BURLINGTON, Vt. -- A week of heartbreak and high hopes ended for Vermont in a most satisfying way -- with a ticket to the NCAA tournament.
MacPherson: BU Simply Stumped
BU couldn't solve John Holland as the Vermont superstar scored 24 while also spreading the wealth, writes Brian MacPherson. Story
Four days after Evan Fjeld's mother died of cancer, the forward and his Catamounts teammates outlasted Boston University for an 83-70 victory, the America East Conference championship and an automatic bid to the tournament."I didn't have the greatest game," said Fjeld, a 6-foot-9 inch junior from Durham, N.C. "But these guys have picked me up all week, been there for me. And I knew that I wasn't playing well and it was all right, because they were going to be there for me one more time."I told them before the game that we had already gone through the trial for the week. This was just the victory lap."
If that's what it was, Marqus Blakely was driving the pace car. The high-flying forward scored 24 points, grabbed 18 rebounds and dominated the glass down the stretch as Vermont (25-9) earned its first NCAA bid since 2005. That year, Vermont shocked No. 4 seed Syracuse in overtime in the first round.Boston (19-13), which lost both regular-season games between the teams, didn't have any more luck the third time around. The Terriers, who shot 38 percent, struggled with their offensive flow and didn't have an answer for Vermont's outside shooters, who hit 8 of 14 3-point attempts and never trailed.Boston's leading scorer, John Holland (19.3 ppg), was held to nine points in the title game, which opened with Vermont hitting its first four shots.Guard Nick Vier hit a 3-pointer off a pass from Blakely, who added an up-and-under move with his left hand to extend the lead to 24-14. That was Vermont's biggest lead until Blakely hit an off-balance turnaround at the buzzer for a 42-31 edge at the break.Boston mounted a second-half rally, getting a pair of baskets from Jake O'Brien and a 3-pointer by Corey Lowe to narrow it to 54-53 and silence the sellout crowd of 3,266 in Patrick Gym."They had us on the ropes," said Vermont coach Mike Lonergan. "They really did."But that was as close as the Terriers got. Fjeld scored underneath, Maurice Joseph drilled a 3-pointer and Vermont regained the momentum.Blakely capped it with a thunderous one-handed slam off a 3-on-2 break with 1:34 left.Lowe had 24 points, O'Brien 17 and Carlos Strong 11 for Boston.Vier -- who hit all four of his attempts from beyond the arc -- had 15 points and Maurice Joseph 13 for Vermont. The home fans streamed down onto the court in a green-and-gold parade of jubilation, posing for pictures with Blakely and other players and watching as they cut down the nets."Your Vermont Catamounts are dancing to the NCAAs!" yelled public address announcer Steve Gentile.