Hi, I'm Craig, and I'm an addict. I've spent the last two years trainspotting college basketball. I spent every red cent and waking moment of my collegiate money and time last year on 31 glorious games. This season, I'm at 17 and counting. Each game has been meticulously recorded in an Excel spreadsheet. You gotta have records to jog the memory.
As with most things in life, I'm late to the 800GP party. I'm a member of Basketball State, but I never really checked out Mid-Majority until now. It didn't take long to discover I had stumbled upon a match made in basketball heaven: the celestial Palestra, if you will. Hoops below the red line is something to be cherished and shared, so do me the honor of joining me on my travels.
This afternoon I made the short drive north from my apartment in Bowling Green to the University of Toledo, my university's archrival. My peers say that I should hold nothing but animosity in my heart toward UT, but I can't seem to bring myself to do it. Toledo fans are just so damn nice. In my three trips to Savage Arena, I have never had to purchase a ticket. Each time a kindhearted soul has been standing next to the ticket window with a smile on their face, ready to make someone's day. "Do you need a ticket?" they've asked with nothing but charity and warmth. "Yeah, do you have an extra?" They've handed me a ticket and walked away, barely pausing to hear me express my gratitude. Three straight times this has happened, saving me at least $10 each time. I can't hate Toledo.
Their team is young. "The Future Starts Now" proclaimed the soon-to-be-infamous video board hanging from the ceiling. They started a freshman, three sophomores, and junior, each brimming with boundless enthusiasm. Young mistakes abounded throughout the game. For each fantastic drive and score, there was a boneheaded turnover on the next possession. Yet UT stayed resilient, buoyed by fantastic three-point shooting. They took a 33-25 lead into the break.
Our halftime entertainment was the University of Toledo Ballroom Dance Society. A teen sitting in front of me started to mutter about the performance, crudely calling into question the value of ballroom dancing as an art form as he cracked the top of a contraband cola. I didn't want to openly agree, but I was secretly wishing for the bowl juggling unicyclist from Purdue-West Virginia last year. Still, it was more interesting than an inflatable blimp dropping $2 Applebee's coupons. In fact, part of me kind of enjoyed it.
Toledo kept rolling at the start of the second half, jumping out to a 14-point lead. Savage Arena took on the demeanor of a well-fed cat lounging in the sun. Who cares that UT hasn't won more than 11 games in a season since 2006-07? At that moment they were leading a Horizon League squad by 14, and the fans curled up and purred in that little patch of sunlight.
Then came a 6-foot-8, 235-pound metaphorical cloud. Loyola's Ben Averkamp, already having a very respectable game, decided enough was enough and willed his squad to a one-point lead in the final minute. The visiting fans were getting loud, and the Rocket fans shifted uncomfortably in their seats with the extrasensory knowledge of what was to come. With the score tied at 55 and just 1.2 seconds remaining, Toledo set up to inbound the ball under Loyola's basket.
Like something out of an (unfortunately only) hypothetical David Lynch basketball movie, surreal immediately became the word of the day. Toledo forward Matt Smith heaved up a baseball pass to the opposite end of the court, only to have it rejected by the staunchest defender in the building: the video board hanging from the Savage Arena ceiling. Out of bounds. Possession Loyola, under their own basket. No time elapsed from the game clock. On the subsequent inbound, an inexplicably wide open Ben Averkamp drained the buzzer-beating baseline jumper for the win.
The faces leaving the arena wore an expression of dejected acceptance, something as a Detroit Lions fan I know all too well. Sure the outcome was disappointing, but this is our team's lot in life. If you don't expect to win, you'll never be let down. As much as the Bowling Green fan in me wanted to revel in the schadenfreude, my heart broke instead. I've come to dejectedly accept something as well. I just can't hate Toledo.
LOYOLA (ILL.) 57, at TOLEDO 55 12/10/2011
LOYOLA (ILL.) 2-7 (0-2) -- B. Averkamp 13-26 3-4 31; D. Brito 2-10 1-2 6; C. Thomas 2-3 5-8 9; C. Kadima 3-9 1-2 9; J. Benkoske 0-0 1-4 1; B. Clark 0-1 0-0 0; J. Gac 0-0 1-2 1; L. Dokubo 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-49 12-22 57. TOLEDO 6-3 (0-0) -- J. Brown 5-10 2-2 13; D. Buckley 3-8 0-0 8; R. Pearson 7-13 3-4 20; M. Smith 3-7 1-2 8; R. Holliday 0-4 1-2 1; R. Majerle 0-2 0-0 0; D. Dear 2-2 1-1 5; R. Wonnell 0-0 0-0 0; A. Mathew 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-46 8-11 55.
Three-point goals: LOYO 5-15 (B. Averkamp 2-6; D. Brito 1-4; C. Kadima 2-3; B. Clark 0-1; C. Thomas 0-1), TOL 7-20 (D. Buckley 2-5; R. Pearson 3-5; M. Smith 1-3; R. Holliday 0-2; J. Brown 1-3; R. Majerle 0-2); Rebounds: LOYO 33 (C. Thomas 13), TOL 25 (R. Pearson 7); Assists: LOYO 11 (D. Brito 5), TOL 13 (J. Brown 7); Total Fouls -- LOYO 13, TOL 17; Fouled Out: LOYO-None; TOL-None.