|Jim Nantz (CBS) and Mark Collier (Fort Thomas Matters). FTM file.|
Walking off the floor I turned around and saw one third of the CBS team who had been broadcasting the game at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.
It was none other than Jim Nantz.
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Before the game, I asked my friend Chris Tomlin for some advice on how to handle myself in a pressroom of that magnitude. Tomlin is one of the founding voices for popular sports blog, Kentucky Sports Radio, which has since become one of the most popular sports sites in the nation, with radio affiliates across the state.
"Just act like you belong there and just live it up," he said.
There were no losers in the game. NKU qualified for the tournament in their first year of eligibility. They pushed mighty Kentucky to the brink. They displayed heart, made their region beam with pride and left it all on the court, beating Vegas' point spread by 11.5 points. They won fans. They now know they belong.
"You have to give NKU credit," said University of Kentucky coach, John Calipari. "They missed a bunch of threes that they normally make. Then they started making them in the second half and made it a ballgame. Hats off to John Brannen and the job he’s done at Northern."
|UK Coach, John Calipari, answers questions after the game around 12:30 EST. He started his comments by saying, "We shouldn’t be playing this late. It’s (12:30) in the morning and we're playing basketball." FTM file.|
I remembered Chris' advice to act like I belong there. It's why when we arrived and did a scan of the hundreds of journalists there, I plopped my equipment down next to national sportswriters, Pat Forde (Yahoo) and Andy Katz (ESPN).
I knew I probably wouldn't have an opportunity to discuss a game we had both just witnessed as journalists, so I chatted him up.
"What a game. That was fun," I said.
"Yes, it absolutely was. Northern Kentucky was really impressive," he said.
We exchanged some pleasantries. He wanted to know which outlet I represented and where I was from. And it was surreal. His signature voice played like a soundtrack that any sports fan would immediately recognize.
"They were just so scrappy," I said.
"That's the perfect word to describe that team. I wish I had you during the broadcast to feed me that line because I should have absolutely come up with that."
Bucket list worthy.
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The game never felt like it was out of Kentucky's control. The lead, which ballooned to 18 at one point shrunk to eight in the closing minutes. Northern Kentucky never quit as their improved shooting in the second half improved from their dismal first half.
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NKU ends the season with a 24-11 record, which is the Division I-era record for wins. The 2016-17 Norse also made their mark in history as just the seventh team all-time and only the second since 1970 to qualify for the NCAA Tournament in its first year eligible to do so.
Coming back next year are four of five starters and every major contributor.
"To have success in the postseason, you have to have a taste of what it feels like and now we have that," said Brannen. "Our goal is to bring a championship to this community. We want a championship caliber program and to build that through championship caliber people."
|The Norse black and gold meshed with the Wichita State black and gold to form a loud continent. FTM file.|