Coliseum hosts two locals in tourney

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Jave Meade didn’t look like a guy who’s team was just eliminated from the NCAA tournament. Instead, surrounded by reporters, the Holy Cross freshman guard from Queensbridge spoke proudly about how the Crusaders almost shocked the nation by nearly defeating powerful Kentucky.

The Wildcats, the East Regional’s second seed, hung on to win the first-round game, 72-68, at Nassau Coliseum last Thursday. But it was Patriot League champs Holy Cross that earned some respect.

“Sports writers were saying we’d lose by 30 or 40,” Meade said. “I was watching these channels where they were saying Kentucky should be a No. 1 seed. It’s too bad we didn’t get the upset. Y’all would have been surprised right?”

Meade, who along with Uka Agbai were the two Queens residents playing in the East Regional at Nassau Coliseum, and the rest of his Crusaders teammates used press clippings and reports as motivation for their first-round game against Kentucky. As they walked out onto the court, Meade said he knew Holy Cross could play with the Wildcats.

“I thought, ‘They don’t look like they look on TV, intimidating and all,” he said. “They lace up their shoes just like we do, they go to practice everyday just like us. Just because you’re the bigger school doesn’t mean we can’t compete against you.”

And Meade and company proved that from the outset. His back-to-back three-pointers with 6:54 left in the first half brought Holy Cross to within 23-20.

“When we came out, they were looking at us saying, ‘Holy Cross? Who’s Holy Cross,” said Meade, who averaged 7.2 points, a team-high three assists and 2.1 rebounds a game. “Then you saw their faces and they were, ‘Oh no, What’s going to happen? We can’t get upset.’”

Kentucky took a 36-27 halftime lead and extended it to 54-44 with 10:49 left in the game. But the Crusaders wouldn’t go away. Meade, a 6-foot-1 point guard out of Christ the King, nailed a 15-footer to get Holy Cross to within two and on Josh Sankes’ two free throws, the Crusaders tied the game at 58 with 6:28 left to play.

Meade looked up at the scoreboard and hugged teammate Ryan Serravalle.

But Kentucky’s silky smooth 6-foot-9 forward Tayshaun Prince took over the game, scoring 12 of Kentucky’s final 14 points en route to a game-high 27 points to avoid the upset.

It wasn’t too long ago that it was Meade who was cheering on New York City’s Jamaal Mashburn and Kentucky in the East Regional final. When Duke’s Christian Laettner’s last-second turnaround jumper fell, so did Meade’s heart as he cried for the Wildcats.

But last Thursday it was Meade — who had eight points, four assists and two steals in 27 minutes off the bench — who almost made the Kentucky faithful shed some tears.

And as the game ended and the team’s exchanged handshakes, Meade said Kentucky freshman guard Gerald Fitch told him the Wildcats underestimated Holy Cross.

For at least one afternoon, that was enough for Meade. After all, Holy Cross returns a wealth of players and he has three more years to prove the critics wrong. And after a memorable first-round battle with Kentucky, there may be fewer critics the next time around.

While Meade and Holy Cross was trying to play the role of spoilers, Agabi from Queens Village and his Boston College teammates were attempting to extend their magical season.

After surviving a scare of their own to defeat No. 14 Southern Utah, 68-65 last Thursday, it was the Eagles who would go down, 74-71, to sixth-seeded USC Saturday night.

While it didn’t show up in the stat sheet, Abgai was a major reason why No. 3 Boston College even made it past the Thunderbirds.

Battling inside the paint, the 6-foot-8 sophomore from Archbishop Molloy got his fingertips on an offensive rebound. Fellow sophomore Troy Bell grabbed the rebound and dished to Xavier Singletary, who buried a three-pointer to give the Eagles a 68-65 lead with 59 seconds left in the game.

Agbai finished the game with eight points, eight rebounds and three blocks in a team-high 37 minutes.

“His performance was huge,” said Boston College coach Al Skinner. “That’s 37 hard-fought minutes. He’s the only big body we have. He kept stepping up, but that’s him. He’s a warrior.”

While Troy Bell has garnered superstar status at BC, Agbai has quietly gone along as the Eagles unsung hero.

“I do the little things that don’t show up on paper,” Agbai said. “There are guys who throw up a bunch of threes and only hit a few, but I do the little things that help my team win.”

While he might have liked to have been in a warmer climate, like San Diego, the site of the West Regional, Agbai said it was special to return to New York for his first taste of the NCAA tournament.

“It is special,” Agbai said. “I wanted to go to San Diego, but this is the best place for us to be because we have the home court advantage.”

Two days later Agbai and the Eagles faced a USC team with an imposing frontcourt, featuring 6-foot-7, 240-pound Sam Clancy, 6-foot-7, 220-pound David Bluthenthal and 6-foot-9, 250-pound Brian Scalabrine.

Agbai guarded Clancy, one of the best big men in the country. But as was the case so often for Agbai, he found himself in foul trouble and when he picked up his second with 10:05 left in the first half, Agbai was forced to sit for the remainder of the half.

“There’s no question about it, [Agbai’s foul trouble] was a big disadvantage,” Skinner said. “We weren’t getting the shots we were looking for.

“It was a point of emphasis for us that we were going to use him, attack inside but we weren’t able to do that for a big portion of the first half.”

Agbai started the second half, but picked up two fouls three seconds apart two and a half minutes into the second half. Again Skinner was forced to sit Agbai.

“That’s been the story of my season,” Agbai said. “They allow other guys to do some things, but I’m not a superstar and I don’t get those calls. I just don’t worry about fouls, I don’t care for them. I just try and come in and play hard.”

Agbai finished with 12 points and two rebounds in 23 minutes for the Eagles, who were outrebounded 41-28 in the loss.

“This is a huge letdown because we thought we’d go all the way,” said Agbai, who finished the year averaging 9.1 points and 3.8 rebounds in 32 games as a starter. “On the positive side, we did a lot of things a lot of people didn’t believe we could do. We just have to come back next year and come back better.”

Reach Associate Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 143.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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