Conseco Fieldhouse recently hosted the Hoosier Classic on a Saturday, pitting Butler against Purdue and Notre Dame against Indiana in front of a packed house. Yesterday, that same venue was renamed Bankers Life Fieldhouse. Just after lunch today, the first sporting event under that new name took place -- in front of a few hundred fans who could clearly hear everything the players and coaches were saying to each other. The game itself was hardly a classic event, though one of the teams had a few classic performances.
For the past several years, the IUPUI Jaguars have been hosting a few games a year at Conseco Fieldhouse (they normally play in a tiny gym known as "The Jungle" that is smaller than some high school gyms). Valpo fans have often affectionately referred to the alphabet soup Purdue-IU combo school as "ooey-pooey", but today, I don't much feel like using that moniker, because they basically destroyed us. We managed to hold Alex Young to only 27 points, but he pretty much had his way and so did several of his teammates. In the paint, from behind the arc, at the FT line, you name it, they majored in it.
In our defense, Valpo is a bit short-handed. Jay Harris did not play against Northern Illinois earlier in the week and was not 100% today, and Ryan Broekhoff got injured in the 2nd half, to say nothing of two transfers whose eligibility is being held up by the glacier that is the NCAA Clearinghouse. Still, even at full strength and eligibility, Alex Young would easily have been the best player on the court today.
Valpo and IUPUI had a very interesting rivalry when they were both in the Mid-Continent conference. This was the first meeting between the two teams since Valpo left for the Horizon League. This was actually the second meeting to take place at the home of the Indiana Pacers. The first one was in 2005 and ended with a 64-61 victory by the visitors from the northwest. The only thing I recall from that game was the 45 or so IUPUI students that painted their chests to spell out "I-N-D-I-A-N-A-U-N-I-V-E-R-S-I-T-Y-P-U-R-D-U-E-U-N-I-V-E-R-S-I-T-Y-I-N-D-I-A-N-A-P-O-L-I-S". It took up the entire length of the court. No such sighting today.
There are any number of reasons for today's horrible turnout: Many fans who would have been interested are either working or getting in last minute Christmas shopping today, the matchup is hardly marquee, you name it. But don't discount this reason: No Ron Hunter. After the 2010-2011 season, the flamboyant Hunter fled for Georgia State and left his top assistant Todd Howard in charge. Ron Hunter was worth the price of admission all by himself. From being unable to watch his player shoot free throws in a close game, to dancing on the floor when his team finally won the auto-bid in 2003, to his activity during play (coming dangerously close to actually becoming a player on more than one occasion), the Ron Hunter experience was pure, solid gold entertainment. If he were still the coach, I would have made the trip from St. Louis (where I now live) even if none of my friends were at the game.
Valpo's first ever loss to IUPUI came at home. In fact, we lost two or three at home before the Jaguars finally held serve against us in The Jungle. One time, they jumped out to a 20-6 lead in their gym, but couldn't hold onto the lead. Then there was the buzzer beater by Lubos Barton with an assist by Ali Berdiel in OT that had to be a crusher for Ron Hunter. Yet, unlike Oakland, IUPUI broke the ARC spell fairly early in the rivalry (though only a couple of times), and I still remember in 2007 Valpo had a 17 point halftime lead at the ARC only to lose in OT.
The most exciting part of this rivalry played out on ESPN2 in March. From 2002 to 2004, these two teams met in the championship game of the Mid-Continent Conference tournament three straight years. In 2002, Valpo skunked the 6th-seeded Jaguars by 33 points, but in 2003 came sweet revenge for IUPUI (now a 2 seed) in a very tight game. The two teams met once more in 2004 (again as a 1-2 matchup) with Valpo prevailing in another very close game. In recent years, IUPUI has played in a few more Summit League championship games, though they have failed to win it. 2003 was their lone appearance in the NCAA tournament.
IUPUI came out on fire today, shooting lights out. They built a 7-2 lead before Alex Young even touched the ball. Except for certain stretches in the 2nd half and one brief one in the first half, the Jaguars had their way in the paint on both ends, hitting short shots or going to the line on one end, and swatting away Valpo layup attempts on the other end. The Crusaders did not emerge from the locker room until there was 1:28 left in the halftime interval. Every one of us who were sitting together wished we could have been a fly on the wall for that half-time talk. Bryce Drew has shown signs of being even more fiery than his Dad.
Valpo played their one great segment to start the 2nd half, with a 30-13 run to tie the score at 56. Somehow Bryce Drew figured out how to adjust the offensive game plan to free up his 3 point shooters (mostly Will Bogan who hit 4 of 7 from behind the arc), and increased defensive intensity coupled with the Jaguars playing a bit flat led to the one bit of joy all game in the Valpo rooting section. However, Todd Howard managed to stem the tide with adjustments of his own, which seemed to include some help from the zebras. Joy turned to anger in the Valpo rooting section as the fouls seemed to be a bit one-sided. After one sequence which saw four layup attempts with all kinds of contact but no foul called, the fiery young Drew had had enough and got himself Tee-ed up. I don't think it helped much, but it probably didn't hurt. By the way, his Dad (who was in attendance) would have gotten Tee-ed up, too.
Let me be clear: most of us who criticize officiating know full well that there's no way to prove that the refs "cost us the game". We know that the refs are human too. We know that all teams have to deal with it at one time or another, and the really good teams do what they have to do to overcome it. We're not starting some conspiracy theory or trying to get game results overturned. But don't tell us the refs have no impact on the outcome. Sometimes they do. There's a whole host of fallacies that get thrown around when discussing officiating, and this is not the place for it. My only point is that fans should be allowed to vent a little about bad officiating before others demand they move on.
The refs impacted the outcome today. I would not use the word malicious to describe it, nor would I accuse them of a conspiracy on behalf of the home team. The only description I would give it is: "bouts of incompetence in an otherwise competently officiated game."
OK, I've moved on now.
You have to credit IUPUI who seemed more athletic and more active in the paint. They shot extremely well, and they were very active on defense. These and other things the Jaguars did better than the Crusaders were not aided and abetted by the officiating.
Oh yeah, and Alex Young can flat-out ball. An Indy friend who has watched more Alex Young than I have is not sure he can make a career in the NBA, but I'm sure he'll at least be in the conversation. Yet, his teammates helped out with pretty good games of their own.
The final buzzer sounded. IUPUI 97 Valpo 88. And after the PA announcer finished his announcement about the next Jaguar game, he switched on the music.
"And So This is Christmas..." crooned John Lennon. Christmas indeed. Some Christmas. A near empty house, a brand new name, a contentious, chippy game, yet another loss to a Summit League team. This Christmas is a bust for these Crusaders. Thankfully, the season is a long way from being over.
at IUPUI 97, VALPARAISO 88 12/23/2011
VALPARAISO 8-6 (1-0) -- M. Kenney 2-9 5-5 9; W. Bogan 5-9 1-2 15; B. Boggs 2-8 2-2 6; J. Harris 6-12 0-0 14; E. Buggs 3-4 0-0 6; K. Van Wijk 7-11 5-7 19; R. Broekhoff 1-5 2-2 5; R. Edwards 4-9 5-6 14; H. Vucic 0-0 0-0 0; N. Shelton 0-0 0-0 0; N. Stegelmann 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 30-67 20-24 88. IUPUI 6-8 (0-2) -- A. Young 8-19 9-11 27; L. Gaines 2-3 2-3 6; S. Thomas 3-6 14-14 20; I. Chiles 4-6 8-10 19; M. Barksdale 2-5 3-4 8; M. Patton 3-6 0-0 6; C. Siakam 1-1 0-0 2; D. Gibbs 2-3 2-2 6; J. Shanklin 0-0 3-4 3. Totals 25-49 41-48 97.
Three-point goals: VALP 8-19 (W. Bogan 4-7; B. Boggs 0-2; M. Kenney 0-2; R. Broekhoff 1-2; J. Harris 2-4; R. Edwards 1-2), IUPUI 6-13 (S. Thomas 0-2; A. Young 2-6; M. Patton 0-1; I. Chiles 3-3; M. Barksdale 1-1); Rebounds: VALP 28 (R. Edwards 7), IUPUI 30 (L. Gaines 8); Assists: VALP 16 (M. Kenney 6), IUPUI 10 (A. Young 6); Total Fouls -- VALP 33, IUPUI 19; Fouled Out: VALP-M. Kenney; IUPUI-None.