Game #9-019: Bowling Green vs. Cleveland State VikingsNovember 12, 2012 6:00 pm
Ann Arbor, MI
Neutral site games might work for schools with enormous alumni and fan bases like Kentucky, Kansas, and Michigan State, but the draw tends to evaporate when you move below the Red Line. Exempt event subregionals are often a massive pity party for schools that all got thrashed by a major conference opponent. "Oh, you lost by 30 to Vanderbilt too?" In a doubleheader setup, the game in which the home team doesn't play is pitifully attended and much maligned by most.
Personally, the mid-major neutral-site game is my favorite kind of matchup. Watching these epic struggles in an empty gymnasium makes me feel like I'm the only one who's in on the awesomeness - a basketball hipster of sorts. I still reminisce about the weekend in November 2010 when I saw Kawhi Leonard's San Diego State team in an Oxford, Ohio, arena filled to the rafters with all of 50 people (players, coaches, and referees included). I could hear every word Coach Fisher barked out to his team. Every sneaker squeak and foul protestation echoed off the cathedral ceiling. These games provide an intimacy that's even cozy for the usual 4,000 seat venues we frequent.
Unfortunately, when you hold one of these games in a major conference arena, the contest ceases to be intimate and instead become simply empty.
What's funny is that the stakes here are higher than your usual exempt event subregional. This is the Preseason NIT (currently doing business as the NIT Season Tip-Off), the last true large-scale tournament in preseason basketball. Win a couple games and advance to Madison Square Garden. Win three straight games and you can have four contests televised on the Worldwide Leader's family of networks - exposure heaven. Lose and get buried in one of those dreaded/glorious subregionals. This is the biggest opportunity outside of the NCAA Tournament for a sub-Red Line squad to appear on the national stage.
Tomorrow, either Bowling Green or Cleveland State will make one of those national television appearances. But tonight, they played to an empty Crisler Arena in a number one contender's match for a shot at 5 Michigan.
As a Bowling Green super-senior, I'm seeing my soon-to-be alma mater for the 52nd time. Even with all the new faces (and there are a number of them), I feel like I know this team inside and out. I walked through the doors at Crisler clad in my BG shirt, ready to see my Falcons on the road as I have many times before. I stepped into the arena bowl and found no more than 100 people in the cavernous room.
I desperately hoped that this would mean I'd have space to write. With a travel schedule that puts me in Michigan, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois before 8am tomorrow morning, I knew I'd have little time to complete my recaps unless I lugged my laptop into the game - something I've never done before. I sat myself in my ticketed seat and attempted to put the MacBook on my legs. Not happening. I tried to balance it on the seat in front of me. Definitely not happening.
Having owed a great deal of favorable seat squatting arrangements over time to kindly ushers, I asked the elderly gentleman passing me (the only person for eight sections) if I might be seated somewhere with a place to put computer.
"I can put you in the Wolverine Den."
"That sounds fantastic. Thank you sir."
The Wolverine Den is an area at the top of the arena, center court where hungry fans can go to enjoy unlimited food and an obstructed view of the playing surface courtesy of the television and scout cameras. For this game, like everywhere else in the arena, the section was empty and notably devoid of food. Simply grateful for a place to rest my laptop, I pulled it from its case and began to write.
The contest had the look of most early season games, with embarrassing turnovers and physical play determining the narrative. Bowling Green's diminutive dynamic point guard Jordon Crawford (who lists at 5' 6", but is in actuality shorter than my 5' 5") asserted his role as the streaky catalyst for the offense with eight points in the first half to go with his four turnovers. On the other side of the ball, Cleveland State sophomore Marlin Mason, a Detroit native, chipped in six points and eight rebounds after twenty. The teams jogged off to the locker room tied at 33.
A back and forth second half thrilled the sparse fans in attendance. At one point, Bowling Green's back-to-back-to-back alley-oop omgdunx had the building (relatively) roaring. The five-minute mark showed the score knotted up at 58.
With less than five seconds remaining and the score tied at 66, Bowling Green's Crawford coughed up the rock at the top of the key. Cleveland State called a quick timeout with 3.5 ticks left on the clock to try and set up a game winning shot. Lanky Vikings forward Anton Grady missed a layup off the window as time expired.
As is the case with the majority of these neutral site games, the host crowd began to file in and wonder what kind of a game they had been missing. Maize and blue peppered the stands as Cleveland State pulled out the tense 79-73 overtime victory. On paper, the Vikings don't have much for the Wolverines, but in this tournament anything could happen. In fact, they might not meet Michigan at all, but instead the upset-minded Jaguars of IUPUI.
On a related note, Gangnam Style made its first appearance of my season with 15:32 left in regulation. Sparse neutral site crowds and disturbingly catchy pop music are the only inevitabilities in the Preseason NIT.
CLEVELAND STATE 79, BOWLING GREEN 73
BOWLING GREEN 1-1 (0-0) -- J. Crawford 4-12 0-2 8; A. Calhoun 12-17 4-6 30; C. Orr 2-7 2-3 6; L. Kraus 2-7 5-5 10; R. Holmes 3-4 0-0 6; J. Clarke 0-7 2-2 2; C. Black 4-5 1-2 9; J. Erger 0-0 0-0 0; C. Sealey 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 28-62 14-20 73.
CLEVELAND STATE 2-0 (0-0) -- T. Kamczyc 8-21 0-0 21; C. Lee 5-7 3-4 14; M. Mason 3-11 5-6 11; S. Douglas 5-10 4-4 16; A. Grady 4-14 2-6 10; L. Ndaye 1-3 2-2 4; J. Ivory 1-1 0-0 3; B. Forbes 0-3 0-0 0; A. Scales 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-70 16-22 79.
Three-point goals: BGSU 3-16 (A. Calhoun 2-4; J. Crawford 0-4; L. Kraus 1-4; J. Clarke 0-1; C. Orr 0-3), CLST 9-20 (T. Kamczyc 5-10; S. Douglas 2-2; C. Lee 1-2; M. Mason 0-3; B. Forbes 0-2; J. Ivory 1-1); Rebounds: BGSU 35 (A. Calhoun 7), CLST 41 (M. Mason 13); Assists: BGSU 16 (J. Crawford 6), CLST 14 (C. Lee 10); Total Fouls -- BGSU 19, CLST 19; Fouled Out: BGSU-None; CLST-A. Grady.
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