With Providence's Dunkin' Donuts Center still buzzing from Robert Morris' near-upset of Villanova, it was time for the 2nd Thursday afternoon game...pitting the Southeast's #7 seed, the Richmond Spiders, against the 10th-seeded St. Mary's Gaels.
After a short break, it was time for Richmond vs. St. Mary's
It's one of the perks of attending the NCAA Tournament -- getting to watch teams and players that you wouldn't normally get an opportunity to see. What Richmond and St. Mary's lacked in terms of power-conference sex appeal, they made up for it in their basketball ability.
Mid-major powers go head-to-head
The Spiders came into the game with a 26-8 record, playing in the tough -- but underrated -- Atlantic 10 Conference. Richmond boasted some solid backcourt players, including junior guard Kevin Anderson (over 17 points-per-game), and senior guard David Gonzalvez (almost 15 PPG).
The Spiders are sittin' pretty in Providence
St. Mary's, on the other hand, brought an inside-outside game to the table. The Gaels were led by 6'11" senior center Omar Samhan, who averaged around 20 points and 10 rebounds-per-game for the entire season. On the perimeter, guards Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova rarely met a three-point attempt they didn't like. It was a successful recipe, as the Gaels -- who play in the West Coast Conference -- carried a solid 26-5 record into this game.
St. Mary's huddles during a timeout
This matchup featured an interesting contrast in styles. Richmond preferred a halfcourt game, averaging just under 70 points-per-game. St. Mary's specialized in transition basketball and an up-tempo pace, scoring nearly 80 points a game. Which approach would come out on top?
The Spiders and Gaels face off
As the game unfolded, I took some time to get to know the people sitting around me in Section 220. After roughly three hours of basketball, conversations are bound to ensue. It was interesting to learn that not everyone was there to cheer on a specific team.
Seated to my left were two guys in their mid-30s, who -- like me -- traveled from New Jersey for the event. One was wearing a beaten-up, orange Tennessee Volunteers hat...the other a simple, black t-shirt without a team name or logo. To be honest, I can't even remember their names...but I remember their story.
Every year, eight U.S. cities are selected to host the 1st and 2nd rounds of the NCAA Tournament. For the last five years, these guys chose a city to visit, and built their entire weekend trip around college basketball. It didn't matter which schools would be there...this was all about getting away from home, watching some quality hoops, and establishing memories that would last throughout their lifetimes.
Two star guards match-up -- Mickey McConnell vs. Kevin Anderson
Meanwhile, the game between evenly-matched teams was even on the scoreboard at halftime. Samhan led St. Mary's with 17 points and 7 rebounds in the 1st half, while Richmond countered with Anderson's 11 points. It was 36-36 as the teams went to the locker room to discuss their 2nd half strategies.
Tied up at halftime
Now that the Villanova fans in attendance had time to catch their collective breath, many turned into scouts for this game. Either Richmond or St. Mary's would be the Wildcats' 2nd round opponent in the tournament. Rather than cheer along and react to the plays on the court, many of them watched intently...determining strengths and weaknesses.
The winner faces Villanova in the 2nd round
In the 2nd half, the Gaels took over, giving those who traveled thousands of miles from northern California reason to cheer. Richmond could not find an inside answer to Samhan, who finished the game with 29 points and 12 rebounds. McConnell added 23 points on 5-9 shooting from 3-point range, and a minor upset was in the books, as St. Mary's cruised to an 80-71 victory.
Omar Samhan scores two of his 29 points on a fade-away jumper
A memorable afternoon session was now over. The Dunkin' Donuts Center cleared out, as arena workers began preparing things for the evening session. In roughly two hours, more Madness would ensue...
St. Mary's advances!
To be continued during next year's NCAA Tournament...