Until a few days ago, Reggie Witherspoon was coaching at Erie Community College in Buffalo and was relatively anonymous outside that city, of which he is a native. In less than a week, he became a Division I head coach, at the University at Buffalo, and made his debut against No. 7 North Carolina on Tuesday night.
For the first half and part of the second half against the Tar Heels, it was almost like a fairytale for the 38-year-old. Buffalo was playing in front of its first sellout crowd since Alumni Arena opened in 1982, and 250 people bought standing-room tickets to watch from an elevated track at the top of the arena.
Riding the energy of that crowd, the Bulls led by 12 points in the first half and went into halftime with a 40-35 lead after Louis Campbell hit a 25-foot jumper at the buzzer while falling out of bounds. The Bulls stayed ahead for the first five minutes of the second half before eventually falling, 91-67.
Still, it was quite a night for Witherspoon, who was named Buffalo's interim coach on Saturday after former coach Tim Cohane resigned under pressure following allegations of NCAA rules violations by the program. The school is conducting an investigation and has reported some violations to Mid-American Conference officials.
"I really didn't have a chance to sit and think about coming in and opening up with four practices to prepare for North Carolina," said Witherspoon, who had a 44-23 record in two seasons at Erie. "If I had ever thought about that, I probably would have passed out. . . .
"Some people were calling me [after the game] and telling me, 'Dick Vitale was talking about you on ESPN.' I was just at [former neighbor and Buffalo Sabres goalie] Dominik Hasek's house and he said, 'Reggie, I saw you on 'Headline News.' I couldn't believe it was you.' When stuff like that happens, I guess it is really real. Before, it was just a dream."
In addition to Cohane's departure, two assistant coaches were reassigned. Witherspoon has yet to hire new assistants, leaving just himself and holdover assistant Eric Eisenberg to coach the team. But there is little time for Witherspoon to adjust. The Bulls (2-4) play Friday at Indiana in the first round of the Indiana Classic.
Wolfpack Packs Early Punch
North Carolina State is one of two undefeated teams remaining in the Atlantic Coast Conference, and the Wolfpack (5-0) has a good chance of being 10-0 when it hosts Maryland in its ACC opener on Jan. 6. Of N.C. State's next five games, four are at home against North Carolina-Asheville, Liberty, Yale and Western Carolina. The Wolfpack's toughest game appears to be a road game against Tulane (5-1) on Dec. 22.
N.C. State is winning despite shooting just 43 percent. Defense has become such a priority for the Wolfpack that Coach Herb Sendek has team managers keep track of how many deflections players make in a game. The Wolfpack has had more than 50 overall.
"I think we've really shown some strong resiliency and a certain amount of grit," said Sendek, whose team is 4-0 at the new Raleigh Entertainment and Sports Arena. "In a number of games, we've trailed early and even on nights when we haven't shot the ball well, we've been crusty enough to hang in and win."
The ACC's other unbeaten team is Wake Forest (5-0). . . .
Among other surprising undefeated teams are Vanderbilt (5-0), Penn State (6-0) and Dayton (7-0). . . .
It is not unusual for teams to be inconsistent early in the season, but Weber State and Samford may have taken sporadic play to a new level. Even without a standout performance from Harold "The Show" Arceneaux on Dec. 1, Weber State beat Utah, 84-72. But the Wildcats followed that victory with a 71-46 loss to Boise State three days later. Samford has beaten Alabama and St. John's, but has lost to Louisiana-Monroe and Jacksonville. . . .
This week's Associated Press media poll, with Arizona at No. 2 and Stanford at No. 3 is the first since Dec. 16, 1991, in which two Pac-10 teams have been ranked in the top three. Stanford is holding opponents to 28.2 percent shooting.
Georgia Walk-On a Winner
Freshman forward Mike Patrick, attending Georgia on an academic scholarship funded by the Georgia lottery, became the first walk-on to start for a Jim Harrick-coached team in Monday's 86-82 overtime victory over Furman. Patrick finished with two points in 23 minutes. . . .
Walk-ons are also contributing at Pittsburgh, which had just six scholarship players available for its first loss of the season--76-50 to No. 16 Tennessee on Saturday. The Panthers have been beset by injuries. Center Isaac Hawkins broke his tibia in the preseason and his replacement, Derrick Worrell, had knee surgery just before the season and returned to practice this week. Forward Donatas Zavackas is out at least another week with a foot injury.
Also, guard Kellii Taylor (Carroll) is academically ineligible for the first semester and guard Jaron Brown will miss the season because he did not meet the NCAA's minimum academic standards for incoming freshmen to be eligible.
With all of those players missing, junior swingman Griffin Abel, a walk-on who played a total of one minute last season, is averaging 16 minutes per game and is fourth on the team in rebounding (3.6 per game). . . .
Three Colorado players made their first career starts last Saturday against California, and all responded with big games. Freshman center Richard Fox had 23 points and 12 rebounds, freshman forward Stephane Pelle (Mercersburg Academy) had 10 points and 12 rebounds and sophomore guard Nick Mohr had 16 points, his second-highest career total. Colorado improved to 4-1 with an 80-62 victory over the Golden Bears.
The schedule lightens somewhat as most schools enter exams, but there are a handful of interesting games on Saturday, led by No. 4 Michigan State at No. 2 Arizona. Also, Michigan (6-0) hosts No. 14 Duke, No. 24 Gonzaga is at No. 11 UCLA and No. 23 Kentucky, in its second trip to Cole Field House since its historic loss to Texas Western in the 1966 NCAA tournament final, is at No. 21 Maryland.