As wild as it was for Brion Dunlap in Albany in 1995, it was doubly so -- no, make that four times as zany -- at the NCAA West regional in Boise, Idaho, in 2001.
The four first-round games were decided by a total of seven points, capped by 15th-seeded Hampton's 58-57 win over second-seeded Iowa State. Georgia State had upset Wisconsin by one, Georgetown had knocked off higher-seeded Arkansas by two at the buzzer, and Maryland had survived a scare from George Mason in a three-point victory. All on the same floor.
Iowa State had led by 11 points with about eight minutes left, but a steal and dunk by Hylton's Tommy Adams with just more than four minutes to play pulled the Pirates to five. The spectators, already enamored of Hampton's cheerleaders and band, soon latched on to the team, as well, which was making its first NCAA tournament appearance.
"The whole crowd at that point just backed us," said Adams, who the night before was thrilled just to be in the Boise State Pavilion watching Georgetown practice. "It sounded like we were at home. People were just shocked at first that the game was that close, and then our band and our cheerleaders got everybody going after that dunk. That was our push. I was fortunate enough to be able to start the push."
The decisive shot came with 6.9 seconds left, when Tarvis Williams, who had picked up his fourth foul with more than 17 minutes to play, made a short jumper amid three defenders. The Cyclones' Jamaal Tinsley narrowly missed a contested layup at the horn.
"The play was called 'Winner,' " said Adams, the 1998 All-Met boys' soccer player of the year and current member of the Mansfield (Ohio) Hawks of Pro Basketball USA. "Sometimes when we'd run that play, I'd get the shot. I really believed the ball was going to come to [me], but our point guard, Marseilles Brown, thought he saw Tarvis open. That ball almost got stolen, and Tarvis wasn't known for catching hard passes. But he caught it, turned around and finished it. Everybody in the whole place was going crazy, but the only thing on my mind was trying to get a steal.
"I pressed full court and tried to steal the ball out of Tinsley's hands and tried to give him a tough obstacle to get to the lane. Tarvis kind of side-blocked that shot. Nobody knows that. Everybody thinks it just rimmed off. He redirected it. I really couldn't believe the game was over. I guess it's like somebody who bought their first house and can't believe it's actually theirs."
The Pirates had become just the fourth 15th seed since 1979 to beat a No. 2 seed. The Cyclones, who went scoreless for the final seven minutes of the game, reached the round of eight the previous season.
The highlight moment that lingers from the game is not Williams's game-winning shot or Tinsley's near-miss. The freeze-frame moment is of Hampton Coach Steve Merfeld gyrating wildly after dashing across the court and being wrapped up and lifted from behind by Pirates' player David Johnson -- at 6 feet 8 a foot taller than his coach.
"I didn't know he was going to get that happy, because when we won games, he always stayed level," said Adams, Merfeld's first recruit. "When we beat teams that were big that year, he'd say, once you win, don't run all over the court like you didn't expect to win, so I was surprised that he went running around the court."
Merfeld's and the Pirates' run ended two days later with a 76-57 loss to Georgetown.
-- Preston Williams