When you have more middle school students playing at halftime at your game than college students in your cheering section...you might be at a between-semesters college basketball game!
University of Detroit Mercy (5-8) vs. Alabama State (2-8) is an example of your prototypical game that occurs over Christmas break while the university is closed between fall and winter or spring semesters. If you're from the Midwest, you know the kind of game I'm talking about. A typically non-conference game, with two teams that don't know very much about one another, with the visiting team having to travel a considerable distance (800+ miles for the Hornets) allotted due to the absence of school obligations, playing to a half-empty stadium that won't fill until halfway through the first half because of the snowfall from the previous night! Typically with more students a part of the cheer and dance team than actual students as fans in what is essentially a surrogate student section.
These game do afford mid-major teams the opportunity to play with things before getting into conference play where the games really matter. Coach Ray McCallum continues to play with his starting the lineup by continuing to ride the hot hands of forward Doug Anderson and guard Jason Calliste. With forward Eli Holman back from suspension, it's odd that coach McCallum chose NOT to utilize arguably his best player to his traditional starting role (Holman was suspended for the first 10 games of the season after sending a UD Mercy student to the hospital in a frat house fight). However, sitting in front of a couple of boosters during this game, I was able to overhear a discussion that would suggest that Holman's reinstatement was conditional on him NOT starting. While I'm not in favor of helping to churn the rumor mill, you can't ignore this kind of mid-major gossip.
This game was also a homecoming for three Alabama State players with ties to the Detroit area. Forward Luther Page (Gabriel Richard HS, Ann Arbor), guard Tramaine Butler (Detroit McKenzie HS) and Stephawn Brown (Detroit Consortium Prep) all brought their family and friends, and they were the most vocal of any of the fans in attendance. In the end, Tramaine Butler did not disappoint, scoring a game-high 24 points.
This was a game of dunks vs. layups. Not that it's a debate similar to Coke vs. Pepsi. Both teams utilized either as the crux of their offense. Alabama State put on a clinic in the layup department, using duck-ins, pin downs, backdoor cuts to get every kind of layup imaginable, to score a majority of their 20 made field goals from inside the paint. Meanwhile, Detroit did everything in their power to get to the rim with the intention of dunking the ball and firing up the crowd. But the second half, I had to start keeping a Doug Anderson dunk tally (he finished the game with 16 points, five coming by way of the dunk).
Despite the lack of size up front, their tallest starter being only 6-foot-6, Alabama State has got to be one of the best rebounding teams I've ever seen in person (and I was a part of Western Michigan's program for a few years!). The Hornets were able to pull 12 offensive rebounds during the game, and always seemed to have a tendency to get a hand on the ball during rebounding wars. There were even times when Alabama State player Kendrick Washington, only 6-foot-4, would be getting at rebounds over Detroit Mercy's tallest player, 6-foot-11 LaMarcus Lowe! This begs the question posed by Paul Giamatti in the movie Shoot 'Em Up, "Do we really suck, or is this guy really that good?"
In the end though, Alabama State wilted down the stretch when UD Mercy went on a huge run in the second half to extend the lead to double digits, en route to an 80-56 victory. All is not lost for the defending SWAC champs. They are returning several lettermen on a team filled with talent to compete for another NCAA berth despite what their non-conference record may suggest. If they can put together a full 40-minute game of basketball, they have to potential to make another post season appearance. As for Detroit, the lack luster showing by their fan base was reflective of their team's performance until they woke up in the second half. The biggest ovation received was not for one of the several highlight-reel dunks throughout the game, but for the last basket, which gave UDM 80 points, and means my ticket is redeemable for a free pizza at local pizza chain. And the players knew they had to get to 80 points too.
The only thing missing from this "Semi-Pro"-esque game (with the small crowd in a game seldom cared about) was somebody signaling the last basket was good and saying "Corndogs, Jackie! Corndogs, for all these people!"
at DETROIT 80, ALABAMA STATE 56 12/22/2011
ALABAMA STATE 1-9 (0-0) -- K. Washington 4-8 5-6 14; T. Butler 8-21 8-9 24; I. White 3-9 0-0 8; J. Middlebrooks 0-3 0-0 0; L. Page 2-5 0-1 4; S. Brown 1-5 0-1 2; P. Crawford 2-5 0-0 4; A. Price 0-4 0-0 0; R. Watts 0-3 0-0 0; J. Jefferson 0-0 0-0 0; J. Mason 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-63 13-17 56. DETROIT 6-8 (0-2) -- D. Anderson 6-8 4-6 16; R. McCallum 7-10 5-7 19; C. Simon 2-10 4-4 8; L. Lowe 3-6 3-6 9; J. Calliste 2-4 2-2 7; E. Holman 3-6 0-0 6; P. Boutte 2-4 0-0 4; D. Foster 1-2 1-2 3; E. Bruinsma 3-3 0-1 7; B. Romain 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 29-54 20-30 80.
Three-point goals: ALST 3-19 (T. Butler 0-4; I. White 2-6; J. Middlebrooks 0-2; R. Watts 0-2; s. brown 0-2; K. Washington 1-2; A. Price 0-1), UDM 2-8 (C. Simon 0-2; J. Calliste 1-3; E. Bruinsma 1-1; R. McCallum 0-1; P. Boutte 0-1); Rebounds: ALST 31 (T. Butler 7), UDM 34 (D. Anderson 12); Assists: ALST 9 (J. Middlebrooks 3), UDM 18 (R. McCallum 5); Total Fouls -- ALST 25, UDM 18; Fouled Out: ALST-None; UDM-None.