Reflections from a reporter born in 1987

Goodbye, for now

March 25, 2011 - 09:30 AM
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Like McNabb, your humble narrator is heading up the tunnel for now. (Photo: Associated Press)

Come children, let us shut up the box and the puppets, for our play is played out.

--William Makepeace Thackeray, Vanity Fair

Seven years ago next month, I walked into a press box as a professional for the first time to broadcast a high school baseball game live from Gill Stadium in my hometown of Manchester, New Hampshire. In the intervening time, my work (and I use the term very, very loosely indeed) has taken me many wonderful places. I've been courtside for NYU basketball at the Coles Sports Center in lower Manhattan, and I've been in the press box at Fenway Park in Boston. I've stood on the sidelines at Parker-Gray Stadium in Alexandria with T.C. Williams' 1971 state champions, and I've sat in Heinz Field in Pittsburgh for the 2011 NHL Winter Classic. To top it all off, most recently, I was given a front-row seat to one of the most dramatic games in the chronicles of March Madness.

But that run will have to end for the time being, as today is my last official day at TBD. To be honest, my future is very much unwritten at the moment. I hope to stay in D.C. and it is my resolution to continue writing about sports in the near future whether I get paid for it or not, though what form that resolution might take is very much to be determined (no pun intended).

As the risk of boring you to tears and/or insanity, there are many, many people I have to thank for various courtesies shown to me over the past few months. Naturally the list begins with thanks to Erik Wemple and Paul Volpe -- who initially interviewed me and brought me on board here -- and Jim Brady, TBD's original auteur.

Foremost among current and former colleagues who gave me advice, assistance, guidance, nicknames, and/or a good laugh, I must thank Mike Jones, Dan Rowinski, Dan Daly, David Aldridge, Alex Parker, Britt McHenry, Daniel Victor, Julie Westfall, Steve Buttry, Nathasha Lim, Jeff Sonderman, Sommer Mathis, Mandy Jenkins, Lisa Rowan, Andrew Beaujon, Maura Judkis, Elahe Izadi, Sarah Godfrey, Jenny Rodgers, Sara Kenigsberg, Steve Chaggaris, Amanda Hess, Sarah Larimer, Rebecca Cooper, Heather Farrell, Jay Westcott, Ally Schweitzer, Mitchell Schuler, Dave Jamieson, Ryan Kearney, Kevin Robillard, Justin Karp, Elliot Kort, and Nicole Young.

Special thanks also to Bruce DePuyt, Morris Jones, Glenn Harris and Tim Brant, as well as their various producers, who were perfectly willing to overlook my radio-friendly face and print-friendly voice to have me on TV every so often.

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March Madness 2011: George Mason vs. Ohio State Preview

March 20, 2011 - 02:35 PM
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He can't do it again, can he? (Photo: Associated Press)

NCAA East Regional--(8) George Mason (27-6) vs. (1) Ohio State (33-2)

Time: 5:15 p.m. Place: Cleveland, Ohio. TV: CBS. The Line: Ohio State by 11.5

Storyline: After a thrilling come-from-behind win over Villanova in Friday afternoon's second round match-up, the sentimental types and fans of George Mason are getting that 2006 feeling, remembering when the Patriots knocked off Michigan State, North Carolina, and Connecticut en route to the Final Four. 

However, this afternoon in Cleveland, George Mason will be faced with their toughest test of the season, as they face the consensus No.1 team in the nation in their home state. There will be very little sentimentality in Cleveland this afternoon as a partisan Buckeye crowd watches Jared Sullinger and company take on the Patriots.

Key Player--George Mason: Luke Hancock, who led George Mason with 18 points and 10 rebounds in Friday's win over Villanova. He'll have his hands full trying to contain Ohio State's frontcourt this afternoon.

Key Player--Ohio State: Jon Diebler,a 50% three-point shooter for the Buckeyes this season who was last held under 10 points in Ohio State's 71-67 loss to Wisconsin on February 12. The Patriots will have to hope that they limit Diebler's opportunities from downtown, otherwise it could be curtains early.

The Pick: Ohio State. On another day, perhaps George Mason could pull off a miracle. But the ability of Sullinger, Diebler, and David Lighty, as well as what will essentially be a homecourt advantage for Ohio State will see the Buckeyes through.

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March Madness 2011: 'I've never seen anything like that in 39 years of coaching'

March 20, 2011 - 04:05 AM
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Howard celebrates his winning foul shot, while Wanamaker can't get off his desperation heave in time. (Photo: Associated Press)

At some point during the insanity of the final 2.2 seconds of Saturday night's third-round classic between Pittsburgh and Butler, which the Bulldogs won 71-70, the question stopped being whether you could write a script like this and started being whether you would want to. Reasonable minds would probably agree that only the most impressively devoted sadist would commit that sequence of events to paper, and even he would have to think twice about it.

Andrew Smith's layup to give Butler a 70-69 lead with 2.2 seconds to go should have been the end of it. It should have been the best finish of a tournament that has already seen a fair few great ones. It should have been a moment of redemption for Smith, who had seen an earlier point-blank chance roll painfully off the rim with 44 seconds to go. Instead, his contribution is a mere footnote to the most bizarre NCAA Tournament finish since Chris Webber tried to call time out.

"I've never seen anything like that in 39 years of coaching," Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun said hours after it was over.

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March Madness 2011: Walker's 33 points see UConn through

March 20, 2011 - 12:06 AM
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Kemba Time came with just under ten minutes left in the second half of Connecticut's third-round game against the Cincinnati Bearcats Saturday night at the Verizon Center. The score was tied 45-45 when the junior from the Bronx put his head down and drove to the basket, got fouled, and earned himself two foul shots, which he converted to give UConn the lead for good, 47-45 with 9:46 to go.

After a missed jumper by Cincinnati's Cashmere Wright, Connecticut came back down the other end, and Walker nailed a three to make it 50-45. He did the same thing to make it 58-50 with 3:52 remaining. Then, with under two minutes to go in a six-point game, Walker made a steal, moved in alongside Roscoe Smith, and fed the Baltimore freshman for a jam that made the score 60-52.

That, essentially, was game over, as the Huskies held on to defeat the Bearcats 69-58 and advance to a Thursday date with San Diego State in the West Regional Semifinal in Anaheim, California.

Cincinnati got the better of the early going, taking an early 17-9 lead after an Ibrahima Thomas layup with 13:22 to go before halftime. But that was the signal for Walker to take over the proceedings, and he proceeded to do just that, scoring the next six points of the game to draw UConn within two. After a Yancy Gates three-point play made the score 20-15, sophomore Alex Oriakhi and freshman Jeremy Lamb got into the act, combining to score eight straight points to start a 16-2 run for the Huskies. 

Walker himself capped off the run, canning a three to make the score 26-22 before being the victim of an intentional foul (at least in the eyes of the officials) by Cincinnati's Justin Jackson, who fouled Walker hard in an attempt to stop a breakaway dunk. Walker made the two foul shots and on the ensuing Connecticut possession, senior Charles Okwandu nailed his only field goal of the half to make the score 30-22. Cincinnatil recovered themselves well, and cut their deficit to 30-26, but Lamb and Jamal Coombs-McDaniel popped up with a three-pointer apiece to make the score 36-28 Huskies at the break.   

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March Madness 2011: Butler does it again, knocks off Pitt

March 19, 2011 - 09:28 PM
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Nasir Robinson (35) scored 16 points, but committed a crucial foul in the final seconds. (Photo: Associated Press)

For the second time in just over 48 hours, Matt Howard was a hero for Butler. The senior from Connersville, Ind. knocked down one of two foul shots with 0.8 seconds remaining to give the Bulldogs, the number 8 seed in the Southeast Region, a 71-70 victory over No. 1 seeded Pittsburgh after a bizarre finish. The Bulldogs advance to play either Kansas State or Wisconsin in the Sweet 16 in New Orleans next Thursday.

Butler thought they had the game won when Andrew Smith's layup gave them a 70-69 lead with 2.2 seconds to play. But the officials called a foul on Shelvin Mack, who they ruled had body-blocked Gilbert Brown while the latter was trying to get off a desperation shot. Brown was sent to the line with 1.4 seconds to play and made just one of two foul shots to tie the game 70-70. Off the miss, Howard came down with the rebound and tried to heave the ball downcourt to force overtime. However, in the process, he was hacked on the arm by Nasir Robinson and the officials called a foul to set up Howard's heroics.

Butler came out hot in the first half, making four of their first five three-point attempts to take a 20-14 lead with 11:58 to go in the first half. Five straight points by Mack, who led all scorers with 16 in the first half and finished with 30 for the game, made the score 30-18 to the Bulldogs with 6:12 to go before intermission. The Panthers did have one first half run in them, though, and score the next nine points to cut their deficit to 30-27 and force Butler to use a timeout with 3:39 to go in regulation. Brown's jumper with 3:10 left in the half brought the Panthers to within 30-29, but Butler responded with two more Mack three-pointers sandwiched around a dunk by Howard to take a 38-30 lead into halftime.

Pitt responded brilliantly, however, opening the second half by making five of their first seven shots to tie the game 41-41. Then, with 14:33 left, Brad Wanamaker's jumper gave the Panthers their first lead since the score was 4-2 early in the first half.

 The teams traded punches throughout the last seven minutes of regulation after Brown made three free throws to break a 57-57 tie with 6:19 to go in regulation. Butler battled back to take a 62-60 lead after a three-pointer by Mack and a layup by Howard. Two more foul shots by Howard put Butler up 66-62 with 3:40 left before a three by Brown cut the deficit back to one.

Mack made one of two free throws to make the score 67-65 to Butler with 2:45 to go, but a layup by McGhee and two Wanamaker free throws put Pitt back on top, 69-67 with 1:58 left. After a Smith free throw made it a one-point game, the two sides exchanged fruitless possessions as Smith missed a layup with 44 seconds to go before Pitt committed a shot clock violation with 8.9 seconds left to set up the wild ending.

Mack led all scorers with 30 points, while Brown finished with 24 points. Both Howard of Butler and Robinson of Pitt finished with 16 points.

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March Madness 2011: A look back and a look ahead

March 19, 2011 - 02:29 PM
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Roscoe Smith will have to contribute on both ends of the floor for Connecticut to defeat Cincinnati. (Photo: Associated Press)

Spare a thought for the Bucknell Bison. Winners of 25 games this season and regular season and tournament champions of the Patriot League, the Bison were, by general consensus, one of the better mid-major teams entering this tournament.

Then they ran into the Connecticut Huskies, and that was the end of that.

"It was a really bad way to end a terrific season," said Bucknell coach Dave Paulsen after his team trailed by as many as 41 points in an eventual 81-52 loss to the No. 3 seed Huskies Thursday night at the Verizon Center. The truth of the matter is, despite Paulsen's statement that he "didn't feel we competed nearly as well as we could have," the fact of the matter is that not many teams in the nation can defeat Connecticut when they played like they did Thursday night. Kemba Walker set a new UConn record for assists in a tournament game with 12, and the Huskies' young frontcourt dominated proceedings on the boards, outrebounding Bucknell 43-21.

Most importantly for UConn coach Jim Calhoun, he received sizable contributions from freshmen Roscoe Smith (17 points on 7-for-13 shooting) and Jeremy Lamb (16 points on 6-for-9 shooting), which took a lot of the heat off Walker. 

"Bottom line is that when Roscoe and Jeremy [have] been [scoring],we're a different team." said Calhoun Thursday night. "We're just a different team because if you want to do what [Paulsen did], that's been done before and that's fine. You load up with Kemba and ... we ran the pick-and-pop time after time after time. And when Kemba came down the middle, [he] put three guys in there and try and take a charge, block his shot. [Walker] did a wonderful job. He could have had 15, 20 assists tonight. He really could have."

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March Madness 2011: TV schedule for Sunday's 3rd round games

March 19, 2011 - 01:20 AM
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Luke Hancock and George Mason will round off a CBS tripleheader against Ohio State Sunday afternoon. (Photo: Associated Press)

Below is the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament television schedule for Third Round games played on Sunday, March 20. If you need a refresher course in which teams are playing in Saturday's third round action, a full schedule of those games can be found here. Third-round games involving D.C.-area teams are in bold.

12:15 p.m. East Region--(7) Washington vs. (2) North Carolina at Charlotte (CBS)

2:45 p.m. West Region--(8) Michigan vs. (1) Duke at Charlotte (CBS)

5:15 p.m. East Region--(8) George Mason vs. (1) Ohio State at Cleveland (CBS)

6:10 p.m. West Region--(5) Arizona vs. (4) Texas at Tulsa (TNT)

7:10 p.m. Southwest Region--(11) Virginia Commonwealth vs. (3) Purdue at Chicago (TBS)

7:45 p.m. East Region--(11) Marquette vs. (3) Syracuse at Cleveland (Tru TV)

8:40 p.m. Southwest Region--(9) Illinois vs. (1) Kansas at Tulsa (TNT)

9:40 p.m. Southwest Region--(10) Florida State vs. (2) Notre Dame at Chicago (TBS)

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March Madness 2011: George Mason and Georgetown Previews

March 18, 2011 - 11:53 AM
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Look for Chris Wright and Georgetown to suffer more pain tonight against VCU. (Photo: Associated Press)

We have just a few moments before Day 2 (or is it 4?) of the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament gets underway, and unlike yesterday, there's a rooting interest for D.C.-area hoops. George Mason makes its tournament debut this afternoon against Villanova, while Georgetown lifts its own curtain later tonight against VCU. Let's do some quick previews, shall we?

They're after the jump.

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March Madness 2011: TV schedule for Saturday's 3rd round games

March 18, 2011 - 12:58 AM
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Matt Howard and the Butler Bulldogs earned themselves a 7:10 date Saturday night with the Pitt Panthers (Photo: Associated Press)

Below is the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament television schedule for Third Round games played on Saturday, March 19. If you need a refresher course in which teams are playing in Friday's second round action, a full, TV-friendly schedule of those games can be found here.  Third-round games played at the Verizon Center are in bold.

12:15 p.m. East Region--(5) West Virginia vs. (4) Kentucky at Tampa (CBS)

2:45 p.m. Southeast Region--(7) UCLA vs. (2) Florida at Tampa (CBS)

5:15 p.m. Southwest Region--(13) Morehead State vs. (12) Richmond at Denver (CBS)

6:10 p.m. West Region--(7) Temple vs. (2) San Diego State at Tucson (TNT)

7:10 p.m. Southeast Region--(8) Butler vs. (1) Pittsburgh at Washington D.C. (TBS)

7:45 p.m.Southeast Region--(11) Gonzaga vs. (3) Brigham Young at Denver (CBS)

8:40 p.m. Southeast Region--(5) Kansas State vs (4) Wisconsin at Tucson (TNT)

9:40 p.m. West Region-- (6) Cincinnati vs. (3) Connecticut at Washington D.C. (TBS)

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March Madness 2011: Cincinnati claws past Missouri

March 17, 2011 - 11:53 PM
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The Missouri Tigers picked a bad night to go cold. The Big XII representatives shot just 36.9% from the field (24-for-65) and failed to contain Cincinnati inside as the Bearcats fought off several attempted rallies by the Tigers to win 78-63 in Thursday night's 2nd round NCAA Tournament game. Cincinnati, the No. 6 seed in the West Regional, secured themselves a Saturday date with the No. 3 seed Connecticut Huskies as a result of their win. The two Big East foes already met once before this season, with the Huskies running out 67-59 victors on February 27 at Fifth Third Arena in Cincinnati.

The first ten minutes of the game were closely contested, but Cincinnati took control of the first half with a 21-10 spurt that covered the final 9:22 of the first half. The run started with a driving dunk by Larry Davis that the senior from Houston, Texas turned in to a three-point play at the foul line. That made the score 21-19 to the Bearcats, and from that point, Missouri only recorded two field goals for the rest of the half.

Nothing, apart from shooting just 9-for-31 (29.0%) from the field in the first half, encapsulated the Tigers' poor performance as when junior Laurence Bowers went up for a slam with four and a half minutes to play, only to see the ball slip out of his hand and bounce off the front of the rim.  

Cincinnati stretched the lead to 43-28 early in the second half, but to their credit, Missouri gamely staged a partial rally and cut their deficit to 54-48 on a Justin Safford dunk with 10:12 remaining. But junior forward Yancy Gates, who led all scorers with 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds to record his seventh double-double of the season, answered at the other end with a thunderous dunk of his own to goose the margin back to eight points. The Tigers never got closer, and the game was effectively sealed when Gates, who had made just two three-pointers all year, knocked down his second of the night with 4:34 remaining to make the score 70-55 to Cincinnati.

Gates was joined in double figures by Dion Dixon (16 points), Cashmere Wright (11 points), and Sean Kilpatrick (10 points). For Missouri, Ricardo Ratcliffe (13 points), Michael Dixon (11 points), Marcus Denmon (10 points), and Bowers (10 points) all finished with over ten points.

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March Madness 2011: UConn shoots down Bucknell's upset hopes

March 17, 2011 - 09:16 PM
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Roscoe Smith (22) plays defense for Connecticut during the first half of Thursday night's game. (Photo: Associated Press)

The Connecticut Huskies made a statement of intent Thursday night at the Verizon Center, trailing for only 29 seconds before burying the Bucknell Bison with a combination of hot shooting and solid defense. The final score was 81-52, but the final margin actually flattered the 14th-seeded Bison, as UConn led by as many as 41 points with eight and a half minutes to go in the second half.

Jim Calhoun's team, the No. 3 seed in the West Regional moves on to play the winner of the Cincinnati/Missouri match-up later tonight. That third round game will take place on Saturday back in Chinatown.

Connecticut got an early jump on proceedings, making five of their first six field goal attempts and opening up a 14-7 lead with four and a half minutes gone in the game. Initially, the Bison were able to keep the game somewhat close, with Bryson Johnson's three-pointer making the score 27-20 in favor of Connecticut with 7:54 left before halftime. But after Johnson's shot, the Bison wouldn't score another point until Mike Muscala's jumper with 31 seconds to play in the half made the score 39-22 to UConn.

In between Bucknell baskets, the Huskies' run consisted of a jumper from Kemba Walker and Roscoe Smith, a three-pointer by Jeremy Lamb, a layup by Walker, and a three-pointer by Shabazz Napier that gave UConn its biggest lead of the game at 39-20 with 1:51 to play before the intermission. In the meantime, Bucknell missed eight straight shots from the floor in a stretch that sealed the 14-seed's fate.

Improbably, the Huskies kept expanding their lead as the second half begin. Connecticut scored 23 of the second period's first 28 points and took a 73-32 lead on an Alex Oriakhi jumper with 8:35 to play in regulation.

Walker was the indispensable man for UConn, scoring 18 points and dishing 12 assists, a new Connecticut team record for the tournament. The old mark of 11 assists was also set in Washington, by Marcus Williams in the 2006 overtime loss to George Mason in the Elite Eight. Walker was joined in double figures by Smith (17 points) and Lamb (16 points). Muscala (14 points) and Johnson (11 points) were the only Bison to crack 10 points.  

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March Madness 2011: Further thoughts on the afternoon session

March 17, 2011 - 06:56 PM
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After a slow start against UNC-Asheville, Jamie Dixon's Pitt Panthers pulled away in the second half. (Photo: Associated Press)

In very broad terms, the first two games of the Verizon Center's 2011 NCAA Men's Basketball Championship went according to plan and prediction. The game between the 8 and 9 seeds in the Southeast Region, Butler and Old Dominion, was a physical game that appealed to basketball purists (though not necessarily neutrals), and came down to the final second.

On the other hand, the No. 1 seed in the Southeast Region, the University of Pittsburgh, had very little trouble with UNC-Asheville, outscoring the Bulldogs 44-26 in the second half to roll to victory.

After the jump, my thoughts on the action in both games.

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March Madness 2011: Pitt rolls over game UNC-Asheville

March 17, 2011 - 05:38 PM
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For the 105th time since the NCAA Tournament expanded to 64 teams in 1985, a No. 1 seed played and defeated a No. 16 seed. This time, it was the Pitt Panthers who ensure that they would not be the ones to break the streak, defeating the Bulldogs of UNC-Asheville 74-51 Thursday afternoon at the Verizon Center. The Panthers advanced to play Butler in the third round of the Southeast Regional Saturday in Chinatown.

The Bulldogs, who defeated Arkansas-Little Rock 81-77 in overtime in their first round play-in game in Dayton Tuesday night just to get to this point, made a good fist of their first half effort, as they cut a 12-point deficit to 30-25 at halftime, thanks to a running right-handed shot in the lane by Matt Dickey with less than a second to go in the first half. Pitt had looked as if they would run away with the game in the early going, after Gary McGhee's dunk off an alley-oop pass made the score 23-11 with 7:44 to go until halftime.

But ultimately, it was Pitt junior guard Ashton Gibbs who made the difference. After a pair of free throws by Dickey cut Pitt's lead to 32-29, the native of Scotch Plains, NJ knocked down a three-pointer from the left elbow, then knocked down a mid-range jumper to make the score 37-29 with 17:34 to go in regulation. UNC-Asheville cut the deficit back down to 41-35 on a backdoor layup by J. P. Primm with 15:24 to go, but ultimately, the Panthers' frontcourt size and strength began to tell. In one second-half sequence, Pitt's Nasir Robinson missed the second of two free throws, recovered the rebound of his own miss, was fouled, and missed the second of two foul shots, but was still able to get the offensive rebound.

Another three by Gibbs, this time from the right elbow, followed two foul shots by Gilbert Brown and made the score 46-35 with 14:34 to go. Though UNC-Asheville tried to keep the Panthers in their sights, yet another three by Gibbs made the score 53-39 with nine minutes to play before Brown hit from beyond the arc to make the score 56-39 with 8:26 to go and ensure that the 1-over-16 streak would stay alive at 105.

Gibbs led all scorers with 26 points for Pitt, while Dickey led UNC-Asheville with 21 points of his own. Robinson chipped in 12 points for the Panthers, while Brown added nine points and nine rebounds. Primm poured in a total of 14 points for the Bulldogs.

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March Madness 2011: Howard's buzzer-beater stuns ODU at Verizon Center

March 17, 2011 - 03:00 PM
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Matt Howard (54) celebrates his game-winning layup with his Butler teammates. (Photo: Associated Press)

Matt Howard's layup at the buzzer sent the Butler Bulldogs into the third round of the NCAA Tournament as they defeated the Old Dominion University Monarchs 60-58 Thursday afternoon at the Verizon Center. The Bulldogs, who won their 10th straight game overall, will face the winner of this afternoon's second game between Pittsburgh and UNC-Asheville on Saturday in the third round of the Southeast Regional.

Howard's heroics were set up after ODU's Kent Bazemore hit two foul shots with 31.2 seconds to play to tie the game at 58-58. Eschewing a timeout, Butler's Shawn Vanzant drove down the right side of the lane, but lost his balance and tried to flip a desperation shot at the basket. The ball was tapped around the interior before Howard got a hold of the ball and laid it off the glass to send the hundreds of Butler fans at the Verizon Center into hysterics.

The second half was full of more twists and turns than your average suspense novel. The Bulldogs appeared to be in trouble after Howard and his frontcourt mate, Andrew Smith, picked up their third fouls early in the second period. Smith went on to pick up a fourth foul, but remarkably, neither team saw a player foul out despite combining to shoot 34 free throws in the second half.

Butler responded well to the adversity and took a 49-43 lead, the largest either team enjoyed in the game. But the Monarchs battled back to take a 50-49 lead on two foul shots by Keyon Carter, and the stage was set for a dramatic finish. Butler appeared to have the game put away again when two Howard free throws made the score 58-52 with 2:43 remaining. But ODU came again, and scored the next six points to set up Howard's heroics.

The two teams played a back-and-forth first half that saw the lead change hands 12 times before Frank Hassell's putback layup with three seconds to go gave Old Dominion a 29-27 lead at the half. The big difference in the first 20 minutes was the strength of ODU's bench -- which outscored Butler 10-2 before halftime -- and the Monarchs' defense, which held Butler to just 37.9% shooting (11-for-29) from the field in the first half.

Senior Hassell led all scorers with 20 points for the Monarchs, but he was the only player on his team to finish in double figures. Howard and Shelvin Mack finished with 15 points apiece for Butler, while Smith chipped in with 11 points.

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Wizards hapless, helpless, and hopeless in loss to Thunder

March 15, 2011 - 12:05 AM
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In the interest of fairness, we should get the caveats out of the way first. The Wizards played the entirety of Monday night's 116-89 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder without Andray Blatche, Rashard Lewis, and Cartier Martin.

"Part of it was who we were playing," said Wizards coach Flip Saunders when it was all over. "Part of it was who we had playing."

When the Wizards take the floor Tuesday night against Chicago (8:00 p.m., CSN), they will do so without the above-mentioned three as well as Josh Howard, who only played 11 minutes before his knee "acted up," as Saunders put it. 

All of that is well and good. But it doesn't excuse what took place in front of an announced crowd of 17,921 at the Verizon Center Monday night, the vast majority of whom were streaming out into the unusually warm night long before the end of the third quarter. By that point, the Wizards had fallen behind by 28 points, and, remarkably, it would get worse.  

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Wizards crushed by Thunder, lose fourth straight

March 14, 2011 - 09:25 PM
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Kevin Durant goes up for a third-quarter slam dunk Monday night. (Photo: Associated Press)

The Oklahoma City Thunder scored the first eight points of the game and never looked back as they sent the Washington Wizards to their fourth straight loss by a score of 116-89 Monday night at the Verizon Center.

The Thunder kept most of the fans standing by their seats waiting for Washington's first basket for 2:02 of game time. Meanwhile, Russell Westbrook (twice), Kevin Durant and Serge Ibaka recorded field goals to give Oklahoma City the early 8-0 advantage before Nick Young's 18-foot fadeaway jump shot put the Wizards on the board.

Things rarely got better for the home team after that, though the Wizards  (who never led in the game) did well to keep to margin to single digits for most of the first quarter. But the Thunder really put the game beyond doubt in the second quarter, outscoring the Wizards 35-23 to take a 68-47 lead into halftime. The second 12 minutes included eight points from Durant, and a lively stretch of play from Daequan Cook off the bench. The fourth-year player from Ohio State went 3-for-3 from beyond the arc in the quarter, hitting all three treys in a stretch of 2:03 to push Oklahoma City's lead from 37-28 to 46-30.

The Thunder put the result beyond all reasonable doubt in the third and fourth quarters, when they pushed the lead as high as 110-79 on a three-pointer by Cook with 6:14 to go in the game. The contest was so lopsided that Durant's services were only needed for 28 minutes as he scored 32 points on 9-for-16 shooting to lead all scorers. He was joined in double figures by Westbrook (18 points, 12 assists), James Harden (16 points), Cook (18 points, all from beyond the arc), and Ibaka (10 points). For the Wizards, John Wall, Trevor Booker, and JaVale McGee all finished with 14 points, while Young added 11 points and Jordan Crawford and Kevin Seraphin each chipped in with 12.

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March Madness 2011: NCAA reveals seedings and pairings

March 13, 2011 - 06:50 PM
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Georgetown guard Chris Wright is expected to be fit for the Hoyas' first game of the NCAA Tournament. (Photo: Associated Press)

As expected, only two teams from the D.C. area made the final 68 when the NCAA Men's Basketball Selection Committee unveiled the field for the 2011 NCAA Men's Basketball Championship. Georgetown University drew a No. 6 seed in the Southwest Region, and will play the winner of a first-round play-in game between Southern Cal and Virginia Commonwealth on Friday in Chicago.

George Mason, regular season champions of the Colonial Athletic Association, were assigned a No. 8 seed in the East Region, and will play Villanova in their first game on Friday in Cleveland.

The full list of seedings and second-round pairings, along with a full television schedule of games, is after the jump. Remember, the traditional Thursday and Friday start of the tournament will be preceded by four so-called "First Four" games that will be played in Dayton, Ohio this coming Tuesday and Wednesday. Those four games are now considered to constitute the first round of the tournament and are marked with an asterisk in the pairings list. Games involving D.C.-area teams and games played at the Verizon Center are in bold.

The Final Four will be contested at Reliant Stadium in Houston, Texas on Saturday, April 2, with the national championship game taking place on Monday, April 4.

Also, for the first time in the tournament's history, every game can be seen on one of four TV channels: CBS, TNT, TBS, and Tru TV.

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Caps push on in a game to be seen from New York to Nanjing

March 13, 2011 - 04:31 PM
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Knuble (22) and Johansson celebrate the overtime winner. (Photo: Associated Press)

If the National Hockey League is feeling any extra urgency to gain new converts (or regain former ones), they should be sending tapes of Sunday afternoon's 4-3 overtime win by the Washington Capitals over the Chicago Blackhawks to every news outlet between New York and Nanjing. The matinee, witnessed by yet another raucous sellout crowd at the Verizon Center and by millions more watching nationwide on NBC, was by some distance the most thrilling game the Capitals have played this season, outstripping all four games against the Pittsburgh Penguins (yes, even the Winter Classic), both overtime games against the Flyers, and even the 6-0 demolition of the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thanksgiving Friday.

"These Sunday afternoon games are like our version of Monday Night Football," said Mike Knuble, whose 16th goal of the season was the game-winner at 3:51 of sudden-death overtime. "They're fun to play in, and it presents challenges for both teams, having to get up and go so early."

 

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Caps win 8th straight, rally past Blackhawks on Knuble's OT winner

March 13, 2011 - 03:02 PM
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The Caps celebrate Boyd Gordon's shorthanded goal in the first period. (Photo: Associated Press)

Mike Knuble's goal on a goalmouth scramble with 1:09 left in overtime gave the Washington Capitals their eighth straight win as they beat the Chicago Blackhawks 4-3 Sunday afternoon at the Verizon Center. The winning goal was a piece of sheer magic from the veteran Knuble, who took a pass from Marcus Johansson at the edge of the crease, switched the puck from his backhand to his forehand, and flipped a shot over Chicago goalie Corey Crawford.

Washington thought it had won the game in regulation on Brooks Laich's goal with 13:37 left.  The goal was disarmingly simple as a centering pass by Eric Fehr from behind Crawford's net was deflected by Matt Hendricks into the path of Laich, who had set up camp in the slot. Laich's one-timer gave the Chicago goalie absolutely no chance.

But the Blackhawks tied the game on the power play with 38.5 seconds to go as Jonathan Toews stuffed the puck past Braden Holtby in a scramble down low. At the time, Chicago was playing 6-on-4 as Johansson was serving his second hooking penalty of the game and Crawford had been pulled for an extra attacker.

The Blackhawks drew first blood just 4:46 into the game when a shot from the point by Nick Leddy appeared to deflect off of John Carlson in front and slipped through the pads of Holtby, but the Capitals leveled the score just 1:25 later.

With Johansson in the penalty box after being called for his first hooking penalty, a shot from the point by Chicago's Brent Seabrook rebounded out to the left point. Patrick Sharp whiffed on his attempt to keep it in the zone and Boyd Gordon was off to the races on a shorthanded breakaway. The fourth-line center reached the top of the left face-off circle before slapping a shot past Crawford for his third goal of the season.

The Capitals took the lead into the first intermission after Jason Arnott's power play tally at 19:06. After a flurry of action in front of Crawford's net, the puck came back to Arnott at the point and his slap shot found the back of the net, but not before taking a couple of deflections in front of the net and off the goal posts.

Washington's lead didn't last long, however, as Chicago equalized just 3:09 into the second period on a rather fluky goal. Tomas Kopecky, after holding the puck in the corner to Holtby's right, fired a knuckling wrist shot from below the goal line. Improbably, the puck grazed off Holtby's back and nestled into the net at the goalie's left post to tie the game at 2.  

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Griffin settles Rookie of Year debate, shows his advancement

March 13, 2011 - 01:01 AM
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Blake Griffin proved again Saturday night that he's slightly ahead of John Wall in the NBA's Rookie of the Year race. (Photo: Associated Press)

In case there was any lingering doubt, or any sort of belief among even the most berserk Wizards supporters that John Wall still had a shot at this year's NBA Rookie of the Year Award, Blake Griffin put paid to that in the first quarter of Saturday night's 122-101 victory by the Los Angeles Clippers over Wall's Wizards. After the first 12 minutes of play, the stat lines read as follows:

Griffin: 4-for-7 field goals, 8-for-9 free throws, 16 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist

Wall: 5-for-9 FG field goals, 2-for-4 free throws, 12 points, 2 assists, 2 rebounds.

The stats don't appear to be so disparate, but on the floor it was plain to see who the more polished first-year man was. Griffin displayed a variety of low-post moves, including a spinning right-handed hook shot that would be the envy of any NBA power forward not named Tim Duncan, as well as an up-and-under swim move that would make an NFL defensive end proud.

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