Thursday, December 28, 2006

Albany Wins - Makes 0 Free Throws

Nonconference preseason games are often one sided affairs featuring a team from an obscure unknown conference against a home team padding it's early season record on it's quest for 20 wins. The officials are usually selected by the home team and often call the game accordingly. Utah's game against Albany was likely meant to be this sort of affair.

True, Albany won the American East Conference a year ago and did have preseason American East Conference player of the year in Jamar Wilson. A year ago the Great Danes played Connecticutt to a virtual standstill for 30 minutes of their first round NCAA tournament game. Against Utah, Albany took it a step further while staring straight in the face of difficult road officiating.

I left the floor, rising into the air, into the light and smoke, into the history of that night, into the death of time and the last game I would ever play. I rose up into the happiest, most glorious moment of my life, to take the shot I had awaited since I was a boy of ten. . . The VMI forward lunged wildly toward me, but I moved my left shoulder between him and the ball, braced myself for his impact, and spun the ball softly, gently against the backboard. I did not see the ball go into the basket, but I did not need to...

Going to the foul line, I lifted both arms to the crowd and the noise carried me again, entered each cell of my dazzled, inflamed consciousness, and I let it take me, seduce me . . . .I wanted my life to freeze at that exact moment, with my arms raised, the crowd on its feet, those thousands of human voices screaming out my name. The referees handed me the ball and I shot my free throw, watched the net shiver with the ball's entry. . . Pat Conroy.

Like Conroy's fictional win and shot by Will McLean against Virginia Military Institute in The Lords of Discipline, Albany won by one point only they did it without making a free throw or having the home crowd carry them. No, not just not making a free throw at the end of the game like Will McLean, but without making a free throw the entire game! The e-mail has already gone off to Ken Pomeroy to see if this has ever happened.

Certainly, in the modern game with huge contracts for coaches home nonconference games are the closest thing to "rigged" games as exist in sport and in beating Utah on Thursday, Albany overcame not only Stephen Weigh's 22 points and Utah's 16 made free throws of their own, they also overcame the home officiating that makes winning as a midmajor on the road so incredibly difficult. The final Albany 59 Utah 58.

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