ATLANTA -- There have been 29 conference tournaments across the nation over the last two weeks. And then there's the Southeastern Conference tournament.
You have to start with Georgia, the team that won four SEC games all season, and now has won three more, including a history-making double-header against Kentucky and Mississippi State on Saturday. One of the worst teams in the league put on such an inspiring performance, coach
Who was the hero?
But the oddities of this tourney only start there. You want buzzer-beaters? Alabama's
Hold on. There's more. Much more. Georgia's first two wins had
There have been seven games where there was a potential game-winning or overtime-forcing shot in the last 10 seconds. And even the blowouts have been interesting. On Thursday,
Oh yeah, the tornado. A mere sidebar to the pulsating hoops. You've heard by now a tornado tore through downtown Atlanta during Friday night's quarterfinal dunk-fest between Mississippi State and Alabama. The storm caused an hour delay, dropped washers and bolts from the ceiling and caused other damage inside and outside the dome. The crowd was surprisingly calm, security and police handled things in an orderly fashion and the final two minutes were finally played (and not decided until Riley's three bounced off the rim at the buzzer, giving Mississippi State a 69-67 win).
The most interesting sight of the bizarre evening was after they informed Georgia and Kentucky there would be no second game that night. Kentucky's players gathered their gear from the locker room and walked down a long hall under stands of the dome. Members of the Alabama dance team were eating pizza in the same area. Georgia's band members were packing up their instruments. Kentucky coach
When the decision was made to move the final four games to Georgia Tech and allow just a limited amount of fans into each game, the saga took another bizarre turn. Kentucky fans, who annually take over the SEC tournament, were essentially locked out. Thousands of Big Blue supporters were left to find a sports bar in Atlanta, and watch their team lose its only game to a team with an RPI of 152.
The atmosphere inside Tech's Alexander Memorial Coliseum resembled a high school jamboree. There was support for both sides, bands, cheerleaders ... and plenty of room to stretch your legs, with attendance around 2,500.
Not that the basketball was high school quality -- far from it. "Gosh, it was great basketball, back and forth, great players making great plays. That was as good a college basketball game as there was in the country right there," said
And then that game was overshadowed. Georgia jumped out to a 10-2 lead, but Mississippi State recovered and tied things at halftime. Surely, Georgia's legs would give out in the second half, right?
"It was a grind," Bliss said. "We just didn't let [fatigue] become a factor."
Georgia played more zone than usual to conserve energy, and the strategy worked. Mississippi State took a 60-56 lead with 6:56 to play, but Georgia still didn't fold. Down the stretch, Georgia made plays, taking the lead for good on a Humphrey step-back with 1:21 left. A couple defensive stands and some free throws later, and Georgia was celebrating with its fans on Cremins Court.
"It felt like AAU ball again," said Georgia's
Ahhh, yeah. And it isn't over yet.