On the first full night of the college basketball season, both Morgan State and Xavier could take the court at Cintas Center full of hope of a great season ahead.
Morgan State took the court returning all five starters from last year's team, and as the favorite to win the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference this season. They were brought in to be a "jobber" in professional wrestling terms for Xavier's opening night, a role the Bears will play several times this season. Morgan State will only play two home games before the calendar turns to 2012. Hope sprung eternal of taking a win home along with the paycheck, and if not, that the experience will pay off later in the season.
Xavier enters this season full of hope this season as well. The Musketeers are nationally ranked in the preseason polls, and bring back three starters from last year's squad. Xavier has made the regional finals in the past two Presidential election years, 2004 and 2008, and hopes to advance that far, if not further in 2012. In fact, the student t-shirts read "Experience the Breakthrough" this season. While such a proclamation may smack in the face of tenet number one of "The Way," Xavier has never had much need for humility. Their name appears in all-caps on the scoreboard, while the visitor gets the mixed-caps treatment. Despite playing in a conference that is part of the Other 24, they try to distance themselves from their mid-major brotherhood in the Atlantic 10.
There is very little that is mid-major about the game experience at Cintas Center. All of the 10,250 tickets that were available were sold, but a fair number of folks decided not to use their tickets for this game. Ticket prices are definitely high-major or even NBA scale, $28 gets you a seat in the upper deck. The scoreboards are all digital, no need for a Nevco salesman to stop by campus. Music blares over the PA constantly, including for starting lineups when the Xavier starting five takes the court to Kanye West's "All of the Lights." The pep band is only noticeable when they circle the court to play the fight song and greet the team when the Musketeers take the court for final warm-ups coming down the stairs through the student section.
Besides a nice moment prior to tip when the Xavier Army ROTC and other active duty and veteran members of the armed forces took to the court to display a giant American flag for the national anthem on Veteran's Day while the students chanted U-S-A, the atmosphere at the beginning was pretty quiet. Many of the season ticket holders seemed more interested in catching up with their seat neighbors than actually watching the game.
Morgan State took advantage early of the crowd's lack of attention. Dewayne Jackson, who was wearing a neon-orange tape wrap on his left hand to protect an injury and make an early bid for must-have on-court accessory this season, scored eight quick points, including a deep superhoop. Morgan State led 22-12 nine minutes into the contest. However, Jackson aggravated the injury and was temporarily forced to the bench. That was all Xavier seemed to need to turn the tide.
Xavier, who was missing star Tu Holloway due to a one-game NCAA suspension for playing in too many summer leagues, started chipping away. Mark Lyons threw a lob that resulted in a #omgalleyoopdunx by freshman Dez Wells, who leapt from outside the lane and finished with authority with his left hand. That woke up the Cintas Center faithful, and gave the Musketeers an energy burst. Xavier rode the wave and led by five at the half, 40-35.
As Ben Folds sang in "Picture Window," "You know what hope is? Hope is a bastard. Hope is a liar, a cheat and a tease." That was the case for Morgan State in the second half. Xavier kept the momentum, going on a 14-3 run in the first six minutes of the second half, extending the lead to 54-37. Shooting an eFG percentage of 34.5% does little to improve your chances of an upset.
Only two things remained that would stir the crowd again. Junior Brad Redford of Xavier, who had missed all of last season with a blown ACL, had yet to break through in the scorebook. That took care of itself when Redford hit a three-pointer right before the under-eight media time-out, which sent the crowd into a frenzy. Then at the media time-out, the Xavier cheerleaders launched dozens and dozens of plastic mini-basketballs into the crowd, while "Party in the USA" blared on the PA. This also sent the crowd into a frenzy for some reason. Free stuff still appears popular in the Queen City.
Sufficiently entertained for the evening, many of the Xavier faithful started filing for the exits with six minutes remaining. Morgan State kept up the good fight, but never threatened again. The Bears went on a 7-0 run over the last 2:30 to make the score a bit more respectable, with the final reading Xavier 74, Morgan State 63.
Both teams will have at least 25 more opportunities to take the court full of hope this season. "Hope is a dangerous thing. Hope can drive a man insane," Red told Andy Dufresne in Shawshank Redemption. Almost surely, both Morgan State's and Xavier's seasons will end with one final failure that will kill their hopes and dreams. But that is months away, for now, the long, long road of the season waits. For now, it's still ok to hope.
at XAVIER 74, MORGAN STATE 63 11/11/2011
MORGAN STATE 0-1 (0-0) -- L. Bastfield 0-4 0-0 0; K. Thompson 4-13 6-7 14; I. Chiles 2-5 5-8 9; A. Brooks 3-7 3-3 10; D. Jackson 4-10 2-4 11; A. Ali 3-7 1-2 7; J. Black 3-9 5-8 11; B. Bozeman 0-1 1-2 1; S. Duncan 0-0 0-0 0; T. Heath 0-0 0-2 0; J. Canty 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 19-58 23-36 63. XAVIER 1-0 (0-0) -- M. Lyons 9-17 2-2 22; A. Walker 2-5 3-5 7; D. Davis 1-2 0-0 2; J. Robinson 4-4 0-2 8; K. Frease 4-7 2-4 10; D. Wells 5-11 1-2 12; T. Taylor 0-3 2-4 2; J. Martin 1-4 2-5 5; B. Redford 2-3 0-0 6; G. McKenzie 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 28-57 12-24 74.
Three-point goals: MORG 2-15 (A. Brooks 1-3; L. Bastfield 0-1; D. Jackson 1-6; J. Black 0-3; B. Bozeman 0-1; J. Canty 0-1), XU 6-14 (M. Lyons 2-5; B. Redford 2-3; J. Martin 1-3; D. Wells 1-3); Rebounds: MORG 33 (K. Thompson 10), XU 36 (M. Lyons 7); Assists: MORG 10 (L. Bastfield 3), XU 18 (M. Lyons 6); Total Fouls -- MORG 20, XU 24; Fouled Out: MORG-None; XU-K. Frease.