Just another conference game in the Horizon League like any other. Two .500 teams with closely matched conference records fighting in an up-and-down league where anything can happen. Unless you have an absolute stud on your team like a Norris Cole or Gordon Heyward, nobody is running away with this league!
The Saturday afternoon home game is usually supposed to be one that generates a lot of fanfare. Titans of UDM (8-11) and the Raiders of Wright State (9-10) came into this game sitting right next to each other in the middle of the pack of the Horizon League standings, so you knew it was going to be a dog fight. Unfortunately, Southeastern Michigan got its first major snow storm of the winter the previous night (it was rumored a major freeway was closed which led to delays with traffic). At about 10 minutes to go before the game it appeared there were no more than 400 fans at Callahan Hall. I thought the dead atmosphere would have an effect on the game.
Surprisingly for me, this game had other significance as there was a strong Western Michigan on connection on WSU. Wright State's assistant coach Clayton Bates was an assistant at WMU for several years, including during my time there as a team manager. Not suprisingly, he still needs his two sticks of Big Red chewing gum for each game! Wright State's starting guard Matt Vest has spent time visiting WMU as his older sister Sara played power forward for the Women's team (and is now the director of operations of WSU's women's team). Personally, all I can say about those two is that family knows how to play their beer pong! When Vest made his first shot of the game, I said to myself "he shoots just like his sister."
As the game progressed, the contrast of styles became apparent. WSU doesn't overwhelm you with anything. They play a very balanced attack and rotate nine players deep. At times, I even saw the same "4-out-1-in spot-cut-replace" action we used to run at WMU when the ball would go into the post. Wright State reminds me a lot of the Akron teams of the past where every player is different cog in the system, but each combination of players offers a different puzzle to solve, more unique than before the last substitutions.
UDM, on the other hand, continues to play their style of play with lots of dunk attempts, shock three-point shots, and shots early in the clock...almost like they are playing with a 24-second shot clock. What's most prolific about UDM is their ability to go for and hit tough shots. They take WAY too many shots you shouldn't take, but always seem to connect on a majority of them. It's almost as if they are practicing those kinds of shots. Like when your team goes through a lay-up line in practice, UDM would be going through a drill where you take shots with a hand in your face.
UDM got out to a 38-25 halftime lead, but WSU made adjustments and were able to come out with more vigor and more scrappy on defense. But the Titans played unfazed and continued to hit their shots and shot a blistering 50 percent for the game.
Normally I like to reserve a section to highlight the star of the game, but since nobody overwhelmed me with their stellar play, I'm going to take this section for a random thought. UDM backup forward Evan Bruimsma needs to take up kickboxing when he's done with basketball. I've always had this negative opinion of the kid because I think he's more of a scraper in the post and a tough guy on the court than a real player; like an enforcer in hockey. So I don't think he'd be afraid to bang. However, I noticed today how well he used his length and build of his body. Bruinsma was able to get 10 points and 2 rebounds off the bench in 14 minutes of play. He's 6-foot-6 with what has got to be a 7-foot wingspan and was able to use that length and lankiness with precision to score over people while drawing contact for a couple of And-1's. If you were to take one look at this kid as a basketball player you'd think he's ideal to play forward but also see the kind of reach and size advantage a guy like him would have in a ring.
In the end, the Titans' hot shooting was too much for the Raiders to handle and fell on the road 69-53. After having covered my fourth Titans game, I think I've got an understanding of the enigma that is the UDM's style of play. The Titans come out and like to throw you off your rhythm with shock three-point shots, quick-hitters and tough shots from all over, and then overwhelm you with their scoring, coming mainly from McCallum, Simon, Calliste or a Doug Anderson dunk. This style also gives them more opportunities for more possessions and thus more scoring via tough shots which crush the other team's spirit.
By the time the lead has slowly built up to 13 or so in the second half, the opposing coaches are left with scratching their heads with no answer as Doug Anderson goes up for another dunk to get the home crowd fired up and the opposing bench's soul deflated. The only time I've seen someone (let alone a whole team) with the mental toughness to say "I'm not losing today" is when I saw WMU's Mike Douglas go off for 33 points in mounting a near-comeback from 25 down. UDM tries to break the other team's will to win. But the real question is what's going to happen to UDM when roles are reversed? Do they themselves have the mental toughness to hold it together come March? Because from my point of view, it has yet to be seen.
at DETROIT 69, WRIGHT STATE 53 01/21/2012
WRIGHT STATE 9-12 (4-5) -- C. Darling 4-13 0-0 10; J. Mpondo 3-7 3-5 9; R. Arceneaux 3-6 3-4 9; J. Balwigaire 3-8 1-2 8; A. Battle 3-3 0-3 7; A. Pacher 2-6 0-0 5; M. Vest 1-3 0-0 3; K. Griffin 0-1 0-0 0; J. Cuffee 0-0 0-0 0; S. Gossard 1-1 0-0 2; U. Thomas 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 20-49 7-14 53. DETROIT 10-11 (4-5) -- J. Calliste 4-6 1-3 12; R. McCallum 5-10 1-1 13; D. Anderson 3-9 1-2 7; C. Simon 6-14 0-0 16; L. Lowe 1-2 0-0 2; E. Holman 3-3 1-3 7; D. Foster 0-1 2-4 2; E. Bruinsma 3-3 4-5 10; P. Boutte 0-2 0-0 0; B. Romain 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-50 10-18 69.
Three-point goals: WRIG 6-17 (A. Battle 1-1; C. Darling 2-5; A. Pacher 1-2; M. Vest 1-2; R. Arceneaux 0-3; J. Balwigaire 1-3; U. Thomas 0-1), UDM 9-20 (C. Simon 4-9; J. Calliste 3-5; R. McCallum 2-4; P. Boutte 0-1; D. Anderson 0-1); Rebounds: WRIG 25 (C. Darling 9), UDM 28 (R. McCallum 6); Assists: WRIG 8 (M. Vest 3), UDM 17 (C. Simon 4); Total Fouls -- WRIG 18, UDM 20; Fouled Out: WRIG-A. Pacher; UDM-None.