue ribbon for the loudest music in UD Arena history and it surprising all the windows survived. They made the Tijuana Brass sound like chamber musicians.

The painted body award goes to Boise State’s Julian Hammond III, who has enough body art to cover Julian Hammond I and Julian Hammond II.

The worst uniform award was buckled up by Colorado. Itss black shorts were close to being Speedos and for sure doubled as their Tommy John underwear.

Which school’s cheerleaders wore the shortest skirts? An eight-way tie over the two days. Every group. Remember the song,’Who Wears Short Shorts?’

—REST? WHAT REST?: And this is a story about giving everything one has and then some, a story we missed in the March Madness Mayhem Tuesday night. . .something profusely incredible.

Wagner defeated Howard, 71-68, almost blowing a 17-point lead. Why?

Wagner finished with tongues wagging. The Seakhawks had only seven able bodies. Three players played the entire 40 minutes — point guard Javier Ezquerra, who scurried about the UD Arena floor like a water bug trying to evade combat boots, Julian Brown, who made two decisive free throws in the waning moments and Melvin Council Jr., as smooth as Silky Sullivan while scoring 21 points, dishing seven assists and snagging five rebounds.

Those three troupers deserve gold medals emblazoned with diamond-encrusted ’40’s.


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