An NCAA wing-ding done Buffalo style
By ROB LONGLEY -- Toronto Sun
BUFFALO -- His beloved Red Raiders had just defeated the Charlotte 49ers and the Texas Tech band member was getting a thirst for the border.
"Niagara Falls, baby," the leather-lunged trumpeter yelled, "and Canadian beer."
Fair enough. If Ontarians can get a taste of March Madness when it breezes into Buffalo every four years or so, such a free trade twist sounds reasonable.
The spectacle that is the opening round of the NCAA men's basketball tournament touched down at the HSBC Arena yesterday with all manner of fun and fanfare.
There were bands and cheerleaders and dance squads for most of the eight schools competing, plus mascots and busloads of fans from their respective schools.
There were big-name coaches such as Texas Tech's Bobby Knight and UConn's Jim Calhoun. And budding stars such as Calhoun's centre and can't miss NBAer Emeka Okafor and Saint Joseph's guard Jameer Nelson.
It didn't matter, then, that the first two games were light on the dramatics that so often define this tournament. Not when it earns such high marks for presentation.
It's part of the reason the HSBC, one of eight regional sites across the U.S. in on the action, has been sold out for weeks.
The action tipped off shortly after noon and the Red Raiders were 76-73 winners, a contest not nearly so close. As a result, the normally nutty Knight seemed almost calm.
It was a far cry from his visit here four years ago when the fiery coach was at the end of his rope with Indiana. After he snapped during a first-round loss to Pepperdine, it was one of many signals that his days as a Hoosier were numbered.
The fans tried to get Knight going yesterday with pre-game taunts, but with 49ers missing easy shots the game wasn't close enough for the Red Raiders coach to get overly frothy.
Oh, he bellowed at the odd player for not dribbling, or dribbling too much or not driving the lane or taking a foul. But it was mostly harmless stuff and less of a show than his frantically waving counterpart, Charlotte's Bobby Lutz.
Instead, Knight broke up the room in his news conference when he played good professor/good coach.
"Mikey and me, we ...," Red Raiders guard Andre Emmett began in answer to a question before Knight interrupted, "That's Mikey and I, son."
Overall, the NCAA does its best to give appearances of being "academically" correct even though college sports may not be so pure. As a result, cheerleaders are referred to as "spirit squads" and players, naturally, are "student athletes."
The athletes in Game 2 weren't in the same stratosphere as the No. 1 Saint Joseph's Hawks opened up a 20-point halftime lead over the No. 16 Liberty Flames.
The house began to empty after that, but for those who remained it was a religious experience. Literally.
Sitting a couple rows up from centre court was Rev. Jerry Falwell, the founder of Liberty, a Virginia-based Christian school. A few rows up and to his right was a student holding a "David Beat Goliath" sign. Not in this chapter or verse.
And we're not sure how the good reverend would have felt about the Flames supporter who half-shouted "at least they covered" after a late bucket made the final score 82-63, comfortably inside the 23 1/2-point spread. You could hear the shouting all the way from Vegas.
With due props to Nelson's 33 points for Saint Joe's, the performance of the day may have come from an athletic youngster from the same school known simply as "The Hawk."
As a mascot for Saint Joe's, the feathered fanatic's job requires that he must keep at least one arm flapping for the entire game. No breaks, no beak adjustments, no excuses.
For that, the Red Raider band might want to buy this guy a round.