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MARCH MADNESS / NCAA TOURNAMENT

'The Force' Isn't With Hampton This Time, but Fans Are

March 18, 2001|DIANE PUCIN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

BOISE, Idaho — Marseilles Brown was on the run when he threw a perfectly placed, 30-foot pass into the hands of a leaping Tarvis Williams. Williams grabbed the basketball at the pinnacle of his leap and slammed it through the basket with such ferocity that the shot clock jiggled, the stanchion swayed and 11,000 at the Boise State University Pavilion stood and cheered as if potatoes had just been made the monetary unit of the nation.

At that moment, with 10 minutes, 43 seconds left in the first half of an NCAA West Regional second-round game, tiny Hampton University, a school of 5,800 mostly African-American students, had its basketball team, which was making its first-ever NCAA tournament appearance, tied with mighty Georgetown, 16-16.

Then they played the rest of the game.

By halftime Georgetown led Hampton 42-22. At the end Georgetown beat Hampton, 76-57. Hampton and its band, "The Force," received one, last standing ovation but it is the Hoyas (25-7) who move into the Sweet 16 to play Maryland Thursday night at the Arrowhead Pond.

But for two days Hampton and "The Force," had owned Boise.

"The Force" played sets in the lobby of the downtown Grove Hotel and was invited to play between periods of the Idaho Steelheads' hockey game Friday night where it received a standing ovation and where the Hampton cheerleaders danced on the ice.

When "The Force," marched into the Pavilion during the Maryland-Georgia State game, it received a standing ovation. And when Williams slammed home that pass, it seemed all of Boise had become Pirate fans.

"Our kids wanted to do it so hard," Hampton Coach Steve Merfeld said, "that they tried to do it as individuals and you can't do that against a team like Georgetown. They were a pretty big team. We haven't faced that in the past."

While Williams, Hampton's center and star who scored the winning basket in Hampton's 58-57 upset of No. 2-seeded Iowa State Thursday, is listed as 6 feet 9 he is really 6-7. That doesn't get it done against a team like Georgetown, which has a 7-footer, two 6-11 players and three others 6-8 or 6-9. Williams did get 16 points and eight blocked shots, but he also had only four rebounds and he probably had half a dozen of his own shots altered by Georgetown's 7-foot Ruben Boumtje Boumtje.

"We tried to be physical with Williams," Boumtje Boumtje said. "We knew he weighed about 200 pounds and could about jump out of the gym. But we tried to get him tired and see how he'd react to us if we pump-faked. I think he did get tired."

The Hoyas outrebounded Hampton, 51-27, and had 21 offensive rebounds. Many times Georgetown was getting not only second chances but third, fourth and fifth chances at scoring.

Georgetown had an 18-0 run as part of its march to a 20-point halftime lead. Before the Hoyas went on that run, guard Kevin Braswell said Coach Craig Esherick "was really yelling at us."

"When it got tied up after that slam," Braswell said. "We weren't getting the ball inside enough. Once we started to spread the floor and make some shots then we got started pressing and then we got more turnovers and off the turnovers we got baskets and other stuff started happening."

As fast as Braswell explained this strategy was as fast as it seemed to happen to Hampton.

The Pirates (25-7) made modest runs in the second half but never got closer than 15 points. At the end Williams and Brown, both seniors, hugged each other and cried as the band played and the crowd stood in appreciation.

"The fans were remarkable," Williams said. "We appreciated it, not just for us but for the fans at home. Even when we made slip-ups like before the half, the crowd was still with us. It was a great way to leave."

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