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Vermont win captures essence of March Madness


March 18, 2005 | ESPN.com's NCAA Tournament coverage

It was a big-time celebration for Vermont coach Tom Brennan on Friday night. Hey baby, there's no farewell yet for the coach who is retiring after the season.

Brennan and his Catamounts get to take the court for another day. Maybe he will renegotiate and sign a new contract ... I would love to be his agent now!

It's the beauty and essence of March Madness. Vermont 60, Syracuse 57 in overtime! A No. 13 seed knocks off a No. 4, the first top-four seed to suffer a first-round tourney loss in the past two years.

I have a question – how many kids who went to Vermont were recruited by Syracuse or any other big-time school? That's what happens when you put five kids on the court who perform with passion and feeling. When they're unselfish and they believe, you have the potential for Shock City.

This is why March Madness is the greatest sporting event of all.

For the Orange, it was a total nightmare. Junior guard Gerry McNamara shot 4-of-18 from the field, hitting just 1-of-7 trifectas. Hey, it was a rough night for several shooters as Duke's J.J. Redick scored seven points and hit one field goal in seven attempts (Duke had fewer field goals than Delaware State, 19-16, but won by 11).

Yes, Syracuse's season ended in surprising fashion. It was a good season, as the Orange won the Big East tournament championship while Jim Boeheim enjoyed career victory No. 700.

How shocked can people be with Vermont's win when you consider what happened in its season opener back in November? The Catamounts went into Allen Field House in Lawrence, Kan., and their game with Kansas wasn't decided until the final minute. Vermont gained confidence by challenging the Jayhawks in that 68-61 loss. The year before, also in November, Vermont lost at UCLA by just one point, 68-67.

As I've said before, the NCAA Tournament is a place to see new stars shine. Germain Mopa Njila of Cameroon, a 6-foot-4 senior forward, came in averaging 5.5 ppg with a season high of 13. Against Syracuse, he scored 20 points, hit 9-of-10 shots from the floor, grabbed nine rebounds and added five assists.

Seniors T.J. Sorrentine and Taylor Coppenrath hit a number of big shots, combining to score 33 points.

Vermont lost to Maine by 21 on Feb. 27. That made the America East championship a must-win to make the Big Dance. It happened, and now Vermont has an NCAA tourney triumph over a highly ranked team as well.

It simply shows that the Davids can compete with the Goliaths these days when the opponent comes out and plays with passion and emotion.

Dick Vitale coached the Pistons and the University of Detroit before broadcasting ESPN's first college basketball game in 1979. Send a question to Vitale for possible use on ESPNEWS.

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