Previously, we discussed Resistance, the ugly voice inside everyone's head that keeps them from chasing after what they really want to do. It's the enemy of our hopes and dreams.
But what I found as I rolled over the Ohio River and into Evansville five hours before tip-off was an entirely different, yet familiar enemy.
The worst of it came from just being in Evansville, Indiana, on a dreary November afternoon. The deserted riverfront area featured nice walkways along the wide Ohio which would be perfect on a nicer day. But with a cold, constant drizzle, they were not an attraction. So after a quick self-guided driving tour of downtown, I made my way east to find what I am now dubbing the "Unoffical Waiting Room of my portion of Season 8": Panera Bread.
I'm not going to turn this into a commercial for Panera, but if you haven't had the pleasure of ever being to one of their locations (and being in 40 states and parts of Canada it's hard to imagine anyone who hasn't) it's basically your local bakery/deli/coffee shop all rolled into one nice homogenized package. The food is fairly good, and if you pick wisely it's healthier than the fast-food fare Kyle warned us away from in the Travelogue Series. I've had way too much of that junk lately, and I hope I haven't damaged myself too much because of it.
I also support Panera because they're based in St. Louis, where they keep the original company name: St. Louis Bread Company. Native St. Louisans have shortened that to just BreadCo. One of my long-running ideas for a decent prank is to bring someone in from out-of-town, hype up this awesome BreadCo place as an awesome locally-owned restaurant, then see the inevitable disappointment when they realize it's just a Panera with a different name.
The best part of Panera is the FREE WI-FI, something all of us in the digital age can get behind. If you time your visit just right, between 2 and 5 pm, after the lunch rush and before the dinner surge, the connection is fast. Also, they tend to limit access to 30 minutes during their busy times, to keep people like me from camping out when tables are needed.
With a bowl of chicken and rice soup and that free wi-fi, I frittered away a good two-and-a-half hours scouting the teams for tonight, updating my blog, and general Facebookings and Twitterings. But boredom crept back along with the darkness of sunset. Fortunately, my free wi-fi allowed me to find out the Purple Aces' womens' team were playing Ball State before the mens' game, starting at 5:15. I promptly packed away my small traveling office and made my way toward the new home of the Aces, the Ford Center in downtown Evansville.
I walked up to the ticket counter and originally asked for just a ticket to the mens' game, one that would have cost $18. But then boredom tapped on my shoulder, and for good measure pointed at the cold drizzle I would have had to spend another hour in before I could enter the arena for the mens' game. I immediately asked for a womens' ticket instead, and the lady inside the booth told me I could turn in that ticket for a mens' ticket after the womens' game. Basically it was a two-for-one deal, and I saved ten dollars in the process.
I spent the better part of the womens' game looking around the brand new arena. It was still sparkling clean and well lit with wide concourses. All the concession stands displayed their wares on big screen TV's used as computer displays. It even had that new-building smell. While it is certainly nice, it's almost too new, to the point where it seemed sterile. Character is something a building must earn over time, and with this being just the fourth official game ever played there, that time is a long way off.
After the womens' game ended with a 55-50 Ball State win, I went down to the lobby to make the important ticket exchange. The womens' ticket was general admission, and I took advantage of that by trying out several different seats in the lower bowl. But as I expected, the mens' ticket I got in return sent me climbing into the upper corner of the arena, three rows from the top to be exact. A few more of these womens' basketball cast-offs joined me in the highest reaches and we settled in for the tip of the mens' game.
This game marked the first of seven straight road games Alabama State will play between now and December 22, a common plight among teams on the lower end of the Other 24. But the Hornets came out with a smothering defense, and Evansville responded by having several one-and-done possessions to start the game. With ASU's Ivory White adding a couple of threes on their end, the Hornets found themselves up 14-7 at the under-12 timeout.
But the Aces and coach Marty Simmons must have made the necessary adjustments in that timeout, and St. Louisan Kenny Harris took over from there. He scored nine points in the last 12 minutes of the half, including an #OMGDUNX-AND-1, then a layup as the first half clock expired, capping a 25-7 Aces run and giving the home team the 32-21 halftime lead.
Most of the other cast-offs around me had left by now. Honestly, I was thinking about it myself. I really didn't pay much attention to this game, possibly because of my distance from the court, maybe because I was road-weary, but I think it was just simple boredom. I know I should never be bored at a game. I think the sterility of the place got to me. It's not a rip on Evansville, although I wonder why there was no pep band and a non-existent student section. The timeout promos were the same I've seen everywhere, and the canned music was the same I've heard everywhere. I guess I'm disappointed because I was expecting a unique Evansville experience and got what almost seemed like a neutral-site game.
The second half continued with the Aces keeping a double-digit lead for most of it. Alabama State finally picked up with a full-court press upon cutting the lead to nine. The press proved effective for a while, forcing a couple of Aces that lead to Hornets points. Evansville ahd a tough enough time getting the ball across mid-court in time to avoid a 10-second count, with Simmons himself forced to call a timeout with just one second to spare.
But the Hornets' press took the wind out of their collective sails, and in the last five minutes of the game signs of fatigue set in. An airball three shot by White with 2:20 left showed Alabama State just didn't have the legs to finish the game, and the Aces sealed up a 62-55 win.
Thanks to the cold snap that had blown through the area and blasting sounds of Florence and the Machine on my radio, I was able to stave off the boredom and fatigue long enough to make the drive back home to the land of BreadCo. Two battles fought, two battles won. We might make it through this season after all.
at EVANSVILLE 62, ALABAMA STATE 55 11/29/2011
ALABAMA STATE 0-5 (0-0) -- J. Middlebrooks 0-6 0-0 0; L. Page 5-6 2-5 12; I. White 6-12 0-0 16; T. Butler 0-12 3-4 3; S. Brown 3-4 0-0 7; K. Washington 2-7 3-4 7; R. Watts 2-5 0-0 5; J. Jefferson 2-5 0-0 5; E. Johnson 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-57 8-13 55. EVANSVILLE 3-2 (0-0) -- K. Harris 6-9 4-9 16; C. Ryan 4-11 4-4 14; T. Taylor 2-5 3-4 7; D. Holmes 3-6 0-0 7; N. Cox 3-5 2-2 10; M. Peeler 0-2 0-0 0; R. Sawvell 1-1 2-2 4; L. Jones 2-4 0-0 4; J. Jahr 0-2 0-1 0; R. Cesnulevicius 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 21-46 15-22 62.
Three-point goals: ALST 7-28 (T. Butler 0-4; I. White 4-9; J. Middlebrooks 0-5; R. Watts 1-4; s. brown 1-1; K. Washington 0-1; J. Jefferson 1-4), EVAN 5-13 (D. Holmes 1-2; C. Ryan 2-6; N. Cox 2-3; J. Jahr 0-2); Rebounds: ALST 35 (I. White 9), EVAN 28 (K. Harris 11); Assists: ALST 17 (J. Middlebrooks 9), EVAN 14 (N. Cox 4); Total Fouls -- ALST 25, EVAN 17; Fouled Out: ALST-T. Butler; EVAN-None.