Utah State's Brockeith Pane's final heave bounced off the front of the rim and the game was over. Mercer rushed the floor to celebrate; on the other side, several Aggies crumpled to the floor and looked pained having to sit through the trophy presentation. The media assembled in the hallway outside the locker room to complete our stories and finish the season. The first question for each interview from the mouth of the visiting TV reporters was "Did this game mean something to you?"
The CollegeInsider.com Tournament championship, by definition, does not matter. It was a battle between Mercer and Utah State, two teams that failed to do enough to get invited into the NCAA tournament, or even the NIT, playing out the string in a #ghostbracket that barely registers with even the most hard-core of basketball fans.
For each school the answer to "Did this game mean something to you?" could not have been a more obvious yes. It meant enough to Mercer, a school from Macon, Ga., to send a host of cheerleaders and its mascot, Toby, some 2,000 miles to see the Bears battle for the championship. The home Utah State crowd filled in more than 6,000 people to urge their team to bring home the title.
It was also clear that the game mattered to both teams. You can tell when a team gets sent to a postseason it doesn't want to be in. The team is quick to fold and go home when it faces adversity, because what does it matter anyway? That was not the case in Logan. Mercer went up 10 points in the second half and the game looked over. Utah State could have easily called it a night, but the Aggies battled back and took a six-point lead with just four minutes to go. The game looked over again, but this time Mercer found a way to respond. The final 10 minutes of the season was spent trading blows like two heavyweights looking for a knockout punch. It was the type of drama that you rarely get from a championship game at any level, with well-played basketball on both sides.
Ultimately, Mercer made the final big plays, including a superhoop, to silence the ear-splitting crowd and give the Bears a four-point advantage with just 40 seconds left. Utah State would fight to the final second but ran out of time to complete the comeback.
In the big picture, this game won't matter to more than a few die-hard Mercer fans and players who will look back fondly at their run to the championship. The rest of America will forget the news as soon as they heard it (if they bothered to seek it out at all). The Bears will go into the Hall of Obscurity with previous CIT champs -- Santa Clara won it last year -- but that doesn't mean the game wasn't a ton of fun to watch. And isn't that what this site is all about? With the benefit of hindsight, most games in November and December have no meaning in the big picture. They end up being two also-rans from schools well south of the red line that could not even dream of winning a conference championship, let alone the national title. That doesn't mean that there aren't good games, great players, cool stories and a ton of fun to have at this level of basketball.
The answer to the question "Did this game mean something to you?" is "no" to nearly every basketball fan in the country, but no matter the stakes, when a game involves two teams below the red line playing their hearts out, it should be a "yes" to Hoops Nation and The Mid-Majority.
MERCER 70, at UTAH STATE 67 03/28/2012
MERCER 27-11 (13-5) -- L. Hall 5-14 5-6 16; J. Gollon 2-5 4-4 9; B. Thomas 4-4 1-2 10; T. Smith 6-12 2-3 17; J. Cecil 1-9 4-5 6; D. Coursey 4-8 1-1 9; M. Brown 1-2 0-0 2; P. Larsen 0-1 1-2 1; C. Smith 0-1 0-0 0; T. Hallice 0-1 0-0 0; K. Canevari 0-0 0-0 0; J. Bryan 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-57 18-23 70. UTAH STATE 21-16 (8-6) -- P. Medlin 4-10 4-5 14; D. Berger 5-8 0-0 13; M. Grim 2-5 5-8 9; B. Pane 3-10 2-4 10; K. Reed 6-8 3-3 15; B. Clifford 1-4 2-2 4; E. Farris 0-4 0-0 0; J. Stone 0-1 0-0 0; M. Bruneel 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 22-53 16-22 67.
Three-point goals: MERC 6-21 (J. Cecil 0-6; J. Gollon 1-2; C. Smith 0-1; T. Smith 3-4; B. Thomas 1-1; L. Hall 1-6; T. Hallice 0-1), USU 7-23 (B. Pane 2-5; P. Medlin 2-8; B. Clifford 0-1; E. Farris 0-2; D. Berger 3-5; M. Bruneel 0-2); Rebounds: MERC 30 (J. Cecil 6), USU 35 (K. Reed 7); Assists: MERC 13 (J. Gollon 4), USU 15 (B. Pane 5); Total Fouls -- MERC 19, USU 19; Fouled Out: MERC-None; USU-None.