Over the course of being on hand for 120 games this past season, it wasn't easy trying to narrow down the hundreds of hours of live basketball we witnessed into the top ten contests of the year, but we attempted it yesterday with the first half of the ten best we were able to be a part of. Now that we got five of those games out of the way, here are the final five to make the cut:
5) St. John's 63, Saint Joseph's 61, March 19, 2013 (NIT first round, Hagan Arena)
Watch Sir'Dominic Pointer's buzzer-beater and Steve Lavin's postgame interview here: (Video courtesy of ESPN)
We returned to Philadelphia for the first time since having a courtside seat to St. John's emphatic upset of Villanova at the Wells Fargo Center in 2011 to break the long-standing "WSJU curse," and assumed the night would end well for Johnnies fans after seeing the Red Storm take the court in their alternate black jerseys, which Steve Lavin's team had only won two games in before. For the first 38 minutes, our initial suspicions looked like they were going to be confirmed, as St. Joe's used their trademark staunch defense and scoring punch from guards Carl Jones and Langston Galloway to hold the lead through much of the night. However, you could clearly see that Phil Martelli's Hawks were not playing to win if you watched this game, but rather not to lose, and the complacency of the home team caught up to them as JaKarr Sampson took over down the stretch in place of a suspended D'Angelo Harrison. After several trips to the free throw line that saw each school make one out of two foul shots, St. John's drove the length of the floor in the final seconds without a timeout, as Sir'Dominic Pointer moved the Red Storm into the second round of the NIT with his buzzer-beater from just inside the left elbow.
4) Butler 68, Fordham 63, February 16, 2013 (Rose Hill Gym)
Some people can argue in favor of Madison Square Garden or any other large venue, but for an old school college basketball atmosphere, there is simply nothing like a sellout crowd at Rose Hill Gym in the Bronx, and over three thousand packed the bleachers to see Brad Stevens and Butler make their first trip to Fordham. The Rams made the crowd a noticeable and integral aspect of the day, as Butler was never able to put Fordham away, even with a double-digit lead in the second half. Paced by the return of Chris Gaston after missing the previous seven games due to reaggravating a knee injury that was surgically repaired in November, Fordham stayed within reach of the Bulldogs until the final minute, when Butler's free throw shooting sealed the victory. Even in the losing effort, Fordham proved to make an impression, as it was this game that helped lure incoming freshman Jon Severe to the Bronx to play for Tom Pecora.
3) Iona 90, Loyola 86, March 1, 2013 (Hynes Athletics Center)
Surprisingly, we got a lot of criticism for going up to New Rochelle to watch this battle between the reigning MAAC champion Greyhounds and the 2012 regular season champion Gaels, as several people urged us to go to Draddy Gym instead for a Manhattan game against Fairfield that had significant MAAC Tournament implications. Our rationale was that the Iona game did as well, plus we did not want to turn down the opportunity to see then-Loyola coach Jimmy Patsos, whose Greyhounds were joining the Patriot League at season's end. With Momo Jones coming off the bench due to nagging knee injuries earlier in the week, the Greyhounds attempted to exploit the absence of the eventual MAAC Player of the Year, with swingman Anthony Winbush leading a quartet of efficient Loyola players. However, Jones made his return after the first media timeout, and then proceeded to have one of his career-defining games with a 35-point virtuoso performance that ended the Gaels' stretch of six losses of three points or less in their previous seven games and started their run to a second consecutive NCAA Tournament. The postgame press conference was equally as entertaining, with Patsos stealing the show yet again just on his colorful and magnetic personality, waxing poetic about how he would miss MAAC commissioner Rich Ensor and the Beechmont, a local dining establishment up the block from the Iona campus, only to resurface a month later as the new coach at Siena.
2) St. Francis 76, Wagner 75, February 21, 2013 (Pope Physical Education Center)
Watch highlights of Jaden Daly's broadcast here:
In a season that featured arguably the deepest Northeast Conference field in recent memory, Glenn Braica and the Terriers were going for a season sweep of Wagner after going into Staten Island in January and handing Bashir Mason's Verrazano Warriors a shocking 71-52 defeat. Early in the game, the Seahawks made it clear that they were out for revenge, attacking the basket with an aggressive and determined style that St. Francis refused to back down from. With the Terriers taking the lead on the second half, Wagner guard Latif Rivers pulled his team ahead briefly before the two sides traded baskets going into the final minute. In a finish similar to the Terriers' 2012 victory over Sacred Heart, Dre Calloway waited for the right moment to pull the trigger on the go-ahead shot, a reverse layup that he converted with 2.8 seconds remaining in regulation to give St. Francis the thrilling victory.
1) Marist 105, Iona 104, February 7, 2013 (double overtime, Hynes Athletics Center)
Watch Chavaughn Lewis' buzzer-beater here: (Video courtesy of Mike Ferraro at Marist College)
The second half of a doubleheader between Tim Cluess' Gaels and the visiting Red Foxes proved to be on a par with almost any other game in the nation this season, and it only got better as the night went on. After Sean Armand missed two of three free throws late in the second half for Iona, the two teams ended regulation tied at 84. That was when things got interesting, as Marist had a chance to tie the game on the final possession of the first overtime even after a costly Adam Kemp turnover. Upon receiving the inbounds, Chavaughn Lewis targeted the net from about 70 feet away, standing parallel to Iona assistant coach Jared Grasso's seat on the bench, and calmly drained a buzzer-beater to send a thriller in Westchester to another five minutes. From there, the teams traded shots before Isaiah Morton struck with a three-pointer to put Marist ahead for good, as Iona was unable to convert their numerous chances for the win as the buzzer ran out, providing now-former Red Foxes coach Chuck Martin with the defining moment of his five-year tenure.