March Madness makes memorable trip to Capital Region

Basketball player goes for ball
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UConn’s Andre Jackson, Jr., against Iona’s Sadiku Ibine Ayo during a NCAA men’s basketball tournament game at MVP Arena in Albany on Friday, March 17, 2023.

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For a weekend, March Madness visited the Capital Region.

The six NCAA men’s basketball tournament games in recent days were played before a total announced crowd of 41,983 fans between the three sessions of actions. UConn and Miami prevailed from a group of teams that also included Drake, Indiana, Iona, Kent State, Saint Mary’s and VCU. UConn next plays in Las Vegas against Arkansas this Thursday, while Miami plays Friday against Houston in Kansas City.

From the games this past Friday and Sunday at MVP Arena in Albany, here are five things to remember.

HOMETOWN HERO

Andre Jackson, Jr. did not disappoint in his return to the Capital Region.

An Amsterdam native who played in high school for Albany Academy just miles from Albany’s downtown arena, Jackson averaged eight points, 5.5 rebounds and seven assists per game for UConn. The Huskies played a competitive first half in each of its games, against Iona and Saint Mary’s, then rolled in the second half each day to a double-digit win.

A 6-foot-6 perimeter player, Jackson has put together per-game season averages of 6.8 points, 6.3 rebounds and 4.4 assists during his junior campaign. 

FAMOUS FACE

Jackson was not the only person associated with the UConn program drawing ample attention during the weekend’s games from the local crowd.

Another was Bill Murray, the “Saturday Night Live” alumnus, and star of movies such as “Caddyshack,” “Ghostbusters” and “Groundhog Day.” Bill Murray, 72, was at both days of games at MVP Arena to support the Huskies, as his son Luke Murray is an assistant coach with UConn.

A 2007 Fairfield graduate, Luke Murray has also worked on coaching staffs at Louisville, Post, Quinnipiac, Rhode Island, Towson, Wagner and Xavier. He is in his second season with UConn.

THREE AND DONE

Rick Pitino’s final game leading a MAAC program took place Friday in Albany.

As expected, the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame member accepted an offer Monday to become the next head coach at St. John’s of the Big East Conference.

Pitino’s resume includes two national championship wins and seven Final Four appearances. He coached at Iona — a MAAC rival of Siena — following a spell coaching professional basketball in Greece after he was dismissed from Louisville amid a federal investigation into corruption in college basketball. Last November, the Independent Accountability Resolution Process did not penalize Pitino in relation to the probe, an action that appeared to clear a path forward for the 70-year-old Pitino to return to coaching a major-conference program.

At Iona, Pitino won two MAAC tournament championships and two regular-season championships. The last two games he lost with the Gaels both took place at MVP Arena, as the Huskies topped the Gaels Friday and Siena defeated Iona back in January. In between those games, Iona had won 14 consecutive games.

START & FINISH

Roman Penn’s long college basketball career started and ended in the Capital Region.

Penn played in Albany Friday as a starting guard with the Drake Bulldogs, which lost to Miami. In his final college game, the sixth-year player scored 11 points, dished seven assists and had six rebounds.

Penn’s college basketball career started when he joined Siena as a practice player during the 2016-17 season. That season’s Saints included players such as Brett Bisping and Marquis Wright, and were coached by Jimmy Patsos.

Penn played for the Saints the next season, the last for Patsos with the program. After the season, Penn transferred to Drake, where he sat out the 2018-19 season before playing the next four. Penn scored 1,649 points during his college career.

WHERE WERE THE UPSETS?

The first days of the men’s March Madness basketball tournament included several memorable upsets, highlighted by former Siena assistant coach Tobin Anderson leading Fairleigh Dickinson to the second-ever upset of a No. 1 seed by a No. 16 seed and No. 15 Princeton advancing to this week’s Sweet 16.

Albany’s games were well-played and fun — but lacked the upset wins that the early rounds of March Madness often produce. Instead, each of the favorites won the Friday games, to produce a pair of No. 4 vs. No. 5 games on Sunday. Fourth-seeded UConn registered the fifth-consecutive win by a favorite in Albany to start Sunday’s action before No. 5 Miami registered the slight upset against No. 4 Indiana to close the tournament’s 2023 stay in the Capital Region.

Categories: College Sports, Siena College, Sports

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