When sportsmanship met celebration

On Saturday night, I attended the NCAA Tournament second round game at Messiah University between the 11th ranked Falcons and No. 6 New York University. While our national rankings do not influence Tournament seeding, this is a case where NYU really was the higher seed and should’ve hosted.

The game should’ve been played in Greenwich Village in NYU’s sparking new Paulson Center. The University was scheduled to open its state-of-the-art facility midway through this season. But over the holidays, mother nature intervened and a “bomb cyclone” caused a pipe to burst. Water leaked enough to damage the floor, and the Violets had to play their “home” games at an offsite facility in Brooklyn the rest of the season.

So, NYU headed off to Central Pennsylvania and took care of business over the weekend, first against Greensboro on Friday night and then on Saturday night against the Falcons. Messiah scored the first four points and then NYU scored next 14 and was never seriously threatened the rest of the way. NYU won handily, 62-41.

As the clock wound down on Messiah’s season, there were all the familiar but powerful moments that I love about this time of year. The last time a player comes off the floor in her college career. The tears and embraces with teammates. The longer embrace between a player and her coach.

Messiah’s talented forward Megan Zimmerman waived to the crowd of Messiah supporters to thank them. The fans behind me, including one little boy wearing a carton of milk costume for some reason, cheered back.

And then I saw something that you don’t usually see at the end of the first weekend of Tournament games.

Someone from NYU approached the scorer’s table and asked if the players could cut down the nets. I read the face of the Messiah Administrator as he quickly progressed from disappointment in his team’s defeat, to a little bit of confusion, to trying to figure out how to make it happen. Instead of being annoyed or curt, he said, “Um, yeah, sure we can do that.”

And, so they did.

NYU celebrates its second round Tournament win with a little help from Falcon Nation.

Messiah brought out a ladder and scissors and allowed the NYU fans and players to stream onto the floor and celebrate this moment. They queued up the video screen so it would show the players and coaches as they took their snip of the nets. All the while, Messiah players were being consoled by family members and fans who had hoped for a different outcome to the game. It’s the sharp contrast between jubilation and devastation that never fails to shock me in place, no matter how many times I see it.

As NYU cut down the nets, posed for pictures and took home souvenirs, I saw the confusion in the eyes of an onlooker.

Didn’t they win their conference? Weren’t they the favorite? Why were they celebrating like this?

This was a special moment in part because it was NYU’s first chance to celebrate like this as a team, with their parents and fans.

The UAA doesn’t have a conference tournament. The NYU women clinched the UAA title by blowing out Brandeis in the regular season finale. And while the players jumped and cheered and enjoyed the moment, there wasn’t time or space for a net cutting. The NYU men took the floor for their regular season finale and needed a win to bolster that resume for an at-large bid. NYU wasn’t even playing their home game at home.

Maybe this won’t be the only net cutting ceremony that NYU gets to enjoy this year. They could do it again this weekend if they win both games at Transylvania. They could do it again in the national championship, if they go that far.

But maybe this will be the only time NYU can enjoy this special moment together. If so, the snippets of net and the celebratory team picture will be something the players and coaches will cherish for the rest of their lives.

And, while it was not planned, convenient or particularly fun for them to watch, Messiah extended a gracious hand and made it happen.

For the administrators and staff at Messiah, I just wanted you to know that your act of kindness and sportsmanship did not go unnoticed.