by Ryan Schulz
Senior point guard Jermaine Beal has seen both sides of the NCAA Tournament. He’s experienced the Cinderella story as part of Vanderbilt’s Sweet 16 team in 2007 and the heartbreak of the first-round upset in 2008. But for Beal, the memory that he can’t get out of his mind is the most recent one.
Playing in Tampa, the fourth-seeded Commodores were sent packing by a hot-shooting Siena team in the first round of the 2008 NCAA Tournament. It was a game that Beal would just as well like to forget. The team lost and he had one of the worst games of his career, finishing 0-for-4 from the field without a point.
Just thinking back to the game stings Beal. That sting is part of what makes Thursday’s game against Murray State (1:30 p.m. CT) that much more personal to Beal.
“It is very important to get a win,” Beal said. “I don’t want to experience that feeling again.”
Beal, a first team All-SEC selection, has been the catalyst for the Commodores all season. As Beal goes, so do the Commodores on most occasions. Now on the eve of his final tournament, Beal is preparing to embark on a mission to erase the memory of his last trip to the Big Dance.
“There is that sense of urgency as a senior,” Beal said. “I’m taking this opportunity very seriously, but at the same time, trying to embrace it and trying to have fun with it. I’m just trying to stay focused because I know we have a great opportunity ahead of us.”
It’s an opportunity that Beal thinks this team is suited to take advantage of.
“I know this team is probably better than the other two teams I’ve been to the NCAA Tournament with,” Beal said. “I think we can make a deep run, but right now our main focus is just that first game.”
After all, the first game could just as well be the last game come tournament time. Besides Beal, only junior A.J. Ogilvy and redshirt sophomore Andre Walker played more than 10 minutes in the team’s game against Siena. The lack of NCAA Tournament experience on the roster makes Beal the team’s go-to expert on the tournament.
“I told the (guys on the team) about my freshman and sophomore experience,” Beal said. “And I told them everything we need to do this year to be prepared.”
Undoubtedly, one player who will be prepared come Thursday will be the Commodores’ lone senior who knows that there is no next year.
“Right now it is do or die,” Beal said. “In conference play, you can shake it off and get ready for the next game, but now every possession and every shot counts that much more. The stakes are so much higher.”
And the memories last so much longer.
(photo by John Russell)