Cinderella takes the pumpkin all the way to the Final Four

Nazim Trammell-Wells | Contributing Writer

Cinderella made herself known this year in a dominating fashion.

Each year, the NCAA Tournament produces a story that cannot be made up — a story that drives college basketball fans absolutely mad, which got the tournament coined March Madness.

This year’s Cinderella story starred Loyola-Chicago.

Loyola-Chicago came into the first round as an 11 seed matched up against ACC-vetted, No. 6 seed Miami, who featured many top recruits. The game was an absolute nail-biter, where both teams were trading tough baskets the entire game. In the end, Loyola-Chicago came out victorious with a buzzer-beater 3-pointer from senior guard Donte Ingram.

After upsetting Miami, many thought Loyola was good, but to foresee the Ramblers going farther in the tournament was a mere fluke. Instead, more people looked at this as a mishap on Miami’s part and a team that will surely be sent home the next round.

The Ramblers had something different in mind as they took No. 3 seed Tennessee to the wire, winning 63-62 due to a late jumper from Clayton Custer.

Now garnering attention from about every team in the tournament, Loyola took on fellow Cinderella story Nevada, whom they defeated in exhilarating fashion 69-68 after a 3-pointer from Custer.

After dominating Kansas State 78-62, Loyola accomplished what many thought was the impossible a few weeks ago, making the Final Four.

The fact that out of the nation’s 68 best teams, Loyola-Chicago was one of the best four is something that was unfathomable. Unfortunately, their dreams were crushed by Michigan, a team that came as a 3 seed but had low expectations.

Michigan handled Loyola-Chicago 69-57. Wolverines big man Mo Wagner racked up 24 points and 15 rebounds, which was key as he was able to consistently crash the board to give his team second-chance points. Loyola put up a fight that many did not predict, and it served as this year’s bracket buster.

The Ramblers finished off a great season in which they earned themselves more recognition on the national level after being a team with a losing record a few years ago.

New look in NBA All-Star Game

Nazim Trammell-Wells | Contributing Writer

This year’s All-Star Game in Los Angeles has players feeling a little festive, and it isn’t because of a party in Hollywood.

The NBA switched up the landscape of the All-Star Game by ditching the old-fashioned way of having the Western Conference teams play Eastern Conference teams. This year, they are implementing a new format that permits the top vote-getters from each conference to select their own team of All-Stars.

LeBron James and Stephen Curry received the most votes from their respective conferences this year, so this will make for a very entertaining game.

Team LeBron will feature Kevin Durant, Anthony Davis, Paul George and ex-Cavs player Kyrie Irving. Steph Curry’s team will have James Harden, Giannis Antetokounmpo, DeMar DeRozan and first-time All-Star Joel Embiid.

There is no clear consensus on who won the draft, but the general public has agreed that these teams will definitely put on a popcorn-worthy show.

The big game isn’t the only thriller of the weekend. This year, the Dunk Contest and 3 -Point Contest have much to offer. This year’s 3-Point Contest features Klay Thompson, Eric Gordon, Devin Booker, Tobias Harris and Paul George. It will be interesting to see how Gordon will defend his 3-point shooting title against Thompson, who was victorious the year before.

The Dunk Contest has some underdogs this year as well. With Aaron Gordon returning to the contest two years after his epic showdown with Zach Lavine, there is no doubt that he will be the favorite, but don’t count out Gordon’s ex-teammate — and 2015 Dunk Contest runner-up — Victor Oladipo.

Many people aren’t counting on rookie Dennis Smith Jr. to win, but some are still interested in seeing what he can bring to the table. Smith is an explosive athlete and, with the Dallas Mavericks, has tried to dunk on anyone in his path — regardless of their status in the league.

The new format is not the only new wrinkle in the All-Star Game. This year, each player on the winning team will receive $100,000. This is double the amount players have received in previous years.

In the past, fans have claimed the game lacked competitiveness, but this incentive could be the solution.  For double the dough, the competition level amongst the players should rise significantly.

Check out how the events play out on Valentine’s Day weekend.

Battle of the 757

Nazim Trammell-Wells | Contributing Writer

With schools that are only 14 miles apart, comparisons are inevitable. Here in Virginia, with no professional sports, it is a big deal when two local universities meet—especially schools in the Hampton Roads area, one of Virginia’s athletic hotbeds.

Old Dominion University, a big-time university in the area, is a member of  Conference USA. Hampton University is a current member of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference, but will soon enter the Big South Conference following this July.

Being in different conferences, the teams only compete against each other once a year. Last year, the Lady Pirates fell short, with the final score being 58-61 at ODU. This year, they made sure that they wouldn’t make the same mistakes as before.

Recently, on January 20th, Hampton’s Lady Pirates defeated the Old Dominion Monarchs, 50-42. This is the first time in all seven meetings between the two teams that Hampton has emerged victorious.

For much of the game, the Lady Pirates were plagued by an 8-point deficit and were struggling to beat Old Dominion’s effective 2-3 zone. With the deficit stretching as far as 15 in ODU’s favor, Hampton got it back under control thanks to guard Dejane James and forward Jephany Brown. Brown, who led the team in scoring with 12 points, kept the team a float, showing off her aggressive scoring mentality after making two three-point shots. Brown’s three-pointers were the Lady Pirates’ only three’s of the first half.

James also outdid herself in this game. The 5’3 guard put up 11 points and displayed her crafty ball-handling and knack to get into the lane.

After three quarters passed, Hampton had a 4th quarter explosion. K’lynn Willis started the comeback after burying a pair of well needed triples. Those triples were surely confidence boosters, as Hampton turned up their defensive pressure.

“The feeling on the floor was amazing,” Willis said, “I feel like our energy picked up, which then led to big key defensive stops. The team flipped the switch to make the run with confidence and defensive pressure.”

That defensive pressure ultimately resulted in a 25-4 run in favor of the Lady Pirates. This win is a new addition to the long list of quality wins for the Lady Pirates, including Columbia, San Jose State and most notably, UNC Chapel Hill.

Quality wins like this have become a standard for the Lady Pirates this year, building much excitement for this year’s team.

Buckeyes shake the football playoff positioning

Nazim Trammell-Wells | Contributing Writer

A fierce showdown between the Ohio State Buckeyes and Penn State Nittany Lions on Oct. 28 shook the football landscape.

The excitement for the heated rivalry game only grew due to the teams’ rankings in the top 10, with Penn State at No. 2 and Ohio State at No. 6. To add on to the already high stakes, both teams are aiming for the national championship playoffs that only allow the top four teams in the nation to participate.

Penn State started off the game strong. Heisman Award front-runner Saquon Barkley was as good as advertised; he returned the opening game kickoff for 97 yards to start the game off 7-0. Shortly after, a fumble by the Buckeyes was recovered by Penn State linebacker Koa Farmer. This put the Nittany Lions in the position to eventually score again, making the game 14-3 in only the first quarter. With Penn State scoring so effortlessly, Ohio State found itself in a big hole, a hole so big that it made the highly anticipated game look like it was going to be a blowout.

After a slow start, Ohio State rallied together to make the game competitive. Ohio State finally got into the end zone twice in the second quarter with a 2-yard run from Mike Weber and a touchdown pass from star QB J.T. Barrett. A productive second quarter from the Buckeyes put them in striking range at the half, with the score 28-17.

The Buckeyes still hadn’t improved after halftime, only kicking a field goal and getting stopped on multiple drives. They ended the third quarter with the score 35-20, but the Buckeyes found motivation after a controversial call. A pass that caused two players to wrestle for the ball appeared to be an Ohio State interception, but it was overruled by officials and credited as a Penn State touchdown.

Usually, this would be a deflating momentum shift, but Barrett played the game of his life. He connected with Johnnie Dixon twice in the fourth quarter, first on a 41-yard touchdown at the 11-minute mark and then on a 10-yard score with 4:20 remaining. Later on, Barrett gave Ohio State the lead with a 16-yard touchdown pass to Marcus Baugh. Overall, in the fourth quarter, Ohio State outscored Penn State 19-3.

Barrett finished with 328 yards and 4 touchdowns. He also ran for 95 yards. Barrett was 13 for 13 passing for 170 yards in the fourth quarter. OSU propelled itself into the national championship conversation.

Hampton track runner Sissy Farmer, sister of a Penn State linebacker, had this to say about the playoff implications of the loss for Penn State: “I think the game Saturday affects the conference and the national playoffs. But I do believe that there’s [still] a chance for PSU.”