"Everything ends badly, otherwise it wouldn’t end."
Coughlin’s Law from Cocktail
I should know better.
At halftime of the Ohio game, two friends and I headed up to the Patron Club at Bridgestone Arena. We were already borderline celebrating. The Bulls were up by six, and hadn’t really done anything right offensively. D.J. Cooper had five points, but they were on two impossible shots, including one 3 ball that he only got to shoot after being straight rejected by Anthony Collins. The defense was in its usual lockdown mode. Ohio was getting killed on the glass by our bigger, more physical team. I didn’t like the tight way the refs were calling the game, but I thought that was something we’d overcome. Drive off the bounce a bit more. I thought we’d even zone them up a bit in something that stretched and force them to shoot over it. We wouldn’t have to worry about the glass since we were having so much success rebounding.
And then with yet another Crown and Diet Coke in my hand, I heard Kendall Marshall broke his wrist. We were 20 minutes away from taking on a North Carolina team without their all-interplanetary point guard in the Sweet 16. I generally don’t root for injuries, but I let out an audible "yes!" with the accompanying fist pump. Visions of glory went from being suppressed by the years of torture this team has put me through straight to my cerebral cortex. I even dropped a Country Grammar lyric from Nelly in honor of St. Louis. In that very instant, shit just got real.
One member of our party had already booked his Southwest flights to St. Louis (refundable, yes, but still $800). We were discussing flight times, coordinating with significant others and jobs, and figuring out which steak house to host a man dinner in Missouri. From Dayton to Nashville to St. Louis in the span of 8 days… for USF Basketball. Are you fucking kidding me?? The entire week I felt like William Miller in Almost Famous: Just jump on the bus with the band and see where it takes you. All we needed was Penny Lane and the rest of the Band Aids back at the hotel. We even had our Tiny Dancer moment with the Herd of Thunder playing on a country music stage on Broadway just hours before the tip.
RockyHoTNashville.mp4 (via usfcollin)
So when our Stillwater can’t throw it in the ocean in the second half, and Jawanza Poland gets called for an absurd technical foul for hanging on the rim leading to a 5 point Ohio possession that took the air out of the stands and our bench, and D.J. Cooper turns into a Bobcat version of Anthony Collins with a bit more range by contorting his body by any means necessary to get a good shot up… obviously getting the carpet pulled out from underneath us should be devastating, right?
Well… not really.
The rest, after the jump.
We knew this team couldn’t score. It was part of their charm. They just locked you up, and worried about offense secondarily. Well if that’s how you’re going to play, you’ve got to rotate to shooters on screen rolls faster. You’ve got to contest drivers with more authority. And you’ve got to hit someone as they drive the lane every once in a while to let them know that’s a bad idea. These things didn’t happen in the second half. The better team, the one that made shots, won the game.
And I’m totally ok with this.
I will never forget this team. How they were possibly the least selfish college team in America. How they all bought into a system that wasn’t flashy, just effective. How they ended a curse that lasted for two decades. I can’t thank our players and coaches enough for this. For allowing me to believe in the promise of this team again. I’ve always been a basketball junkie trapped at a football school, but for the last two months I’ve gotten to experience what it’s like to have your team be a factor. To think that things were going to work out in the end. To believe that the players on the court were good enough to compete at the highest level.
I didn’t even know it was possible. And now I can tell you how it feels. Thank you.
Some random bullets that I might add to later:
* UD Arena in Dayton was very old school cool, and I’d love to go to a regular season game there. The rare basketball arena where the street level is the concourse level as well, and the town really embraces the event. And thanks to that nameless Irish bar for putting up with us well into the night. You’re not going to believe this, but there weren’t a lot of places to celebrate after our first NCAA win at almost midnight. But $60 face value on tickets? C’mon NCAA, cut us a break here… we came to Dayton already!
* Props to Nashville for playing a great host. Cities that build their arenas in the middle of their touristy bar district (Nashville, Memphis… arguably Tampa but Channelside sucks) really are onto something. It gives everyone a pre and post game place to gather and celebrate. Plus everyone was super-friendly, and the arena is as good as the TBT Forum if not better. I’m not a big country guy, but getting to hear really good live music in literally every bar you walk into is a great bonus.
Two knocks though: Parking. ZOMG what a cluster, and not just on game days either. Broadway in Nashville is what happens when you don’t invest in public transportation on some level. Tampa, take heed. And to those great cover bands: you’re not the only one playing Redneck Woman and Pour Me (Another Shot of Whiskey). Trust me.
* To the students that made the drive, you have my infinite respect. It's totally something would have done (and did) as an undergrad. But there weren't nearly enough of them here. It was Spring Break, so I don't know if that makes the excuses better or worse. The state of our student fans at all sports is pretty bad. This has to improve, and soon.
We’ll have more on what this means historically, whether it’s sustainable in the future, and tons of other things about what could be an exciting future later. This was a wonderful and glorious surprise, but it can't be an outlier. Some thoughts on how that could happen later.