I first got an up-close, live glimpse of Northern Arizona interim head coach Dave Brown a few minutes before tip-off of what would become NAU's 16th consecutive loss, a new school record, as MSU honored its two seniors by snapping an eight-game losing streak with a 79-60 victory that was close for only the first 10 minutes of the contest. Brown looked like all frail, 70-year-old men do: balding, slightly slumped and plain old tired. Actually, my first thought was to the TV show The Simpsons. The man looks like Mr. Burns crossed with Hans Moleman. I started laughing, softly but uncontrollably, for a minute. The Montana State SIDs asked me if I was nuts (in all fairness, they ask me that every day). I mean, what else can one think about a man who stepped away from his administrative duties to take over a team after its head man for nearly 13 years resigned.
Now, there has been much speculation as to why longtime coach Mike Adras left; the primary rumor is that his assistants ratted him out to the administration that he'd been violating NCAA practice rules. Normally, one of the current assistants gets elevated to interim status when a coach resigns mid-season, but you better believe having one rat out the big cheese is why the administration most likely went to Brown in the first place. Better to have someone they trust who was not involved with the team be a figurehead.
On Monday, he barely did coaching at all. If he opened his mouth, either in the huddle or while sitting on the bench, it was to yell things like "We need to get a score! We need to get a score!" "Oh, that was a bad play!" and "Come on, guys! They keep scoring on us!" It's hard to not look over and think "Wow, superfan, get back on the couch." Brown knew he was just there to lend a face to the whole deal; his assistants knew the house-cleaning was imminent and that come as soon as maybe a week from game night, they'd be looking for new employment. It was a sorry, sad sight to see, and I felt sorry for Brown the most. I pitied him. Which made me feel worse than making fun of him.
Rod Singleton is the heart and soul of the MSU men's basketball team. I even wrote to that effect. It was only fitting that he had one of his better nights on the court, doing what leaders do: helping their squad take advantage of an undermatched and overwhelmed team. He and classmate Jourdain Allou did what they could as leaders moreso than their actual statistical contribution in the blowout win: talking on defense, guiding on offense and being the first to shake hands/fist-bump/hug teammates after a good play. It was a much-needed breath of fresh air when Singleton, Allou and company walked off the court with a win to send the team into the Big Sky tournament to excite the cheerbabes in attendance.
See, MSU had its own stretch of bad luck this season. On the court, with an eight-game losing streak and a couple losses that left the community going "what the heck is going on?" Off the court, with one of its players getting beat up by fellow athletes, one of its players not on the court for most of Big Sky play due to a combination of academics and "other things," he told me a while back, and the other just becoming eligible to practice nearly eight months after first signing with the school. What a long, strange trip indeed, for two kids from different parts of the world -- Singleton from Los Angeles, and Allou from Abidjan, the capital city of the Ivory Coast. They were feted before the game with a giant framed 11-by-17 action photo of themselves and roses, Rod walking with his mother, sister and two nieces and Allou being presented by teammate Mohamed Fall, himself a native of Dakar, Senegal.
The duo then participated in a streak-stopping victory to end their home careers and shook hands with a man and players on the opposite bench whose own journey was mercifully over. Singleton later talked of being relieved the losing skid was finally behind them, but also of looking ahead. That seemed to be MSU's motto this year: look ahead. Forget the losing streak. Forget the players not on the court who can't help. Forget distractions. Just keep forging on. After all, college is all about life experiences and learning lessons, something I'll bet Brown told all of his players on the trip home, too.
at MONTANA STATE 79, NORTHERN ARIZONA 60 02/27/2012
NORTHERN ARIZONA 5-24 (1-15) -- D. Norman 6-10 4-4 17; J. Douglas 3-9 3-4 11; M. Dunn 0-5 2-2 2; G. Bewernick 4-4 2-3 10; S. Saldivar 3-5 0-0 8; G. Rogers 4-13 0-0 10; B. Olayinka 1-3 0-0 2; L. Flores 0-1 0-0 0; C. Gruber 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 21-53 11-13 60. MONTANA STATE 12-16 (7-9) -- S. Reid 7-12 3-4 23; C. Moon 5-11 2-3 15; R. Singleton 2-7 0-0 4; T. Johnson 6-9 2-2 14; M. Fall 5-8 0-0 10; M. Dison 2-4 0-0 6; J. Budinich 1-5 0-0 3; J. Allou 2-4 0-0 4; B. Brumwell 0-0 0-0 0; S. Davis 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 30-60 7-9 79.
Three-point goals: NAU 7-22 (G. Rogers 2-5; S. Saldivar 2-3; L. Flores 0-1; M. Dunn 0-3; D. Norman 1-3; J. Douglas 2-6; C. Gruber 0-1), MTST 12-24 (J. Budinich 1-3; S. Reid 6-9; R. Singleton 0-2; C. Moon 3-6; M. Dison 2-4); Rebounds: NAU 23 (D. Norman 9), MTST 34 (T. Johnson 9); Assists: NAU 11 (M. Dunn 6), MTST 19 (M. Dison 7); Total Fouls -- NAU 9, MTST 17; Fouled Out: NAU-None; MTST-None.