You want to talk about great endings? I've got one for you. And I mean great - better than anything we've seen so far on the Hoops Odyssey. One of those Christian Laettner moments. No one could believe it. Not the fans, not the players, not the commentators. There's no way to account for the final 30 seconds of today's game other than with divine intervention. What we witnessed was a miracle.
The Barton Bulldogs miracle win made believers out of their fans.
The DII Championship in Springfield, Mass, started out like it was supposed to start out. Tiny Barton College valiantly held its own against powerhouse Winona State University, which came into the game riding a 57 game winning streak. But the Bulldogs and their lightening quick guard Anthony Atkinson (divinely referred to as Ant after hitting a game winning shot in each of the last two games) couldn't match WSU's talent or size inside.
It was only a matter of time before superior athleticism won out. By halftime, the Warriors had built a seemingly insurmountable ten-point lead. Their fan section, sensing the inevitable continuation of the team's win streak and the hoisting of the championship trophy, grew deafening.
The second half started out the same way, with WSU maintaining a comfortable lead. The Barton fan section kept chanting, "WE BELIEVE", but the mantra was sounding less and less convincing. For our part, Matt and I thought the game was pretty much over, so we went looking for a little flare for our article. He tracked down Manute Bol (not that it was that hard) and I worked up the courage to get a few quotes from Jim Calhoun on what he likes about DII basketball.
Who's the most excited about this pic: former DII star Manute Bol, Bol's son or Jake?
(And I quote: "I played Division II basketball for AIC (American International College). Played against Frazier and Sloan. I'm also here for the quality of basketball. Both teams really execute well. To some degree this basketball is more pure because kids aren't thinking about going to the next level. And it's very entertaining. I'm not rooting for either team, I'm just here to watch the basketball.")
We returned to our seats on press row with a minute remaining in the game and WSU winning by seven. Game over...
Then it happened. No lightening, thunder or bright lights, but there should've been.
With his team losing 67-74, Ant put on a Reggie Miller-esque performance. He scored 10 points in 45 seconds - making a layup and stealing the ball, making a jumper and stealing the ball and eventually topping it off by racing down the court and laying the ball in the hoop with no time left on the clock.
Out of despair, the Winona State fans fell completely quiet. Out of disbelief, the Barton fans too. And then the sound came rushing back. Barton fans screaming. Barton players crying. Students rushing the court. Players running in circles and disrobing.
VIDEO: THE DIZZYING HIGHS (BARTON), THE TERRIFYING HIGHS (WINONA)
Just think about this for a moment. With the score tied, Ant stole the ball at halfcourt and turned around to see 3.6 second left on the clock above the basket. He had 3.6 seconds left to put the ball in the bucket to beat the #1 team in the country and win the championship. What would you have done? Stopped and popped? Willing to roll the dice that you could make it to the rack in time?
Ant had faith. He flew. With 1.8 seconds left he hit the arc. At .2, the ball rolled off his fingers. By the grace of God, Barton won. They're the DII champs. And Matt and I are believers.