Sunday, February 6, 2011

Sunshine State Hoops Classic

BY SCOTT MORGANROTH

He was a 12-time All-Star, won a pair of NBA Championships, one Finals MVP in a Hall of Fame career with the Detroit Pistons.

Isiah Thomas No.11 is retired at the Palace of Auburn Hills. He also owns an NCAA Championship with the Indiana Hoosiers and legendary Coach Bobby Knight.

But I wonder whether the guy, who has played on the biggest "Hoops Stages," could have felt more helpless as he did on Saturday Night, in Boca Raton, Florida at the FAU Arena.

Thomas was a victim of the old Yogi Berra adage that "It's not over until it's over" as his Florida International University (FIU) Golden Panthers lost to the FAU Owls 73-72. During this game, FIU led early by a 12-1 margin. The Golden Panthers led the entire contest except when it mattered the most. The end.

The outcome of the game was decided by pair of missed free throws by Phil Gary and FAU took the ball down the court on the fast break and won it with a layup by Brett Royster with 4.2 seconds left.

Basketball seems to be a simple game. You shoot the ball and put it in the basket. You rebound and play defense to create opportunities for the offense. A free throw is an uncontested shot that requires total concentration. Yet, over the years, the best players in both the college and pro levels miss free throws in key situations.

When the game was over, Thomas walked off the court slowly and dejected. During his post-game Press Conference, he told the media that his team has struggled at the free throw line and has trouble closing out games. His Golden Panthers are now 9-14 while FAU improved to 18-7.

Owls Coach Mike Jarvis earned his 400th career win in thrilling fashion as the sellout crowd of 2,961 stormed onto the court to celebrate.

I don't care how big the gym is whether it's 20,000 or 2,961, noise is noise!

As for Thomas, dressed in his suit, I'll bet on this night, he wished he had worn his No.11 jersey and shorts to make those last second free throws. A win in the Sun Belt Conference against an area rival would have been just as satisfying as an NBA game.

But the man has seen everything.

As I looked at his roster, Thomas hasn't forgotten his Pro Basketball Roots. Five of the 15 players are from Pistons Territory. He "Smiled" and said there will be more to come. There is a lot of basketball talent in Michigan.

It has to be an easy sell for a potential recruit that he's playing for his idol in a warm weather climate. These kids will have no problem investing into flip flops and sneakers while eliminating boots.

But whether anybody cares nationally about the FAU VS FIU Rivalry in any sport, these schools have high caliber coaches on the hard court with Thomas and Jarvis.

In Football, FAU won the Motor City Bowl a few years ago while FIU just won the Little Caesars Bowl in Detroit this past December.

I can only hope that today's Super Bowl between the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers provides as much excitement as Saturday Nights "Sunshine State Classic."

After the game, I told FAU Assistant Sports Information Director Justin Johnson to put me on the Credential List for the rematch in Miami on Saturday, February 19th. I have a feeling this will be another slug fest.

Scott Morganroth can be reached at scottsports33@aol.com and his blog can be seen at http://www.scottsports33.com/.

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