Writer's note: This is my final of 13 essays for The Mid-Majority this season, barring unforeseen #ghostbracket games.
It felt like it was in the bag.
I was 99 3/4 percent confident that I was going to get to see my first Red Line Upset in the time since I learned what a Red Line Upset was. It just looked so good, until it wasn't. Virginia Commonwealth, last year's First Four-to-Final Four sensation was poised to make its impact felt on another NCAA Tournament. Having already knocked off Wichita State on Thursday evening, it had legendary Indiana on the ropes.
That five-point lead with a minute and a half to go just seemed so unassailable, mostly because I wanted it to be. I had remembered all of VCU's wonderful shooting, its wonderful fans, its wonderful band, and it had blinded me to how poorly the Rams were finishing the game. I wanted to believe.
When Bradford Burgess stepped to the line for two shots with a minute to go, Rams up three, I thought they had it in the bag. After all, it seemed that every clutch shot Burgess took in Portland went in.
But these two clutch shots didn't go in. But VCU was going to score again. They couldn't go the final 12 minutes of the game with just four points. That wasn't going to happen, was it?
After the pair of missed free throws, Indiana went down the court and got an and-one it converted on to tie the game. VCU missed a three-pointer, the Hoosiers took a fast-break opportunity, got a lucky carom and made a baseline jumper to take a two-point lead. And then it hit me: the Hoosiers had escaped. Yes, Rob Brandenberg had an open look for the win, but there was no way it was going in at that point. That mental switch had flipped. I was already forlorn before VCU had even inbounded the ball. This season's beautiful run was finished.
The disappointment I felt was somewhat for the team, as the players' dreams were over, and some careers were finished. There's only one senior year for the players on the team (and for the students who watch them).
I also felt bad for @VCUpav, one of a small and loud group of fans who had made the trip all the way across the country (and he willingly let me take a picture of his #ballz in the process).
But I felt worse for the band, which had done its best to liven up the entire weekend and was overwhelmingly successful in doing so. Let's put it this way: The band was so good that the perpetually fickle Indiana fans in attendance found themselves clapping along to the unique rendition of the Mid-Majority National Anthem. I greatly enjoyed both of VCU'sgames, more than any other of the six games I saw in Portland this weekend, and watching the band was as good or better as watching the action on the floor. Their sense of showmanship and their entertainment value were as good as the pressing, trapping, #superhoop-ing team they traveled to Portland to support.
The band could still be playing. The Rams could still be playing, too. The season didn't seem like it had to end in a loss just yet.
But it did.
It's not a conspiracy, it's not an accident. It's just a fact of life below the Red Line.
INDIANA 63, VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH 61 03/17/2012
VIRGINIA COMMONWEALTH 29-7 (15-3) -- D. Theus 1-3 0-0 2; B. Burgess 4-10 3-5 15; T. Daniels 4-13 0-0 10; R. Brandenberg 5-12 1-2 13; J. Reddic 4-8 0-2 8; D. Haley 1-2 1-2 3; T. Graham 2-6 1-2 6; B. Weber 2-3 0-0 4. Totals 23-57 6-13 61. INDIANA 27-8 (11-7) -- V. Oladipo 4-5 1-1 9; C. Zeller 5-9 6-8 16; W. Sheehey 4-6 0-0 8; J. Hulls 2-7 0-0 5; C. Watford 5-10 2-2 16; R. Abell 2-6 0-0 4; M. Roth 1-1 0-0 3; D. Elston 0-1 0-0 0; T. Pritchard 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 24-46 9-11 63.
Three-point goals: VCU 9-30 (B. Burgess 4-9; T. Daniels 2-8; D. Theus 0-1; R. Brandenberg 2-7; B. Weber 0-1; T. Graham 1-4), IND 6-13 (M. Roth 1-1; D. Elston 0-1; J. Hulls 1-4; C. Watford 4-5; W. Sheehey 0-1; R. Abell 0-1); Rebounds: VCU 20 (B. Burgess 7), IND 33 (C. Zeller 13); Assists: VCU 8 (D. Theus 5), IND 13 (V. Oladipo 6); Total Fouls -- VCU 16, IND 13; Fouled Out: VCU-J. Reddic; IND-None.