I had never been to Loyola Marymount University before. It was a clear, warm afternoon and it felt nice to walk from where I parked to the arena. The ticket I purchased for the lower level placed me five rows up behind the Middle Tennessee State bench. By my count, there were about 25 blue-clad MTSU fans. I was excited to sit in this section and I imagined what it would be like to live in Tennessee. I've lived in California my whole life and haven't done much traveling so I often wonder if people from other parts of the country are much different from me and mine. Looking at the people around me in Section 102, I didn't see anything unusual. I had arrived a few minutes late so by the time I sat down amongst the MTSU folks, LMU had jumped ahead 3-0 with 17:59 left in the first half. Both teams had come off season-opening wins. The Lions made quite a splash in beating cross-town powerhouse UCLA Friday night. During one of the timeouts, one of the trivia questions was "Who did LMU upset Friday night?" with an added bonus "What was the final score?" And, after correct responses by the sheepish young man, cheers filled Gersten Pavilion. The scent of the upset was everywhere. I accidentally ended up walking towards (and denied access to) the student entrance on my way in and I heard "did you watch the game?" or "where were you?" or "that was great, huh?" I smiled thinking that you don't have to know what The Red Line is to appreciate when it's successfully crossed. The game itself was all I could ask for. Engaged in a hearty defensive struggle, both teams threw themselves on the floor for balls, lighting up the electronic quasi-scoreboard in the upper right corner of the arena entitled "Hustle Stats". The "Hustle Stats" board tracked the game numbers for four categories: rebounds, assists, blocks, and steals. No points. But I didn't need the "Hustle Stats" board to notice how many offensive rebounds the Blue Raiders were coming down with. Whether it was Marcos Knight catching an airball before a quick putback or JT Sulton and Shawn Jones clamoring over Lion players for second chances, Middle Tennessee was definitely doing more to win that battle. One of the best moments of the afternoon occurred after a strong Blue Raider offensive board led to a quick bucket 35 seconds before halftime, putting Middle Tennessee up 22-18, prompting a frustrated Max Good to call a timeout, and sending my little contingent into a frenzy before the break. The most memorable moment of the halftime segment came after a student race competition and a spirited dance team performance. The LMU mascot--Iggy the Lion--with a healthy mix of pep and ferocity, sang and danced to Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" alongside two student emcees. The most interesting part, however, involved a member of the student band in the corner behind one of the baskets. The drummer, far from where Iggy held the spotlight, pretended to play along with Journey. He wasn't actually hitting the cymbals or the drums, just barely stopping before he struck the instruments. I couldn't look away from how joyful and intense he was, imitating some of the greats. The song ended and people started settling back into their seats. LMU came out of the break trailing 22-20. Both teams traded a couple baskets and the game was tied 29-29 at the under 16. As the game went on, I realized the most fun player to watch LMU's Ashley Hamilton. Long and smooth, he got to the basket with ease. I wanted him to touch the ball more because I knew it would be pretty. After Knight and LaRon Dendy pushed a three-point lead out to 45-37 with under 8 minutes to go, it appeared MTSU would pull away. But four points by the fluid Hamilton kept the Lions within four and I felt the home crowd get back into it. After two Blue Raider free throws momentarily silenced the masses, the Lions sank a three to make it 47-44 with 3:59 left, bringing the crowd to its feet in expectation of a bigger run. Yet, every time the Lions crept within three late the Blue Raiders struck back and pushed it out to five, crushing the resolve of the home team and its supporters. After the obligatory game-sealing free throws, the Blue Raiders came out on top 58-51. As I took it all in and made my way out, I came back to something that was on my mind the whole game, from the time I stepped into Gersten Pavilion until the final whistle: Hank Gathers, Bo Kimble, and what that 1989-90 team meant to this place. I want to write about that and I want to do it well because when I think LMU basketball, I unequivocally think Hank Gathers. I pondered what it would have been like to see him play and then see him die and, as I walked outside, I very much looked forward to coming back here again.
MIDDLE TENNESSEE 58, at LOYOLA MARYMOUNT 51 11/13/2011
MIDDLE TENNESSEE 2-0 (0-0) -- M. Knight 5-13 5-6 15; J. Sulton 5-12 2-2 12; K. Hammonds 1-3 0-1 2; L. Dendy 2-5 4-5 9; S. Jones 2-5 4-5 8; B. Massey 1-2 1-2 3; R. Cintron 1-6 0-0 3; J. Gallman 1-4 0-2 3; J. Oden 0-1 3-5 3; J. Rozier 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-51 19-28 58. LOYOLA MARYMOUNT 1-1 (0-0) -- A. Ireland 2-11 1-3 5; A. Hamilton 5-11 5-6 15; E. Garibay 2-4 1-1 5; A. Egbeyemi 2-8 0-1 5; J. DuBois 4-10 2-2 12; Q. Lawson 1-2 0-2 2; C. Blackwell 1-5 2-2 5; G. Okonji 0-1 0-0 0; L. Armstead 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 18-54 11-17 51.
Three-point goals: MTSU 3-15 (J. Oden 0-1; L. Dendy 1-2; J. Gallman 1-4; K. Hammonds 0-1; M. Knight 0-1; R. Cintron 1-6), LMU 4-18 (L. Armstead 0-1; J. DuBois 2-4; A. Ireland 0-3; A. Egbeyemi 1-5; C. Blackwell 1-5); Rebounds: MTSU 43 (J. Sulton 11), LMU 30 (A. Hamilton 6); Assists: MTSU 6 (L. Dendy 2), LMU 10 (J. DuBois 3); Total Fouls -- MTSU 17, LMU 22; Fouled Out: MTSU-None; LMU-G. Okonji.