BUFFALO, N.Y. — Even after 12 years and countless retellings, Bucknell’s John Griffin gets a jolt from describing how the Bison toppled Kansas in the NCAA tournament.
“A good memory to rehash,” he said.
Now an assistant at his alma mater, Griffin is preparing a new batch of underdogs to face West Virginia during Thursday’s 4-versus-13 NCAA opener.
Among the small-conference teams aiming to play big this week, Bucknell hopes to bust brackets like it did in that enduring 2005 first-round game. Griffin was a freshman guard the night Chris McNaughton’s banked-in hook shot put 14th-seeded Bucknell ahead 64-63 with 10.5 seconds left.
The 6-foot Griffin subsequently boxed out 6-9 Jayhawks star Wayne Simien to grab a defensive rebound with 3.5 seconds left, only to miss the front end of a one-and-one.
“I didn’t feel the pressure that some might think, but I rushed it,” said Griffin, an 84-percent foul shooter that season. “Next thing you know, I’m sitting on the bench praying that Wayne Simien’s final shot doesn’t go in.
“Inevitably, I knew Kansas was going to get a look, because they were incredibly well coached. I was just hoping it didn’t go in.”
In a conclusion that continues to surface on top-10 lists of March upsets, Simien was short on a turnaround jumper at the buzzer and the Jayhawks bowed to a program funding only six scholarships at the time.
First-round results by seed
No. 1 seed 128-0 vs. No. 16 (100 winning percentage)
No. 2 seed 120-8 vs. No. 15 (93.75% winning percentage)
No. 3 seed 107-21 vs. No. 14 (83.59 winning percentage)
No. 4 seed 102-26 vs. No. 13 (79.69 winning percentage)
No. 5 seed 82-46 vs. No. 12 (64.06 winning percentage)
No. 6 seed 82-46 vs. No. 11 (64.06 winning percentage)
No. 7 seed 78-50 vs. No. 10 (60.94 winning percentage)
No. 8 seed 65-63 vs. No. 9 (50.78 winning percentage)
Though Bucknell knocked off eighth-seeded Arkansas in 2006, the victory over Kansas changed the direction of the program, It also bound the players as forever teammates.
“We have a group text and it’s guy 1 through 14 on that team,” Griffin said. “We text each there every week, and anything that will bring up an old memory leads to like two hours of conversation.”
More than 30-somethings reliving glory days, the 2005 miracle-makers share in-depth breakdowns on current Bucknell opponents.
“Everyone is very locked in to the matchups,” Griffin said. “You’d be surprised how deeply they go into size, speed, style of play.
“I didn’t get many positives about our matchups against ‘Press Virginia’ though. Holy smokes.”
Griffin suspected the Mountaineers deserved better than a 4-seed because of their second-place finish in the Big 12’s regular season and tournament. “Plus, they beat Kansas by 17 at home,” he said, “and should’ve beaten them on the road.”
While both teams enter Thursday’s game with 26-8 records, West Virginia is a 14-point favorite — almost the exact same spread for the Kansas game in 2005.
“That Kansas upset is unique. It has taken on a life of its own,” Griffin said. “And our kids now are excited for the opportunity because of that history. They want to write their own story.”