There was a big sporting event going on in Indianapolis last weekend, and it wasn't at Hinkle Fieldhouse. Indeed, the city's attention was transfixed on downtown and Sports Bubble Stadium for the World Championship of American Gridiron Football.
Downtown was abuzz with activity in the days prior to the Super Bowl. I came into town on Thursday to soak up some of the Sports Bubble Buzz. Blocks of streets had been closed to set up free concerts on stages sponsored by cell phone companies and soft drink purveyors, street entertainers, displays of ice sculptures, IndyCars wrapped in the colors of the Giants and Patriots, overpriced concessions, and a zip line flying down Capitol Avenue. On an average day, 90,000 people flocked downtown to wrap themselves in the experience, parking a mile away from downtown to get there. The festivities and gridlock caused IUPUI to move their game against IPFW to a 1 p.m. tip instead of 7 p.m., ruining my chance at a Saturday doubleheader.
The Roman numerals popped up everywhere. From a display on Indianapolis' famed Monument Circle to the famed Westin where the NCAA Division I Men's Basketball Committee will live for five days and decide the fates and destinations of hoops squads around the nation.
One company took advantage of a marketing tie-in to hand out long, flowing blond wigs and jerseys with "Matthews" on the back. Making yourself look like an idiot supposedly gave you a chance to win $500 if one of the company's secret spotters saw you walking around like this.
ESPN had engaged in a form of "Occupy Pan Am Plaza," where the Horizon League offices are located. A mobile studio and miniature football field had been set up. Many folks gathered in hopes to get into a camera shot or see a celebrity. In my brief walk by, I noticed Herm Edwards was taking a moment to greet fans.
But there was a positive to the Football-Industrial complex being in town. A rather insignificant basketball game between two average basketball teams was suddenly a hot ticket. Normally, a walk-up ticket is pretty easily obtainable for a Butler game, unless it's for a marquee opponent. Upon arriving into town, I noticed my Twitter feed indicating that only 600 tickets or so remained. So, I made a detour to Hinkle to pick up a ticket for Saturday's game. That indeed proved prudent, as this sign greeted me at Gate 3 when I arrived.
Hinkle can be an electric environment when it's half full. But at capacity on a Saturday afternoon, it's almost spiritual. And apparently, many out-of-towners wanted to get a taste of the Hinkle mystique. They would be pleasantly surprised by a pregame presentation welcoming Angelo Pizzo and David Anspaugh, the writer and director of Hoosiers back to Hinkle.
Despite the average record, Butler has continued to scrap and hustle to get better every day. Sophomore Khyle Marshall was unavailable due to a concussion from the previous day's "jog-through" practice as Brad Stevens termed it. Seriously, who gets a concussion at a full-speed practice, let alone one at about 60% intensity? Then in the first three minutes of the game, Ronald Nored tried to test the durability of the Hinkle hardwood, as old as the building itself, with his face. Here is the end result.
(screencap courtesy of @bubbaprog)
A hole in his lip and a cracked tooth weren't going to stop Nored for long. After 11 minutes getting patched up in the locker room, Nored returned to the bench, and on the next dead ball he checked back into the game.
Butler's marketing campaign this season has centered on making Hinkle your second home. It cleverly touts features that you may look for in a normal home, such as original hardwood flooring, lots of natural light, vaulted ceilings, and curb appeal.
I've easily attended 100 games in Hinkle and spent even more hours inside the building taking classes, working as an intern, watching dive-in movies in the now-condemned Hinkle pool, and participating in the university's Spring Sports Spectacular, an all-night competition featuring games like euchre, shuffleboard, floor hockey and indoor soccer along with more traditional fare. So it really does seem like a second home to me. I only get to make one or two trips back for games each season, so every visit seems like visiting family.
A lot of the promotions for the game had a family feel. An early timeout featured a five year-old and under dunk contest. Sure the hoop was only three feet high, but the kids put on a good show when they finally had the courage to show their stuff. Halftime featured a dance academy that had three different groups, a pre-kindergarten and kindergarten group, an elementary school group, and a group that featured some junior high and young high school girls. Being the wholesome Midwest, the songs were age appropriate, and no laser sounds were included. The youngest group stole the show, mixing in mini-basketballs into their routine.
Even the out-of-towners got into the act. A sub-eating contest featured a Butler student, a Giants fan, and a Patriots fan, who was booed lustily by the pro-Colts crowd. The Giants fan ended up winning the contest. Would that be a precursor to Sunday's result? (Left ambiguous for anyone still playing Lastman.)
It was another tough shooting day for the Bulldogs, only hitting 35 percent of their shots, and they found themselves down nine, 56-47, with 7:05 left to play. But Butler started getting a rhythm in the paint with two layups by Andrew Smith and one from freshman Roosevelt Jones, who is a Willie Veasley clone. Everything matches, same body type, same type of game as a freshman (mostly 15 feet and in), even the jersey number. The lead was down to three and the crowd at Hinkle was rocking, as loud as I had personally heard it since Avery Sheets hit the infamous "Shot Heard 'Round Broad Ripple" against Milwaukee in 2003.
Unfortunately for the home fans, that would be as close as Butler would get. Detroit would make enough free throws to keep the margin just out of reach. Stevens wouldn't give up hope though. After another Smith layup with .1 second left, Stevens called his last timeout. Down four, Butler would need a tip-in superhoop, while getting fouled. It's possible, but the odds are about the same as winning Powerball. Sure enough, Smith managed to get a steal and tip from about 50 feet out, but the ball fell well short. Final score: Detroit LXV, Butler LXI.
The action on the Hinkle court wasn't done yet though. On a normal day, it's not unusual for the Hinkle court to be stormed by kids with basketballs. But today, the chaos would be organized as Butler tried to set the world record for largest game of knockout. I harbor no illusions about my basketball ability; I haven't even shot a ball in two years. But I'll help out a cause and be a sacrificial lamb. The line to shoot wrapped almost all the way around the court. Sure enough, I went out in the first round. But it was nice to get on the Hinkle court and throw up a couple of shots with a few hundred members of the Butler family. Even on a losing note, it feels good to come back home.
DETROIT 65, at BUTLER 61 02/04/2012
DETROIT 13-12 (7-6) -- C. Simon 4-11 2-5 11; R. McCallum 6-12 7-10 20; E. Holman 5-9 3-4 13; D. Anderson 3-6 3-5 9; D. Foster 2-4 2-2 6; L. Lowe 0-1 0-0 0; J. Calliste 0-4 2-2 2; P. Boutte 0-0 2-4 2; E. Bruinsma 0-0 2-2 2. Totals 20-47 23-34 65. BUTLER 13-12 (7-6) -- R. Jones 6-10 4-7 16; A. Smith 6-9 6-8 18; R. Nored 0-7 4-4 4; E. Fromm 3-6 1-3 10; K. Woods 0-2 3-4 3; C. Hopkins 2-6 2-2 7; C. Stigall 1-5 0-0 2; E. Kampen 0-1 1-2 1; J. Aldridge 0-3 0-0 0; G. Butcher 0-2 0-0 0; E. Kampen 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 18-51 21-30 61.
Three-point goals: UDM 2-10 (C. Simon 1-4; D. Foster 0-1; J. Calliste 0-2; R. McCallum 1-3), BUTL 4-19 (G. Butcher 0-1; R. Nored 0-3; C. Stigall 0-4; A. Smith 0-2; E. Fromm 3-4; C. Hopkins 1-3; J. Aldridge 0-1; E. Kampen 0-1); Rebounds: UDM 30 (E. Holman 7), BUTL 37 (R. Jones 12); Assists: UDM 15 (C. Simon 4), BUTL 12 (R. Nored 9); Total Fouls -- UDM 20, BUTL 19; Fouled Out: UDM-None; BUTL-R. Jones.