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Boston's best March Madness moments

Boston has a rich history of sports, but only recently has the big city hosted March Madness. PIC: Maddie Meyer, Getty Images



The City of Champions is adequately dubbed it for a reason. Between the six Stanley Cups the Boston Bruins have hoisted, to the seventeen NBA Titles for the Celtics, Boston has crowned many a winner in its days. The old Boston Garden, which opened in 1928 and was knocked down in the mid-90s, hosted just about every event you could imagine. But college basketball was simply never as much in the limelight as the other sports. Since Holy Cross didn't have a basketball gym, they played their home games both at the Boston Garden and a hangar on a military base in Rhode Island. Even though Holy Cross turned into one of the first national powerhouses in the sport - going 27-3 and winning an NCAA title in 1947 off the coattails of Bob Cousy and Joe Mullaney - they technically still weren't Boston's own.

Eventually, the "Commonwealth Classic" was stood up between Boston College and UMass after years of being rivals. It accelerated significantly during a game at the old Garden in 1979, and earned its title when Bill Weld tried to generate a renewed interest in the sport after the new FleetCenter was built behind the old Garden (the FleetCenter was eventually renamed TD Garden).


With the newfound interest in the sport, Boston hosted its first ever NCAA Tournament game in 1999. While plenty of regular season contests had been held in Boston zip codes (BU in Allston, BC in Chestnut Hill, and Northeastern to name a few), 1999 marked a new era in Boston, hosting six games between the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Boston went on to host in 2003, 2009, 2012, and 2018. Today, the Tournament makes another stop in Boston for the first time in six years.


Let's take a look inside Boston's best March Madness moments.


2018: Villanova cruises through #5 West Virginia and #3 Texas Tech en route to 3rd national championship


2018 brought one of Villanova's most dominant seasons in the history of the program. The Wildcats cruised through the regular season, losing their first contest on December 30th after winning their first thirteen. Jalen Brunson, Eric Paschall, and Mikal Bridges anchored a strong veteran core. Collin Gillespie, Omari Spellman, Donte DiVincenzo, and Jermaine Samuels served as the team's promise of youth, and quickly stepped up. Simply put, there was no stopping this team from a Big East title. But even after defeating Providence in overtime at MSG for the championship, Villanova had their eyes on something better.


Villanova's draw in the 2018 tournament was tough, but started off rather easy. The #1 overall seed, the Wildcats cruised through #16 Radford, and handled a 20-win Alabama team who snuck into the field as a #9 seed behind a monster year from freshman Collin Sexton. Next up, it was a date with #5 West Virginia in Boston. Jalen Brunson dropped 27 en route to a 90-78 win, earning Villanova's spot in the next round. The Elite 8 brought a similar good fortune against a red-hot #3 Texas Tech team, having beaten Purdue and Florida in previous rounds. But the Red Raiders were simply no match for the Wildcats at any point in the Elite 8 - Eric Paschall collected 14 boards in the 71-59 win.


Villanova went on to beat #1 Kansas by 16, and #3 Michigan by 17. The 2017-18 Wildcats were simply not going to be defeated by anyone in 2018, and Boston is when we knew this team wasn't playing around.



2012: #1 Syracuse edges #4 Wisconsin, 64-63, in Sweet 16


2012's matchup between Syracuse and Wisconsin is a memorable moment in Boston March Madness lore. 'Cuse, who went 30-1 in the regular season (all the wins have been vacated since), was widely believed to be the favorite. But Wisconsin had plenty of solid wins on their resume, despite losing in the semifinals of the Big Ten Tournament weeks earlier. The teams traded blows all day, but ultimately Syracuse pulled out a slim victory off their 55% from the field, compared to Wisconsin's 38%. Perennial NBA journeyman Dion Waters grabbed 13 off the bench for Syracuse, while future NBA draft pick Frank Kaminsky didn't register any in 10 minutes for Wisconsin.


2012: #2 Ohio State edges #1 Syracuse, 77-70

There may have only been one coach that could've stopped Jim Boeheim if it weren't for Bo Ryan's Wisconsin Badgers the round before - Thad Matta and the Ohio State Buckeyes. They were hungry from the year before - they started the 2010-11 campaign 24-0, won the Big Ten championship, but lost in the Sweet 16 to eventual Final Four team, Kentucky. OSU's veteran core from the year prior had departed to graduation and the NBA Draft, so all eyes were on sophomores Jared Sullinger and Aaron Craft to knock off Syracuse.


The game started with foul trouble on both sides, but none more impactful than Sullinger getting into a precarious situation early and Boeheim racking up a technical on the opposing bench. While Boeheim's consequence was simply shutting his mouth, Sullinger was left on the bench for most of the first half - a major paint presence being on the sideline was a major blow to OSU. While 29-29 was the score heading into the locker room, Ohio State was the aggressor in the second, and came out on top by 7.


Jim Boeheim said a stern "no comment" when asked about the officiating.


Ohio State went on to lose 64-62 in the Final Four against Kansas. It was Jared Sullinger's last hurrah as an OSU player, but only the start of his career as a basketball player in Boston - he was picked 21st overall by the Celtics in the 2012 NBA Draft.


Aaron Craft celebrates with teammates. PIC: MetroWest Daily News


(EDITED) 2009: Scottie Reynolds' buzzer beater in the Elite Eight


We've got a whole separate blog on this coming, but Scottie Reynolds' runner was one of the most iconic shots in both Villanova and March Madness lore. Villanova vs. Pittsburgh had it all - defensive grit, trash-talking, and big shots - just as the original iteration of the Big East loved it. One of the two would become the second Big East team in the Final Four, behind #1 UConn who punched their ticket earlier in the day. The teams traded buckets all game, with Pitt having the slight advantage at half, 34-32. The lead changed six times in the last six minutes of the game, but Levance Fields made two free-throws for Pitt to tie the game at 76. With five seconds left, Reggie Redding inbounded the ball to Dante Cunningham, who dished it to Reynolds with time running down. He took it to the paint for a floater, and it went in to the crowd roaring.



1999: #6 Temple goes on a run; beats #11 Kent State and #3 Cincinnati


While Temple lost in the 1999 A-10 Tournament, many believed they'd be a strong at-large candidate to succeed in March Madness. Mark Karcher (13.4 PPG) and Lamont Barnes (12.9 PPG) led the way all season for the Owls, and big games were expected from both of them in their first round contest against #11 Kent State in Boston. After getting off to a 22-11 lead, Kent State went on a run and cut the score to 31-27. Nursing a left hand injury, sophomore Quincy Wadley was dressed, but didn't play a minute in the first half for precautionary reasons. At the half, Wadley made his case to his head coach, John Chaney, to put him in - after objection, he agreed. Wadley hit a three-pointer out of the gate, and enabled Chaney to play a smaller, quicker Temple lineup to counteract a high-temp Kent State offense. "I was thinking, "Suck it up, I've got to play through the pain,' " Wadley told the media after the game. Temple won the first one, 61-54, to get a date with #3 Cincinnati. Wadley went on to score 14 points on the same bruised hand that got him through the previous game, en route to a 64-54 victory against Bob Huggins' Bearcats. Temple went on to go to the Elite 8, a team that is still celebrated often by the school even 25 years later.

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