PROVIDENCE, RI -- I’m a native Rhode Islander and didn’t really have a dog in the NCAA second-round fights between Villanova vs. St. Mary’s and Tennessee vs. Ohio.
But as a small measure of redemption for having already drown in my NCCA pool, I smartly chose to sit with fans of the eventual winning teams -- St. Mary’s and Tennessee – for their respective games Saturday.
My ticket – purchased from a scalper outside Dunkin’ Donuts Center on Saturday – found me sitting so many three-pointers away from the action that I moved up to great seats for both games.
For the second game, I sat amid a sea of Vols fans. I highly recommend it. I practically was singing “Rocky Top” by game’s end.
Vols fans had been in the Providence area for a few days, first watching their team outlast San Diego State on Thursday. The best exchange on Saturday was between two Vol fan guys. One asked the other if he’d done any sightseeing the day before. The man answered, “Yeah, I went to Hooters.”
Tennessee is going to be a tough out. They aren’t a great outside-shooting team, but they pound the ball inside well, rebound well and are capable of smothering opponents’ sharpshooters.
Against Georgetown, Ohio guards D.J. Cooper and Armon Bassett each hit five three-pointers and combined for 55 points. But the Vols smothered Cooper and Bassett and held them to a combined 23 points. Ohio’s Tommy Freeman picked up some of the slack against the Vols with six three-pointers and led all scorers with 23 points.
As a Rhode Islander I root for Providence College and the University of Rhode Island. I’m a Big East fan and typically want the Big East to represent well in the NCAA tournament. But St. Mary’s held appeal as an underdog, overmatched athletically.
As often is true in the tournament, jumping out of the building doesn’t mean so much if you can’t deposit the ball in the basket on the way down. On Saturday, Villanova didn’t dominate inside on offense and couldn’t defend St. Mary’s center Omar Samhan, who scored 32 points.
So on to the Sweet 16 round. Tennessee will play in St. Louis against the winner of Sunday's (tomorrow’s) Ohio State vs. Georgia Tech game. St. Mary’s will play Baylor in Houston, another team they don’t match up well with athletically. But at this time of year it’s much about heart -- and putting a dagger through your opponent’s heart with three-pointers. On that score, St. Mary’s can play.