2012 SoCon Title Game

A piece by Ray Francis.

 

                 As I walked uphill to the US Cellular Center (probably less than 400 yards, although I’m sure the figure will be 10 miles by the time I’m 50), my mind was already racing. There is no better way to learn about Murphy’s Law than to follow a favored team in a mid-major conference. Any of 1,000 tiny things can go wrong once in March, and an entire year’s work goes down the drain. Having been taught by three painful ousters from the SoCon Tournament to hope for the best but prepare for the worst, my mind was constructing ways in which a football school could knock off the favored Wildcats in the tournament final. Local support from the Catamount fans loomed as a possibility, but I tried to downplay it as I entered the stadium.

                The gates opened at 8:00. At 8:03, Phil and I arrived at the seating area behind the basket. The section was bathed in purple, perhaps 85% of the seats already taken by the Catamount student section. We snagged seats in the Davidson area of the section as the last chairs were going.

57 minutes until tip-off. Nothing to do except sit, wait, fret, and watch as Catamount fans file in. They are numerous and vocal, but Davidson is not under-represented. To my relief, I spy sizable contingents of Wildcats both in the upper part of the stadium and behind the team bench. Catamount fans comprise about 65% of the attendees (not 95%, as a Catamount poster will laughably claim post-game). Bands play, fans buzz, and the tension is palpable.

Tip-off is late. Phil and I realize that the MAAC Championship game must be running late. In the SoCon, you forget that ESPN can have games delayed in order to finish the first half of a doubleheader. Delay is galling enough, but delaying our game so that the clown Jimmy Patsos can finish his game is intolerable. Patsos’ selfish stunt against the Wildcats 3 years ago is not forgotten among the Wildcat faithful, and it is safe to say that his Loyola Greyhounds will find little NCAA love in Iredell County.

The game starts. Western leads by 5. Of course they do. A tournament underdog with a partisan crowd always starts fast. Adrenaline makes them forget that this is their fourth game in 4 days. But adrenaline does not last for 40 minutes, and even when Western leads 30-18 with 8 minutes left in the first half, I believe that game will even out. Phil agrees. “Plenty of time to be ahead at halftime.”

All it takes is a JP three-pointer to turn the tide. The Wildcat offense is kick-started, and Davidson closes the half on a 16-5 run. Western banks in a 3 right before the half: a fluke like this can mean that the Basketball Gods have favored them tonight. Or it can mean that Western’s legs have left them entirely and they are ripe for a knockout blow. I hope for the latter but the former possibility remains lodged in my head.

Western’s fatigue begins to show. They fight gamely, but Davidson’s hyper-efficient offense takes command. A series of crisp cuts and passes reduces the Catamount defenders to spectators as the Wildcats open up a double figure lead. A series of lay-ups on offense, and outstanding effort on defense. Dikembe is in the house, and Cohen is doing his best impression of the future Hall of Famer, spiking Catamount shots like a volleyball player. Behind the basket, we imitate the Dikembe finger wag after every block. This confuses the Western students. Earlier, Phil had challenged them to name 3 Western players. After sowing confusion with our Mutombo tribute, I begin to see why they did not respond to his challenge.

I have seen this script played out in countless games, the plucky underdog yielding at last to the superior squad, and our execution is so masterful that even the pragmatist inside me thinks “OK, it looks like we’ve got this.”

“I believe that we will win! I believe that we will win!” The chant seems to originate from the band and quickly infiltrates the rest of the student section. I cringe. 2:30 is plenty of time for the Basketball Gods to smite us for so boastful a chant.

Western’s run begins with King making foul shots. He looks like a 65% foul shooter, but he seems to have made every one he has taken in the second half. Still, up by ten with under two minutes to play. No need to panic.

Western hits a 3. JP is fouled. As he walks to our end to shoot the 1-and-1, the pessimist inside me begins to whisper. The foul shot rims out. Uh-oh. Still a 7-point lead, but the breaks are favoring Western.

Banked-in 3 again. The Western fans are roaring. Momentum, that fickle mistress, is decked out in purple and gold. The inbounds is stolen. Sumler takes the pass. He contorts his body like a pretzel. His 3 goes in. Of course it does. One-point game. The Catamount faithful have blown the roof off the building. My legs are numb. The nagging voice of my inner pessimist is replaced by a creeping horror.

Cochran is at the line. Despair reigns. He shoots well over 80% from the line, but nothing else in the last 2 minutes has made sense, so should this be any different? As Claire later wrote, sanity had left the building.

If he misses either shot, we will lose. Western will go for the win, and the way the game is shaping up, their mascot would probably hit a 3 if given the chance. Thankfully, this does not come to pass. Cochran makes both. A temporary reprieve.

Keaton Cole makes all 3 foul shots. I don’t need to watch to know that he will make them. After seeing the Basketball Gods intervene so much already, why would I believe they will stop now?

As regulation ends, I try to convince myself that we can win. If any team can overcome the trauma of such a collapse, it is a McKillop-coached squad. I have no idea what I would say to my team in that huddle, but I am sure that what McKillop is saying is an elixir that will lead us to victory.

But nothing McKillop says can make King miss his foul shots. The big man hits two more, and Western leads by 2. They are on a 19-4 run.

The shot clock is winding down.  Amid the chaos, the ball finds its way to the Swede. He is 1-5 so far. He is leaning to his right. But his 3-pointer is true. The lead is only 81-80, but after the Western comeback, any lead is priceless. The Swede will foul twice and miss two shots later in this overtime, but his triple has brought Davidson back from the abyss.

Brooks converts the 3-point play, courtesy of the Swede’s offensive board, JP’s pass, and a friendly roll off the iron. 84-80. Can we relax now, I ask myself?

No. Silly question. Western keeps coming, tying the game once again. With 20 seconds left, they steal the ball under their own goal. But finally, the Basketball Gods are on our side. The go-ahead lay-up misses.

But so does Brooks’ buzzer-beater. It hangs on the rim. I leap in anticipation, but the ball slides slowly off the iron. Double overtime.

I have lost the ability to think or speak. I can’t feel my legs. I am physically exhausted. The students make a mosh pit before the fourth period begins, and I can’t summon the energy to join in. I don’t think Phil and I have said a word for the past half hour. How much longer will this go on?

The Swede cans a second three, his body English willing the ball through the basket. Western answers with a triple of their own. Cochran banks in a tough runner in traffic. King hits 2 more foul shots. He will finish the game 10-12 from the charity stripe.

Clint catches the pass and looks at the goal. In a split second he realizes that his path to the goal is unobstructed. His eyes widen. He drives. He bends his knees an extra half inch. He’s going to dunk, I realize. Sure enough, he throws it down with 2 hands. 93-91. My mind doesn’t think about winning. I am just happy that we made it harder for Western to take the lead at the other end.

Western misses. Our ball. Brooks has a mismatch, but his jumper is off with 13 seconds left. As Western call for time, a strange serenity sweeps over me. I think back to the Elite 8 game against Kansas. Now, we are the favorite. Western will shoot a 3 for the win. They will miss. We will win the game.

Maybe I was able to convince myself of that result because of all the basketball games I have watched. Or maybe all the Panthers games I’ve watched have made me a master of wishful thinking. Regardless, as Western’s final 3 soars towards the basket, I don’t worry about it going in. I calmly wait to see which side it will miss towards. It misses left. We win.

I collapse in my seat, so drained that I couldn’t even move. The fear of losing bleeds out. The joy of winning will slowly develop as I drive home. For now, all I can feel is shock at how the game played out and gratitude to the players. As a fan and alum, I feel the urge to thank them for the wonderful ride this season has been.

Did you miss us?

Apologies for the long absence, but we’ve returned and are stronger than ever. Find below some amazing work by Lem Andrews and remember to keep submitting!

The Herd

 

 I, in my infinite hypocrisy,

Despised from my mountain cove

The bleating sheep roving, filling the knoll,

Caught up in their ritual dereism.

 

            I, from my high hovel,

Descried that white pool of heads, bobbing hinds,

Moving as water does

In pipes beneath the populous.

 

            I, through the clouds around my cave,

Cried to the hopeless herd,

Grided my stones together, against the earth.

 

Neither I nor my voice

Resonates

With the symphony of the sheep

Pasturing there in the grassy field.

Bordello Spacing

               

      After the dawn, when the sun has peaked past the horizon line like a small child burning to see what is just out of sight on a table, and when the dew ceases to form and begins to disappear, life awakens to the smell of morning light and begins the day song.  For some, the opening refrain is the bleating repetition of an alarm clock, the bassline hum of bustling.  For others, it is the orchestral flourish of wildlife: birds in chorus; the snare-drum snapping of branches and twigs; paws scurrying like sixteenth notes everywhere.  But for Bordello, the morning was only ever punctuated by one sound: short waves curling up onto the sand.  Since the first moment he found himself here, he noticed the eerie absence of any other sound.  It was, in fact, so quiet that when he slept off the beach in the nearby woods, most mornings, he could hear the fog rolling in.  Though Bordello had fallen into a silent routine the way a late soldier falls in with a company of marching boots, he had only recently begun counting the days.  By his best guess, it had been at least five years.  His hair had grown to hide his eyes, one dark brown and one blue-grey, and it was as scruffy as the patchy brush that scratched at his legs at the edge of the woods.

                The craft he arrived on was still in fair condition, and every once in a while, now more to pass the time than to explore, he set sail on the gentle sea.  No matter which direction he went in, he soon discovered, he would find himself sailing back towards his original launching point.  He believed it to be a trick of the tides, until he decided to construct a landmark and paddle out while facing it.  He built it in the shape of a man. With his back to the open sea and eyes fixed on his would-be Colossus, he paddled against the breaking waves until his landmark fell below the horizon.  He gave a sigh of satisfaction, turned to face the open sea, and pushed on in the same direction.  Soon, he heard the familiar sound of small waves breaking, and saw a man standing on the opposite shore.  He gleefully paddled faster until he realized it was his own Colossus. 

                Bordello had managed to sustain himself on meager diet consisting mostly of the very peculiar fruit of a very peculiar tree in the middle of a clearing near the opposite edge of the forest.  This morning, he got up from where he slept and walked hungrily towards it. When he came into the clearing, the tree was glowing with an odd green light.  There was no fruit to pick so Bordello went in with his knife, intending to make a tea from its bark. But when he did, the tree unraveled into a coiled snake.  The snake, while large enough to do so, did not seem interested in eating him.  Instead, it reared up to peer into Bordello’s eyes.  Its eyes, like his, were different colors. It began hissing loudly- very loudly.  The snake never broke eye contact as it slithered slowly closer, approaching until its tongue lapped against the longest hairs of Bordello’s beard when it tasted the air. Its hissing was impossibly loud like the crashing of storm-stirred waves against rocks…

Bordello woke with a start.  A wave shattered noisily on the rocks below him, and he blinked instinctively as some sea water sprayed against his face.  He had been dreaming of the tree again.  Rubbing his chest with his sandy hands, he yawned.  When he opened his eyes, he realized the skies were dark and the waves were bigger than he had ever seen.  A storm was coming, the first he had on the island. 

                Bordello shot up and scrambled towards the woods, thinking about shelter.  The rain came quickly, slipping through the sparse canopy and onto his head and shoulders.  He was sprinting through the forest now, thinking about the cave by the clearing.  By the time he finally crawled into the cave, his beard was with raindrops.  Peering out of mouth of the cave, Bordello could clearly see the tree in the clearing.  He noticed that bright green moss had grown in all over it.  He stared at it, waiting for the rain to pass.

Bordello woke up to a nagging pain in his fingers.  He lazily waved his hand and felt some relief running to his fingertips.  But before he could start dreaming, the pain returned.  Sharply.  He sat straight up, shaking his hand.  A rat squeaked.  Bordello caught a glimpse of it as it scurried into the shadows of the cave.  He held his hand, perplexed.  Blood oozed from his fingertips.  Disgusted, he put the bitten finger into his mouth, tasting his own thick blood.  He felt immediately dizzy.  Resting his spinning head on the cool rock of the inside of the cave, Bordello realized he hadn’t had fresh water in a couple of days.  As he rose clumsily in search of rainwater a snake slithered just under his foot and into the depths of the cave.  Bordello’s mind immediately began working on how to get a fire started for the night. 

When he emerged from the cave, Bordello was hit by a wave of sounds: birds chirped and squawked from unseen places; the wind whistled in his ears and past the mouth of the cave; in the distance, the waves clambered up onto the shore.  The island seemed to have awoken from its silent sleep, and was now almost vibrating with life.

The sun was beginning to slip beneath the horizon.  Bordello opened his sticky mouth, parched and exhausted.  He had scoured the forest for a puddle but could not find even a drop of rain on the leaves.  He wanted to cough but he could not manage a dry hack.  His throat was red and swollen from the dryness.  His mind suddenly turned to the tree, its bright green moss. He seemed to at once appear in front of hit.  Wearily, he leaned one hand against the bark of the tree, slumping.  The island was spinning around him.  He shut his eyes and lurched upward.  His hand grasped something wonderfully moist.  He shoved it towards his mouth and squeezed.  Cool water poured into the back of his throat and its gelidity coursed through his body.  He sank against the tree, squeezing more water from the moss into his mouth.  Everywhere, the new life of the island echoed around him. 

With his thirst assuaged, Bordello felt strong enough to gather some firewood in the last moments of twilight.  He bellied up the tree and onto a large limb.  He yanked off some snarled twigs, descended, and scraped some bark for kindling.  The sun had fully set and night had settled on the island like a sleepy eyelid when the fire finally caught.  But Bordello could not rest. He went back to the tree and hung from a small limb, jerking violently back and forth until it snapped off.  He kicked it into pieces with his heel, and threw them and the wet moss that clung to them onto the fire.  The sizzle and pop of the fire seemed to call for more, so Bordello fed it every branch he could safely break from the tree.  When he found that was not enough, he began tearing planks from his vessel.  Plank after plank went into the fire.  His hands and fingers were gashed and full of splinters, but he continued, goaded on by the roar of the flame, to sacrifice the bloodied slabs from his ship.

Bordello awoke with a start.  Something distant honked at him.  He peered out onto the sea.  A boat emerged on the horizon.  He stood gleefully, shouting.  He ran up and down the shore, waving wildly.  The boat approached, signaling.  Bordello crumbled onto the sand, overcome with relief.  He lay back, looking up at the sun, smiling.  Just then, a thought ripped across his mind.  If the ship weighed anchor, would it get trapped too?  Bordello sat up, trembling.  He could hear the buzz of the approaching recuse raft in front of him.  Behind him, the island was suddenly hushed.

 

Lem Andrews is a  man that wears many hats. For that, he is often ridiculed, especially by people who do not wear hats. Futurist, humanist, naturalist, surrealist, he blends a wide range of influences into his multi-layered writings.  His influences range from T.S. Eliot and Robert Frost to Ursala Le Guin and Faulkner.  Read more at limberantjuice.blogspot.com.