Dayton, Ohio • If the BYU Cougars had any fears that their NCAA Tournament First Four game on Tuesday night wouldn’t feel like a real appearance in the Big Dance, they were quelled when the President of the United States walked into University of Dayton Arena.
President Barack Obama, wearing a purplish dress shirt and no tie, entered the arena with Great Britain Prime Minister David Cameron 10 minutes before the tipoff of the Mississippi Valley State-Western Kentucky game and shook hands with fans in the section behind the west basket for about five minutes before settling into his front-row seat.
The crowd gave Obama a standing ovation. After the tip, the First Fan immediately began pointing out arena features and game nuances to the prime minister and appeared thoroughly engaged in the contest, bantering with other members of the crowd.
Obama’s presence and the overwhelming support from the Dayton community gave the games a true tournament feel, as electric an atmosphere as anything BYU played in the past few years in Denver, Oklahoma City, Philadelphia or New Orleans.
However, Obama and Cameron — and the dozens of Secret Service agents who accompanied them — left the arena at the conclusion of Western Kentucky’s 59-58 win and did not return for the BYU game, which started around 9:45 ET.
The Cougars announced Monday that they will play in the 2012 Coaches vs. Cancer Classic tournament at the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, N.Y., next season. Florida State, Notre Dame and Saint Joseph’s are also in the field, but first-round matchups have not been set.
The semifinals will be held on Nov. 16 and the consolation game and championship game are on Nov. 17. Go to www.cvclassic.com for tickets.
The games will be televised on truTV, the same network that televised Tuesday night’s First Four games.
Along with BYU, Florida State and Notre Dame are also playing in this year’s NCAA Tournament.
Tuesday’s game marked BYU’s 27th appearance in the NCAA Tournament, and sixth straight appearance, which is a school record and ties Utah’s state record. The Cougars dropped to 14-29 overall in the tournament after losing 83-74 in overtime to Florida last year in New Orleans. ... Tuesday’s game marked the first-ever meeting between BYU and Iona. Gaels coach Tim Cluess was a member of the St. John’s team that played against BYU and Danny Ainge in 1978, a 90-83 St. John’s win. ... BYU was 0-7 when trailing at halftime prior to Tuesday’s game.