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On Princeton basketball, "punk rock" and Georgetown.

Let's call it 1987. That's the year I fell in love with two things that couldn't be more diametrically opposed to most - Princeton basketball and "punk rock."

There's hardly ever any crossover in this Venn diagram, but I've strived subsequently to figure out what initially drew me to such disparate interests that have since consumed my life.

The answer became clear last night as I watched fifteenth seed Florida Gulf Coast - a school younger than some members of its roster best-known in Ivy League circles for a 60-30 victory over Penn in 2007 as the Eagles were mid-transition to Division I status - defeat vaunted Georgetown in the NCAA Tournament.

Loving the ethos of punk and loving the beauty of Princeton basketball shares one distinct commonality – championing the underdog.

Which brings me back to Georgetown.


Since John Thompson III was hired by the Hoyas in 2004, it has been an exceptionally strange and still somewhat unfamiliar feeling to pull for what Thompson has rebuilt into a national power.

Yet a deep appreciation for Thompson as both a man and as a coach, combined with a fondness for many former Princeton people he's surrounded himself with on the sidelines and behind the scenes in Washington, has made this easier than I ever imagined.

These individuals have cared about my success, so it is not difficult to care deeply about theirs.

Last night, witnessing what could be argued was the greatest upset in the tournament's round of 64, I found myself - to use an increasingly popular expression - on the "wrong side of history."

It is not that I couldn't value what was happening, it is that it hurt to do so.

Since their wonderful trip to the Final Four in 2007 – the Hoyas have not made it out of the tournament's opening weekend – falling to a double digit-ranked opponent each time. In two of those cases they ran into what retrospect proved were horrid matchups – an 11th-seeded VCU team that would barrel to the season's final weekend and a storybook 10 seed Davidson squad led by Steph Curry that was an errant shot at the buzzer from doing the same, but they were also run off the floor by D.J. Cooper and Ohio three years ago despite a 3/14 seed disparity.

This season was supposed to be different.

Speaking during Georgetown's open shoot-around on Thursday to someone close to the program, he raved about the chemistry of this year's Hoyas on the court and off.

Early versus the Eagles, there were no signs that the Hoyas were in grave danger. While they missed three of four free throws in the opening two minutes and started 1-5 from the field, the Hoyas still led 7-6 on a face-up Otto Porter jumper out of the post at the first media time out.

Having seen it so often from the other side's point of view, the script to games like these historically goes as follows:

The underdog hangs close for the first eight minutes, before talent and athleticism win out and after absorbing the underdog's best shot the favorite oft-methodically pulls away.

When Georgetown extended their lead to 18-11 midway through the half on a Nate Lubick follow-up, everything appeared to be on course.

Yet the Hoyas missed multiple immediate opportunities to add to their margin. A three didn't fall, and neither did a pair of point blank second chances. Porter left a trailing cut off an outlet short off the glass, one of several uncharacteristic finishes from in close by many's national player of the year.

FGSU answered with a 11-2 run, going in front on Sherwood Brown's swerving drive down the floor following the steal of a poorly-angled Lubick entry pass.

I started to pay closer attention to the standing-in-unison Eagles cheering section.

The NCAA Tournament has constants that bridge years. With four teams playing in the early rounds' afternoon and evening sessions, there are a pair of areas underneath each set of baskets always reserved for the four schools' respective pep bands. Similarly, the tickets every school receives goes to a corresponding section of the arena.

First game top seed, behind their own bench.

First game lower seed, across from their team's bench.

Second team top seed, behind their own bench (this was the lower seed bench in game one)

Second team lower seed, diagonal to their team's bench.

There aren't more than 350 or so officially dispersed tickets, but there's an annual rhythm as to where they are placed.

Watching the wide-eyed, blue and green-clad Florida Gulf Coast supporters with their signs, painted faces and unbridled hope in having never been in the tournament previously brought me back to the emotions I felt in high school when Princeton took the floor to play top-ranked Georgetown in Providence or when the Tigers came out for the first time at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin versus Arkansas.

I had been in similar inexperienced masses of various sizes, screaming and hoping with anticipation twisting.

Their joy was my "Alonzo Mourning goaltends the game's first two baskets" or my "Matt Eastwick two hand breakaway slam."

A pair of Eddie Murray free throws made it 24-22 FGSU at the half.

Returning to the script, it seemed that while the Eagles had stayed even for 20 minutes, the defensive numbers would not possibly permit that to continue. The two teams combined to shoot 17-53 from the floor (32.1%), 3-16 from three (18.8%) and 9-20 at the line (45.0%).

The second stanza began with a Brown three pointer from the top of the arc and after Porter was stripped via Chase Fieler's help defense on a drive, Brett Comer lobbed a transition alley-oop back to Fieler for a tremendous two hand finisher.

Those with no rooting interest watching at the Wells Fargo Center were now firmly in the Eagles' corner. The script wasn't in tatters, but it was dangerously adjacent to the shredder's blades.

Nevertheless, the dunk awakened a missing anger in Georgetown. The Hoyas scored on the four possessions that followed while their defense returned to the form of the first frame. A three from Markel Starks on the wing, set up by a quick pass out from Lubick at the free throw line, evened the ledger at 31 with 17:27 left.

What occurred next was one of the best-played, well-executed stretches of basketball I've borne witness to. In a hair over four-and-a-half minutes, Florida Gulf Coast went on a 21-2 run, beginning with a Bernard Thompson three from well behind the top of the arc and ending with a Fieler slip to flush.

10 possessions. 21 points.

Perhaps the nicest play of the decuple was Murray's back cut behind Porter with one on the shot clock for a right-handed dunk that made it 41-33.

As Thompson III described afterwards, FGSU spread out the Hoyas defensively, opened up the lanes and then picked them apart. The nation's fourth-best defense was eviscerated.

Pressing for the final 12 minutes, Georgetown was able to desperately close to 72-68 with :52.4 showing on back-to-back threes from Starks. However, Starks rushed a running lean-in wing three off the dribble that could have made it a two point game.

Before then came the Signature Moment™ this game required to achieve legend.

For a result to live on it needs that montage instant where 2,400 seconds of action can be encapsulated in just a couple of frames of footage that will re-air March after March after March.

Lorenzo Charles.

Tyus Edney.

Bryce Drew.

Ali Farokhmanesh.

Gabe Lewullis.

The mention of each name immediately brings a specific moment to mind.

Trying to break Georgetown's pressure leading by seven, a pass reached Comer just over half court. The swag-dripping Comer drove and tossed the ball vertically.

From the left wing came Fieler, impossibly high in the air, to stuff home the lob with one hand. Fieler could have dunked his entire forearm up to the elbow if he was so inclined.

That's how far into the stratosphere he sailed.


It is not going to happen. Something will happen. It is not going to happen. Something will happen. It is not going to happen. Something will happen. It is not going to happen. Something will happen. It is not going to happen. Something will happen. It is not going to happen. Something will happen. It is not going to happen. Something will happen. It is not going to happen. Something will happen. It is not going to happen. Something will happen. It is not going to happen. Something will happen. It is not going to happen. Something will happen.

After witnessing four consecutive postseason losses for Princeton against Georgetown, Arkansas, Villanova and Syracuse by a combined 15 points between 1989 and 1992, I spent roughly eight minutes at the RCA Dome four years later muttering a variation of the above to myself as officials depleted what felt like a triennium trying to figure out how much time should go back on the clock and where the ball should be placed after Steve Goodrich found Lewuillis to put the Tigers up 43-41 on defending national champion UCLA.

When they got both decisions wrong, my mantra only increased in guttural volume.

I looked back down the FGSU section following Fieler's 59th dunk of the season. The game to this point had been a disbelieving euphoria for them. But now they knew well in advance, like groups of underdog fans have known before and will know in tournaments to come, like I knew only when Toby Bailey came up short of the rim from the baseline after up-faking Sydney Johnson at the buzzer.

It was going to happen.

As the buzzer sounded, the two teams headed in opposite directions – one year ruined, one pipe dream continued. Georgetown left the floor down a corridor on the far side of the arena in incredulous silence. Florida Gulf Coast went the other way, getting as close to their fans as press row would allow, popping jerseys, waving arms and smiling as wide as human physiology deems possible.

A few Philadelphians added an out-of-season but oddly appropriate "E! A! G! L! E! S! EAGLES!" cheer for good measure from the upper bowl of the arena.


An hour passed.

Oklahoma and San Diego State are playing the nightcap, a game that under different circumstances was worth watching. A hard-fought and close contest until the Aztecs pulled away late.

I won't remember much of that diversion, but I won't forget two things I saw and one thing I heard repeatedly, a sound in retrospect I had not experienced in well over a decade.

The majority who had not gone home were watching with a respectful eye but comparative disinterest.

Then the applause started.

I've heard that applause before, but it had a incommensurable meaning then. It was the applause of Sydney Johnson walking up an aisle of the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum after playing his final collegiate game in 1997. Then it was considerate and grateful from Princeton fans and those won over during the proceedings as the Tigers went down late to Cal, showing deference in defeat with a touch of "oh, what nearly was."

As Florida Gulf Coast players slowly came into sight wearing bright blue track suits and rarely-used knit caps to counteract the Philadelphia cold, looking to find their friends and family in the stands, each received a slow-building venerable ovation.

At the beginning of the evening they were unknowns, but after beating Georgetown, some sort of universal kinship was now present.

Fans hugged them.

Strangers slapped them five.

Pre-teen boys trailed them out of the arena cheering with both hands in the air.

In the lobby of the Wells Fargo Center they were mobbed for photographs.

One woman scrambled to buy a basketball these outlanders could sign.

As the giant bracket outside the media room behind the court was manually updated, each FGSU pep band member and cheerleader had to get their picture taken with it, pointing a victorious finger at their school's name.

Well into the second half, with Oklahoma and San Diego State simultaneously battling behind them, a cluster of players posed on the baseline in front of what had been their team's basket for a group snapshot.

I've never seen a team linger longer following a tournament victory.

Winning meant they didn't have to go home, but they didn't want to leave.


Since 1987, when I first fell in love with "punk rock" and Princeton basketball near-simultaneously, one of my heroes has been the late British DJ John Peel.

His devotion was equal to unheralded artists and Liverpool FC.

Peel wrote in the forward to an anthology collecting back issues of football fanzine "The 1st Eleven" that while "[music and soccer were] both are run by vulgarians with nothing but contempt for the paying customers, the product itself in both cases retains the capacity to play upon the emotions in a matter entirely beyond the understanding of said vulgarians."

In the Dylan Jones book "iPod, Therefore I Am" a quote attributed to Peel reads: "There's always the possibility that you're going to come across a record that transforms your life. And it happens weekly. It's like a leaf on the stream. There are little currents and eddies and sticks lying in the water that nudge you in a slightly different direction. And then you break loose and carry on down the current. There's nothing that actually stops you and lifts you out of the water and puts you on the bank but there are diversions and distractions and alarums and excursions which is what makes life interesting really...It's fantastic."

Peel wanted one thing out of his twin dedications - to experience those occasions that unexpectedly transcended.

Both Princeton basketball and "punk rock" have had that capability within me, but it took a momentous upset I thoroughly struggled to enjoy to reinforce why two dissimilar underdog interests have been able to frequently converge throughout the majority of my life.

Dave Mills said,

March 23, 2013 @ 6:44 pm

Jon, this is your best work. How appropriate that the tragedy for JTIII should inspire you to produce a magnum opus, because the tragedy was also a triumph for almost everyone else.

You have also made me think about my own undying affection for both of these endeavors. I think my common link between them is passion: the deep feeling expressed by those who care enough about what they're doing to create something beautiful and timeless.

Well done!

Jon Solomon said,

March 23, 2013 @ 8:09 pm

That's really nice of you to say, Dave.

If you (well, not *you* as much as almost everyone else) want to get a better sense of my non-basketball world, drop $5 on this excellent recently-released documentary about the great rock band Silkworm. I think it captures the ethos of that aspect of my life beautifully.

Plus, a lot of my favorite people are in it.


George Clark said,

March 23, 2013 @ 11:51 pm

I share one of your passions. Reading this post fills me with deep gratitude that you apply your considerable gifts to the one we have in common. Of course, Princeton basketball deserves a talent as refined as yours.

Leighton Chen said,

March 24, 2013 @ 12:39 pm

exceptionally nice piece, jon

Steven Postrel said,

March 24, 2013 @ 3:24 pm

Nice one, Jon.

I think after all these losses in the first round, Georgetown is now an underdog no matter what its seeding. Unfortunately, they seem to have the worst of both worlds psychologically, leading them to tighten up in the tournament.

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