Fresh on the minds of the crowd filing into Redbird Arena was the end of last season. The Redbirds had come up just short of an NCAA berth by losing in overtime to Creighton in the Missouri Valley Championship. Then their coach, Tim Jankovich, left to be the heir apparent at Southern Methodist.
Game #9-031: California-Santa Barbara at Illinois State RedbirdsNovember 12, 2012 8:05 pm
Dan Muller, the Redbird hero part of the last Illinois State team to make the NCAA tournament, now has the helm at his alma mater. The Redbird faithful hope to culminate this new season by reaching those heights they came up just short of last season.
The student section was full, a welcome sight for me as last season I went to ISU at the start of Christmas break and sat in the seats the students were now occupying. Muller rewarded the student section for their support by having the team run onto the court by coming down from the concourse through the students. The lower bowl of Redbird Arena was filled up with people here to cheer on the Redbirds, their coach making his homecoming, and the dawn of a new era.
But sitting two seats to my left was a younger man wearing glasses, a goatee, and a 1980s-style polyester t-shirt jersey, white with blue and gold trim and "GAUCHOS" written in script across the front. He wore it well, though a little snug in the middle. Aside from the couple who sat just behind the UCSB bench, he was the only person in Redbird Arena cheering for the visiting team. I turned to ask him how he ended up in Normal, Illinois, on a November night to cheer on a team from the West Coast.
The Lone Gaucho turned out to be an Illinois State student, a Theatre major from Indiana. He was born in Santa Barbara while his father attended graduate school at UCSB. They lived in the married student housing for the first few years of his life. He couldn't remember if he had ever gone to a Gauchos game during his youth in Santa Barbara. But some point during his childhood, his father gave him the Gauchos jersey he was now proudly wearing two decades and two time zones away from their origin.
When he had heard UCSB would be playing at his school, and considering he was quite possibly the only person in Central Illinois with both the desire and the equipment necessary to cheer for this team, he said it was an easy decision.
As the team took the floor, he let out a "Let's Go Gauchos!" As Nate Garth scored the first basket of the game to give UCSB their only lead at 2-0, he screamed a triumphant "Yeah!" The cheering continued as the teams traded baskets for the first few minutes, with the score even at 6-6 at the first media timeout.
But the Lone Gaucho's triumph soon faded as Muller's team found their legs and started pummeling the less-experienced team from California. During the next five minutes, UCSB committed five turnovers, and those mistakes spurred on Illinois State's offense. A three from Tyler Brown pushed the Redbird lead to double digits. Three minutes later, Kaza Keane drove with a nice behind-the-back dribble and fed a slashing Jackie Carmichael for a two-handed jam, the first omgdunx of my season, to cap off a 21-0 Illinois State run. Then a barrage of three-pointers from Nick Zeisloft, Bryant Allen and Jon Ekey had the ISU lead up to 29.
"I came to root for the loser," the Lone Gaucho said at halftime. His optimism had waned, but his vocal support had not. He continued to cheer every Gaucho basket in the second half, as they kept the Redbird lead in the twenties, but never closer.
There were times he was a little torn on his allegiance. He applauded for the Illinois State football team when they came on the court during a time out to promote their upcoming game (This Saturday, against No. 1 North Dakota State, in case you were wondering.). I even caught him clapping to the Illinois State fight song as the team took the floor for the second half. He only clapped for half of it.
He kept up his support for the Gauchos though, all the way to the end, even when Illinois State went into triple-digits and won by 28. Then he put his coat on over the Gauchos jersey and made his way into the cold Illinois night.
While everyone else here in Normal celebrated new beginnings, one young man remembered his own beginnings and celebrated them. Even if it meant spending one night cheering against his own team. at ILLINOIS STATE 100, CALIFORNIA-SANTA BARBARA 72
CALIFORNIA-SANTA BARBARA 0-2 (0-0) -- T. Brown 7-14 5-5 22; A. Williams 6-14 3-5 15; K. Boswell 1-6 0-0 2; L. Thomas 2-5 0-0 6; T. Taylor 4-6 0-0 10; N. Garth 2-4 4-6 9; S. Moore 1-2 0-0 2; D. DaRe 0-3 0-0 0; M. Brewe 1-3 0-0 2; M. Bryson 1-2 0-0 2; S. Beeler 0-0 0-0 0; D. Dunklin 0-2 0-0 0; A. Walker 1-2 0-0 2. Totals 26-63 12-16 72.
ILLINOIS STATE 1-0 (0-0) -- K. Keane 2-5 0-0 5; J. Carmichael 13-20 1-1 27; B. Allen 4-7 0-0 10; T. Brown 7-10 4-5 22; J. Ekey 4-4 2-2 11; N. Zeisloft 3-6 1-1 9; J. Hill 1-1 0-0 2; J. Wilkins 0-3 0-0 0; J. Threloff 3-4 0-1 6; G. Allen 3-3 0-0 6; A. Cousin 0-0 0-0 0; Z. Upshaw 1-3 0-0 2. Totals 41-66 8-10 100.
Three-point goals: UCSB 8-22 (N. Garth 1-1; K. Boswell 0-4; T. Taylor 2-2; L. Thomas 2-4; T. Brown 3-7; D. Da Re 0-2; A. Walker 0-1; M. Bryson 0-1), ILST 10-20 (J. Carmichael 0-1; J. Ekey 1-1; Z. Upshaw 0-1; B. Allen 2-4; T. Brown 4-7; N. Zeisloft 2-4; K. Keane 1-2); Rebounds: UCSB 27 (A. Williams 13), ILST 33 (J. Carmichael 10); Assists: UCSB 16 (T. Brown 6), ILST 21 (K. Keane 5); Total Fouls -- UCSB 14, ILST 16; Fouled Out: UCSB-None; ILST-None.
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