Sunday, December 19, 1999
This is why basketball is played
BY PAUL DAUGHERTY
The Cincinnati Enquirer
It's a funky old place with a funny name. A place that smells like a shoe and looks like a shoebox should not be called Gardens. You can't rip its history, though. Fifty years worth. It picked up some more Saturday night. Boy, did it ever.
Darnell Williams, standing on a table, celebrates with fans.
(Steven M. Herppich photo)
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Truth: Who out there thought Xavier would beat Cincinnati Saturday night? Who thought the Muskies would muscle-up with the best-ranked team in the land? Who believed Xavier would outfox UC on defense and, for one, critical, statement-making first half, make Bearcats center Kenyon Martin look ... average?
If you raised your hand, join the 500,000 others who claim to have been at the Freezer Bowl, the sinking of the Titanic and Tom Browning's perfect game.
That's why they play the games, though, isn't it? So an unranked Xavier team with its best rebounder suspended could beat the best-ranked team in amateur Hoop Nation.
So a kid with a scarred knee and a psyche still tender because of it can score 16 points in the first half. Darnell Williams didn't look so worried about that knee Saturday night.
Xavier students made UC blue.
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So a sophomore could make a play fit for a 10-year pro. Lloyd Price made a steal with 13.1 seconds left and Xavier up two. In midair, headed out of bounds, he called time out.
So Kevin Frey, a tough kid from Chicago, could shoot two of the softest free throws you've ever seen, to put the Musketeers up two with 29.8 seconds to play, then barrel down the lane like a downbound train for the game-clinching layup.
So ... so ... So Xavier could beat UC 66-64.
Xavier stood tall
Enjoy that one, America?
What a scene. What an improbable slipper the Muskies wear today.
They had no chance. This is what we said, we thought. But after the first two minutes, they never trailed by more than a point.
It was defense in the first half. Xavier played a zone that occasionally extended close to halfcourt, then sagged on UC's Martin. Sagged? Xavier surrounded Martin like a prison wall. UC had no answer.
Martin took just two shots in the first half, the second an off-balance fadeaway at the buzzer. He had just two points.
Without Martin, UC's offense survived only on Pete Mickeal's drives into the lane; nobody else could puncture the zone with jumpers. Believe UC's opponents all year will look at that tape.
When Alvin Brown scored off a steal to make it 18-17, UC called a 20-second timeout; when Darnell Williams pumped home a three from the right wing to up XU's edge to 25-20, the Bearcats burned another 20.
But they had no answers for all XU's questions, let alone for Williams and Brown, who had his season average of nine points with nine minutes to play in the first half.
UC's rally not enough
UC, which had been outscoring teams by 19 in the first halves of games, suddenly found itself behind at half by eight, in a hostile building loaded with true-Blue screamers. When you go to the Crosstown Shootout, you bring your lungs.
The Muskies played without leading rebounder Aaron Turner, who has been suspended indefinitely for classroom lacks. It was a gutsy, principled move to sit Turner for this game, especially since he was eligible by NCAA standards.
UC made a run in the second half. Ryan Fletcher bombed two threes, DerMarr Johnson added another. The zone loosened up. Martin went to work. His slam with 6:09 left put UC up, 59-58. Xavier's slipper was falling off.
Then Frey took it to Martin inside to put Xavier back up by three with 2:26 to play, setting up the last-minutes cat-and-mouse that resulted in Price's smart play and Frey's gutsy free throws.
The Gardens was nuts. The P.A. announcer begged, Everyone please leave the floor. Everyone did not. They stayed for a long time, celebrating the last improbable win.
Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at 768-8454. Fair Game, a collection of his columns, is available at local bookstores.