From there the senior committed two violations, neither of which were called by any of the three officials calling the game. First he stepped out of bounds, then traveled before tossing the ball into the air thinking that the game was over. And much to the chagrin of Rutgers head coach Mike Rice and anyone associated with the program Brownlee was correct, with St. John's winning 65-63 to advance to Thursday's quarterfinals. In a statement released shortly after the controversial finish the Big East noted not just the errors but also the fact that neither of the calls could be reviewed. That's correct because when no call is made there's nothing to fix. But much to his credit Coach Rice took it all in stride, refusing to criticize the officials publicly.
"It's something three great officials, I've had 'em all throughout the year, impeccable reputation, it's unfortunate, my heart -- believe me, there is going to be blood coming through my tongue right now but it's what it is, we're going to control how we respond," said Rice.
Regardless of what people want to happen to the officials (who probably shouldn't work the rest of the week in New York) the question that needs to be answered is what's next for St. John's and that is Syracuse. The Orange controlled the game when the two met in the regular season as their zone forced the Red Storm to settle for challenged perimeter shots. Dwight Hardy made just five of seventeen shots on the afternoon against Rutgers, and he'll have to be much better against the Orange if St. John's is to win. Steve Lavin's team is going to see more zone defenses in the NCAA Tournament given the difficulty in handling the defense throughout the season, making Thursday a good reference point for the team.
And they also need to keep the Orange off the glass, with a performance like Wednesday's (18 of Rutgers' 36 rebounds were offensive) more than likely to result in a blowout. But back to the Scarlet Knights, who saw their season end in tough fashion. Sadly Coburn, James Beatty and Jonathan Mitchell don't get another shot at the Big East, but a number of the young players who saw time this season have a chance to improve their skills in the offseason. Add in a highly touted recruiting class and there's no doubt that Coach Rice has the program headed in the right direction.
Other Notable Happenings
1. Northern Colorado earns their first-ever NCAA Tournament berth by winning the Big Sky.
Conference tournaments provide some of the memorable images for many programs, especially those that punch their ticket for the first time ever. That's the case for the Northern Colorado Bears, who won their 14th home game of the season (no losses) by the final score of 65-60 win over Montana. Big Sky MVP Devon Beitzel was also named tournament MVP due to his 27-point performance, and he's the kind of player who will give opponents fits next week. But the Bears needed others to step up, something that didn't happen in their loss at Montana earlier in the season. Neal Kingman, who was scoreless in that loss, scored 10 points on Wednesday and all eight players to see time scored. A program that became an official Division I member in 2007 is now headed to the tournament, and they've got Beitzel to thank for that.
2. Once and for all it's time to stop including Baylor and Nebraska in the bubble chatter.
Baylor's day didn't get off to a good start, with the NCAA ruling freshman forward Perry Jones III ineligible due to his mother accepting three small loans while Jones was still in high school. But unlike Auburn quarterback Cam Newton, who didn't know about his father asking for money and thus far allowed to play without missing a game, Jones had to sit. But it wasn't just his absence that did in the Bears, who did not show up ready to play against Oklahoma. The Sooners led by as many as 23 points before winning by 84-67, and despite turning the ball over just nine times Baylor watched LaceDarius Dunn shoot 3-for-14 from the field and as a team the Bears made 4 of 19 from deep.
Nebraska got off to a slow start as well, trailing by as many as 14 in the first half before fighting back to eventually take the lead in the second half. But after an Oklahoma State missed free throw the Huskers had a chance to win, only to see point guard Lance Jeter fall in the lane in the final seconds to seal a 53-52 loss. Jeter scored 17 points to lead Nebraska in their final Big 12 Tournament game but they couldn't make that one final play. And as a result Doc Sadler's team likely slips down the pecking order, with Baylor suffering the same fate. But outside of a couple solid wins neither team had done enough to warrant such attention in most seasons. The fact that Baylor and Nebraska could remain on such lists underlines just how bad the bubble is this year. But enough's enough. Neither should be on the bubble after Wednesday.
3. Long Island dethrones Robert Morris in overtime to win the NEC title.
With First Team All-NEC forward Julian Boyd on the bench due to foul trouble head coach Jim Ferry needed one of his other big men to step up. Enter Jamal Olasewere, who scored 31 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the Blackbirds' 85-82 overtime victory. Kenny Onyechi and Jason Brickman combined to score 28 points off the bench, and C.J. Garner scored 15 himself in the 85-82 overtime win over Robert Morris. LIU has depth in both the backcourt and front court, and they do a very good job of getting to the foul line (their percentage does need to improve), meaning that whoever draws the Blackbirds had better be careful with thought that they can coast through such a contest. It's been a long time since Charles Jones and company clinched the Blackbirds' spot in the field in 1998.
Top Three Games
1. Texas-San Antonio 97, Northwestern State 96
Jeromie Hill's dunk with two seconds left in the game proved to be the difference as the Roadrunners knocked the Demons out of the Southland Conference Tournament. Devin Gibson posted a triple-double for UTSA with 28 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists (three steals as well) and Hill added 25. Will Pratt led Northwestern State with 26 points.
2. St. John's 65, Rutgers 63
3. Long Island 85, Robert Morris 82 (OT)
Three Notable Performances
1. G Devin Gibson (Texas-San Antonio)
28 points, 10 rebounds, 10 assists and three steals in the Roadrunners' 97-96 win over Northwestern State.
2. G Alec Burks (Colorado) 29 points, 15 rebounds and six assists in the Buffaloes' 77-75 win over Iowa State.
3. F Jamal Olasewere (Long Island) 31 points, 11 rebounds and four steals in the Blackbirds' 85-82 overtime win over Robert Morris.