As a fan, and especially as a student, I'm supposed to want my school to crush the opposition. I'm supposed to talk crap and make fun of the cheap suit the opposing coach is wearing. I'm supposed let the opposing player know what a crappy town he goes to school in.
Yet, when North Texas played Louisiana-Monroe on Thursday night, I couldn't help but feel sorry for the Warhawks.
ULM came in to the game with an overall record of 2-23. Only Binghamton and Towson have less wins in Division I. The Warhawks are banned from playing in the postseason (Sun Belt Tournament included) as a result of a continued low Academic Progress Rate. Former coach Orlando Early, who had won the Sun Belt West title with ULM in 2007, jumped off the Costa Concordia he helped sink two years ago to take an assistant's job with South Carolina.
In some ways, it's probably better to be Binghamton or Towson than ULM. At least people rooted for Towson to beat UNC Wilmington when they did, and the program was the subject of feature stories on national non-hoops exclusive websites. Most of us know all about Binghamton's plight, and it would take the coldest of hearts to wish for Coach Macon's club to finish the season winless. Even the biggest of college basketball romantics have probably forgotten about the Warhawks by this point in the season.
You can tell the saddest of sad-sack teams by the way they warm up, how they come out for player introductions and how they play the first few possessions. For ULM, all of these events had a dispassionate quality indicative of a group that had taken beating after beating. With UNT often giving checks to SWAC teams like Grambling State in the non-conference season, I had seen some teams with a gloomy demeanor before, but never like this and never this late in the season.
Nonetheless, it was still a Division I basketball game in league play, and a game UNT needed to win to stay in contention for a Sun Belt West title and favorable seed for the conference tournament in two weeks. The Mean Green started on a 7-0 run as ULM turned the ball over on three of its first five possessions. From there, the rout was on.
As a spectator, I've learned to try to find drama even in blowouts like Thursday's.
For as long as I've been there, UNT has a promotion with Wendy's that involves free items as long as the Mean Green hit seven 3-pointers. When players like Collin Dennis, Josh White and Tristan Thompson were playing on the perimeter, seven was nearly a given. This year, UNT isn't very good from #superhoop range at all, shooting 30.5 percent. At only one UNT game I had attended previously this season did the Mean Green reach seven. So when six were knocked down in the first half, seven would surely be coming soon. But when UNT missed five from long-range to start the second half, the free Frostys were in jeopardy before Brandan Walton nailed a #superhoop with 9:02 left. His Frosty-clinching shot was his second-most important three of the season behind the one he hit to clinch the FIU game on the road, but only just.
The halftime entertainment was Team Big Air, three guys who jumped off trampolines to do #OMGDUNX and other acrobatics. This was less than moderately entertaining, and the constant post-dunk muscle flexing got a bit old fast. The fact that one of the performers pantsed himself of his Portland Trail Blazers shorts summed up the show, replete with blown dunks as well. A lonely nation turns its eyes to you, Suns Gorilla.
ULM actually showed some signs of life in the first 10 minutes of the second half, playing even with the Mean Green in that period. Senior Fred Brown got T'd up for the Warhawks with eight minutes left and UNT closed on a 19-2 run to win by 35.
While it's always fun to see your school win, you don't like to see programs in your conference in the state ULM is in right now. UNT went through a period of futility in the late 90s and early 2000s, and the Mean Green probably looked like the downtrodden 2011-12 Warhawks for some games late in those seasons. My guess is that your favorite school has probably had a stretch like that as well. Here's hoping that ULM basketball can get back on its feet sometime soon.
at NORTH TEXAS 86, LOUISIANA-MONROE 51 02/16/2012
LOUISIANA-MONROE 2-24 (1-12) -- C. Ndongo 1-7 1-2 3; F. Brown 6-16 3-3 17; H. Mingo 2-8 1-3 5; S. McClellan 3-7 0-1 6; M. Hansberry 4-10 1-2 10; C. Winborne 2-6 2-2 7; T. Mackey 1-3 0-0 3; T. Lindsey 0-5 0-0 0; R. McCray 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 19-63 8-13 51. NORTH TEXAS 15-11 (8-5) -- A. Williams 6-8 0-0 12; B. Walton 2-6 0-0 6; T. Mitchell 6-14 5-10 18; T. Hall 4-8 0-0 11; T. Norris 1-2 0-0 3; J. Holmen 3-9 2-3 9; R. Franklin 4-7 2-2 10; A. Edwards 4-7 1-2 9; F. Robinson 2-4 0-0 4; N. Stojiljkovic 1-3 0-0 2; K. Hogans 0-1 2-2 2. Totals 33-69 12-19 86.
Three-point goals: ULM 5-23 (F. Brown 2-6; C. Winborne 1-4; H. Mingo 0-2; M. Hansberry 1-5; C. Bibi Ndongo 0-1; T. Lindsey 0-2; T. Mackey 1-3), NTEX 8-21 (J. Holmen 1-4; T. Hall 3-6; T. Mitchell 1-3; T. Norris 1-2; F. Robinson 0-1; B. Walton 2-5); Rebounds: ULM 40 (C. Bibi Ndongo 9), NTEX 46 (T. Mitchell 15); Assists: ULM 5 (F. Brown 2), NTEX 15 (A. Williams 4); Total Fouls -- ULM 15, NTEX 9; Fouled Out: ULM-None; NTEX-None.