Nothing about it made sense. The matchup between 3-21 University of Tennessee Martin and undefeated Murray State probably didn't spawn many impromptu road trips for fans of Hoops Nation (outside of Murray, Ky.).
But for some reason I found the wheels of my 2003 Focus station wagon tearing up the secondary highways between Nashville and Martin. (Interstate 40 may have been faster, but considering my vehicle rarely reaches above 60 mph anyway, Highway 70, 22, etc. seemed like a more direct route.)
I passed by the scantly occupied storefronts of town squares in Waverly, Camden, Paris and Dresden, the seat of Weakley County even though the development and population is centralized about 10 miles north in Martin.
Highway 22 North eventually led to the Martin city limits sign, which was accompanied by a large printing of the Ten Commandments. Martin is an old West Tennessee railroad/mill town, with just enough stately Old South homes to appeal to UTM professors. Roughly two hours before tip-off against the nation's last undefeated team, two Murray State fans are the only people walking down Main Street. A bar called The Stables, is eerily vacant.
Feelings of regret crept in. "I traveled all this way for a depressing blowout, didn't I? At least Isaiah Canaan could drop 50."
UT-Martin head coach Jason James has a young, inexperienced team. The best way to describe their offense is disjointed -- and that has likely played a large role in their dismal record.
At this point in the season, it's clear that James is a man who relishes the small victories. It's a wonder that his hands aren't chaffed considering the amount of clapping he does. This could be because James claps through the tough times.
Unlike other coaches, who may hang their heads, sulk in disgust, or scream until an artery is on the verge of bursting, James claps.
And on a Saturday night in a West Tennessee railroad town against a Top 10 team, James' players responded.
The beyond-capacity crowd at Skyhawk Arena was pretty tame. At least a thousand MSU fans made the trip -- and they often stood and made noise. The Martin contingent appeared to foster a good number of third-party observers, rarely exerting themselves.
But although the MSU fans popped their "All We Do Is Win" shirts, their team was flat. Murray was missing open shots, but the Skyhawks couldn't even find an opening.
I pity the poor high school souls that sign on to play post for OVC teams over the next few years, mainly because they will encounter two brutal meetings per year with current Skyhawk frosh Miles Taylor.
UTM could break down their game into two phases: With Taylor and Without Taylor. Without Taylor is a game where the Skyhawks pray they can hang while Taylor is on the bench getting rest or in foul trouble. With Taylor is when the Skyhawks cling to their hope of a win.
Against Murray, Taylor forced his way to the rim in the first half. His physical play yielded two semi-early fouls, but also forced his opponents into foul trouble. With Taylor, UTM was hanging with the Racers.
Without Taylor was a struggle...and a shot before the half made it look like Murray was creating the much-expected separation.
But in the second half, coach James kept clapping. An errant pass that sails out of bounds: clap. A horrible-looking, inadvertent three-point shot: clap. A missed chippy: clap.
Both teams stunk it up on the offensive end. Then, UTM's lone senior Dane Smith caught fire. With the focus on stopping Taylor, Smith emerged. He scooped up offensive rebounds, converted several three-point plays, and the next thing you know, it's a six-point game.
That's when James' clap became a roar. He leaped onto the court, motioning fans to get behind his team. His movements were like wind-up punches against an invisible man.
By my account, James was crazy. Did he really think his young, inexperienced team was going to be able to pull this off? Were they all of a sudden going to start playing smart basketball? No, of course not. But this man believed. It made absolutely no sense.
In the end, reason and facts and expectations won out. The Racers made the plays they needed to. Martin missed solid opportunities, as they had done all night. A review of the tape will find a multitude of ways UTM could've won the game: an extra pass, a better bounce, or a reversed call.
But James will keep clapping -- and as long as he does, I doubt the Skyhawks will finish winless in the OVC.
There's just something special about those who believe in nonsense.
MURRAY STATE 65, at TENNESSEE-MARTIN 58 02/04/2012
MURRAY STATE 23-0 (11-0) -- L. Hall 4-9 2-4 13; I. Canaan 4-12 3-3 11; J. Long 5-10 1-2 11; D. Poole 1-7 4-5 6; L. Mushatt 5-6 1-2 11; Z. Jackson 3-6 1-2 9; E. Daniel 1-4 0-0 2; I. Aska 3-7 2-2 8; S. Wilson 2-5 0-0 5; B. Garrett 1-2 0-1 2. Totals 25-59 12-17 65. TENNESSEE-MARTIN 3-22 (0-12) -- M. Liabo 2-17 3-4 8; D. Smith 9-17 5-6 24; O. Minor 0-6 0-0 0; J. Washington 2-3 0-0 4; M. Taylor 6-10 2-4 14; C. Maclin 3-6 0-1 6; T. King 1-6 0-0 2; C. Richardson 0-0 0-0 0; G. Love 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 23-66 10-15 58.
Three-point goals: MURR 3-17 (D. Poole 0-3; J. Long 0-3; I. Canaan 0-4; S. Wilson 1-3; Z. Jackson 2-4), UTM 2-15 (T. King 0-4; M. Liabo 1-8; O. Minor 0-1; D. Smith 1-1; G. Love 0-1); Rebounds: MURR 36 (L. Mushatt 9), UTM 40 (D. Smith 11); Assists: MURR 11 (I. Canaan 5), UTM 15 (M. Liabo 6); Total Fouls -- MURR 16, UTM 19; Fouled Out: MURR-None; UTM-None.