March 23, 2019 10:59:15 PM
BY BEN PORTNOY
SAN JOSE, Calif. -- This is March.
From the time the doors opened to basketball fans Friday morning at 9:30, there was a palpable energy in and around the SAP Center.
The red and white of Wisconsin, neon green of Oregon, yellow and blue of UC-Irvine and, of course, the varying degrees of maroon from Mississippi State and Virginia Tech fans, created an irregular rainbow only the NCAA Tournament can create.
As the west coast fans cheered on the Anteaters and Ducks in the early games, the MSU contingent of fans sprinkled themselves throughout the Pac-12 dominant crowd.
Midway through the Oregon-Wisconsin matchup, the video board panned to varying regions of the country. With each geographic reference, fans from those areas of the U.S. screamed in support.
With UC Irvine and Oregon off to the second round around 6 p.m., the stadium was cleared and in came the cowbells.
"It's great, I'm real excited about it," said David Hemphill, a 1974 MSU graduate and resident of Danville, California. Sitting in the end zone behind the Famous Maroon Band, Hemphill donned his maroon and white with a matching Irish cap.
Born and raised in Gulfport, he recalled the last time MSU made a deep tournament run. He had been jazzed by some of his co-workers regarding the Bulldogs' staying power en route to the 1996 Final Four.
"I was really following that and a lot of people where I work were really giving me a hard time, 'Well, you guys are never going to make it, never going to make it,' and we ended up doing as well as we did," Hemphill said.
Watching on from roughly 15 rows behind the Bulldogs bench, 1986 MSU graduate Astrid Freeman made the trek out to San Jose from Birmingham, Alabama. Her daughter, Alexandra, a junior at MSU, is a member of the school's cheering squad.
"It's super exciting to come back after being in school for so long, way back then, to come back and watch the team we love play," Freeman said.
While MSU couldn't pull off the school's first NCAA tournament victory since 2008, falling to No. 12 seed Liberty 80-76, the day was a reminder that even halfway across the country, the Bulldog faithful remained loud and present -- just as they do in Starkville.
"It's a touch of home," Hemphill said.
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