‘Cats marched out of madness

Joe Groglio

It really was a spectacle to see. Fans from all over the country, coated in blue, white, orange, black, red and anything else you can imagine.

The crazy ‘Nova fanatics who have been there with the team every game, paired with the bandwagon fans who came to see the so-called Cinderella story play out.

Then there were the NC State fans, saddened from their loss in the game before, yet determined to see their hated in-state rivals, UNC, get beat. And of course, the Wisconsin fans, who wanted no part of the UNC juggernaut, despite the fact that the Wildcats were formidable foes themselves. Throw in the Big East fans, especially the Syracuse faithful who loyally rooted for ‘Nova as if they were the Orange themselves.

Villanova was the 10-point underdog on the books, but as far as fan support went, UNC was in trouble. For at least one night, ‘Nova Nation expanded to take in refugees from around the nation, who watched in hopes of a reappearance of the magic that happened nearly 20 years ago to this school.

It had been an amazing season for ‘Nova, leading the team to be chosen as the No. 5 seed in the Syracuse bracket, a region some predicted would be the best of all time.

It didn’t work out quite this way, as powerhouses Kansas and UConn bowed out early. In the first round, many skeptics had ‘Nova losing to underrated 12-seed New Mexico, but Mike Nardi and Randy Foye had huge games to lead the ‘Cats to a 55-47 win.

The final margin was close due to a tremendous effort by the Lobos in the second half, but it proved to be too little too late as ‘Nova moved on.

Next was Florida, a team that was red hot going into the tournament, and a squad who many picked to be a major sleeper. However, the ‘Cats were able to take them out as well, due to the valiant effort of Curtis Sumpter. Sumpter scored eight points and grabbed six boards in 10 minutes before leaving the game and the tournament with a knee injury; nevertheless, his effort proved the difference as the ‘Cats soared to an 11 point victory.

The key to this game was the play of Jason Fraser, who scored 21 and grabbed 10 rebounds to dominate the paint. Foye and freshman Kyle Lowry continued to play key roles, scoring inside and out with ease.

This win led to the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, host of the “Sweet 16,” facing the UNC Tarheels, a team that many called the nation’s best, a team that dominated its opponents all season long and boasted a lineup with six potential first-round NBA draft picks.

With the crowd behind them and confidence in their hearts, the Wildcats went out onto that floor and hung with this dominant team for 40 minutes.

“Hung with” isn’t an accurate term; they were beating this team for the majority of the contest.

Foye played with true magnificence, scoring 28 points and playing shutdown defense. Lowry also starred, dropping in 18 as he penetrated the UNC defense at will.

Down 10 with two minutes to go in the game, ‘Nova made a comeback capped by a Lowry three-point play and three from Nardi to get the game within three.

Then with under 30 seconds to play, Allan Ray drove the lane and appeared to be fouled as he converted a layup, but the referee called a traveling violation and the game essentially ended.

While this call will haunt many fans for ages, it should not cloud the vision of what was a tremendous season, from the beginning to the end. An entire nation converged to cheer our team on that night. That in itself is something special.

With the entire squad coming back next season, the sky is the limit. ‘Nova Nation will be ready for the challenges that being a top-rated program will bring. This time around we’ll have an entire nation of potential supporters watching.