Game #9-008: South Carolina-Upstate at Saint Louis BillikensNovember 9, 2012 8:00 pm
It's hard to get past the fact that until this year I had never even heard of USC Upstate. A brief scan of their website suggests that they were Division II until a few years ago, and the name suggests they belong to the fraternity of schools living in the shadow of a power conference school whose name they share (what's worse, USC means Southern Cal to me, but here it's really South Carolina). Torrey Craig led his high school to back-to-back state finals appearances. 2 years later, the junior is gaining national exposure in the same state, winning Atlantic Sun preseason Player Of the Year honors. He was a finalist last year for the Lou Henson award for top mid-major player in the nation. I hate that I can't help thinking he must not be that good if he ends up playing for some school I never heard of. Relative anonymity is no way to judge talent.
His Spartans came to St. Louis to help the Billikens open up their regular season, and since I live here and our team drafted Torrey to be our mid-major player, I went to the game. Chaifetz Arena
seats 10,600; USC Upstate's G. B. Hodge Center
seats 818. It is hard to think of SLU as a mid-major in this match-up, but they are. Chaifetz Arena has all the bells and whistles associated with big-time college basketball, and even though the visitors could easily be mistaken for a cupcake team, the lower section was mostly full and the upper level was one-half to three-quarters full. The student section was there in full force (it helps that it was a Friday night game).
But apart from the foul disparity favoring the home team, the actual game did not look like a cupcake game until the final 5 minutes of the 2nd half. Or maybe it had the feel of a game that should have been a cupcake game, but wasn't, if the complaints I heard in the restroom at halftime were any indication. The home team was rated as "slow" in spite of the fact that from my seat court side, St. Louis was able to drive to the hoop with utter impunity. They looked plenty fast to me, at least when they found the opportunity to drive. They struggled with the Spartans' full court press until 6-11 Jr. Rob Loe started camping out in the back court to set killer screens. But in the half court, the Billikens did not have too much trouble finding shots and penetrating. The game was a struggle for the home team. St. Louis led most of the way, but they couldn't put them away until very late.
Torrey Craig was not the star for the Spartans. His stat line does not stick out like a sore thumb, though he was among the scoring leaders. At times he showed a tiny bit of frustration, though keeping it largely in check until a late foul had him visibly upset. He didn't get a Technical foul (his coach did earlier, though). I would say he was an integral part of the team's effort, but I don't think he was the alpha dog. In other words, I saw a player who generally knew his role on the team and tried to be a good teammate. He looked great at times. He looked sloppy on occasion. But he always looked like a member of the team rather than a lone ranger. Since it was the opening of the regular season, there's always plenty of hope for happier times ahead.
Speaking of lone rangers, I enjoyed taking part in the 800 Games Project last year, because I was free to pick which games I wanted to go to and write about. First of all, most of my game summaries involved my favorite team, the Valpo Crusaders. Secondly, I made sure that unless work or other more important priorities didn't supersede, I could always concentrate on watching my team play on TV or on my laptop and hang out with fellow Crusader fans. In other words, I contributed to the project whenever it was convenient for me as a Crusader fan.
Curiously, I did attend one St. Louis game against Duquesne and wrote about it. More importantly, I felt compelled to witness the fall of the last mid-major, Ohio University, in the Sweet Sixteen. Apparently, I wanted more than just being a Valpo fan. I wanted to stretch myself. When I started hearing about season 9, I wanted to be a part of a team. Fortunately, there was an opening. As I followed along with the season 9 opening chat and the mid-major draft, I still did not know exactly what this season was going to be like. I hoped it would be much like last year, but I did not know whether there would be an opening on a team. I did not know if I would make the cut. And if I did, I wasn't exactly sure what would be expected of me. Then when I was accepted on a team, I waited for the season to begin, still not sure exactly how it would be different from last year. I was mainly worried about the website, whether we could choose which games to go to or whether there would be some attempt by the team captain to assign games to individuals. I felt like a new recruit.
But that uncertainty paled in comparison to how I ended up going to this game I'm writing about in this essay. You see, my Valpo Crusaders were opening their season on the same night, and I already had my heart set on getting home from work in time to watch the game on line and hang out with fellow Valpo fans. A morning tweet from my team captain alerted me to the fact that our drafted player was in town that night. It was merely an observation, but I suddenly started hearing the call of Team in my mind. For all I know, this would be the best opportunity for any member of our team to see our draft pick perform in person. What kind of a teammate would I be if I passed up that opportunity to contribute, especially since I already am committed to attend about 8 Valpo games this year anyway? Mind you, there was no arm-twisting whatsoever by my team captain. No, it was only that desire to be a good teammate. I'm still new at this, but here was an opportunity to show my worth to the team. To do so, I had to sacrifice my own personal fan-hood a tiny bit.
As the day unfolded and I scrambled to purchase my ticket online, plan my transportation downtown, etc., I found myself wondering if I was getting a tiny taste of what it is like for someone like Torrey Craig to advance from something familiar and comfortable to something unknown where he needed direction from others. My day was a whirlwind, and I have no idea whether I did a good job. Like Torrey, I had what feels like a so-so beginning to the season. I just want to contribute to my team's success. There's a lot of time left in the season, so if this was a so-so effort on my part, I am hopeful that better moments are ahead for me too. at SAINT LOUIS 76, SOUTH CAROLINA-UPSTATE 59
SOUTH CAROLINA-UPSTATE 0-1 (0-0) -- T. Greene 4-7 1-2 10; T. Craig 4-9 0-0 10; R. Glenn 2-5 0-2 4; R. Elam 0-3 0-0 0; F. Miller 4-6 2-2 11; A. Rodgers 4-7 0-0 9; M. Blessing 3-4 0-0 7; J. Maxey 3-5 0-0 6; B. Olumuyiwa 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 25-47 3-6 59.
SAINT LOUIS 1-0 (0-0) -- M. McCall Jr. 5-9 1-1 12; J. Jett 5-9 4-6 14; R. Loe 1-5 2-2 4; D. Evans 8-12 5-6 21; C. Ellis 4-8 7-7 15; G. Glaze 2-5 0-0 4; K. Carter 1-2 0-0 3; J. Barnett 1-2 0-0 3; J. Manning 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-52 19-22 76.
Three-point goals: SCU 6-11 (T. Craig 2-4; T. Greene 1-2; F. Miller 1-2; A. Rodgers 1-2; M. Blessing 1-1), SLU 3-12 (C. Ellis 0-3; J. Barnett 1-1; D. Evans 0-1; J. Jett 0-1; R. Loe 0-3; M. McCall 1-2; K. Carter 1-1); Rebounds: SCU 17 (R. Glenn 5), SLU 27 (D. Evans 8); Assists: SCU 15 (J. Maxey 3), SLU 13 (J. Jett 5); Total Fouls -- SCU 20, SLU 12; Fouled Out: SCU-None; SLU-None.