I think it is safe to say that the amount of preseason tournaments is getting a bit out of hand. Everyone seems to know that they are mainly a way to schedule more games and an attempt to make as much money as possible for anyone involved. Although the latter part seems to be questionable considering how obscure some of these tournaments are, like the Eastern Michigan Ice Man Classic or the Hilltop Challenge.
Then there is the case of one of the longest running and well known multi-team events, the Maui Invitational. Many of us know about the history of this event and the upsets
that come with it. What the casual fan may not realize is the expansion that the tournament went through last year.
Teams below the Red Line were added and sent to campus sites of the schools that would be heading to Maui a week or so later. These "Opening Round" games were essentially guarantee games except for when Middle Tennessee went out and red lined UCLA
. Despite the win, the Blue Raiders did not get the chance to make the trip to the islands. They did however get the chance to host their own Maui Invitational sub-region in what were called the "Mainland Games".
Fast forward to this year, where the Elon Phoenix got to host the Mainland Games where Coppin State, Florida Atlantic, and Colgate would join them. None of the teams were as lucky as MTSU last yea,r as they were all defeated handily in the Opening Games.
Despite this confusing new setup, it still gave me an opportunity to see two games in one afternoon. After watching the Phoenix a couple of times last year, I enjoyed the fast style of play which always kept games exciting. I knew very little about the Colgate Raiders other than them being in the Patriot League and that they had been handled fairly easily by Illinois and Marquette a week earlier.
I made my way to my seat and had plenty of time to waste before tip-off. There was a gentleman sitting next to me that was with his son and they were touring the Elon campus because his son was thinking about going there. I told him what little I knew about the area and about the Elon basketball team. They were from upstate New York and were able to tell me a bit about Colgate and in particular about a tall, bearded player named Murphy Burnatowski who had transferred in from Maine. He had to this point been the main offensive focus for the Raiders and it showed when he rattled off 13 straight points for Colgate.
Elon and their quick pace were not to be outdone though as Lucas Troutman and the rest of the Phoenix was heating up after a slow start. With around 10 minutes to go in the half, Burnatowski picked up his second foul and it looked like the Raiders would be in trouble. However, they used a team effort and traded the lead several times with the Phoenix. Colgate's downfall in the half was they kept fouling the Phoenix on three-pointers. An Austin Hamilton four-point play took the score to 37-33 and the Phoenix used a strong defensive effort to end the half on a mini-run and a 41-35 lead.
At the half, the gentleman next to me leaned over and asked me what I thought of the game so far. I told him it was about what I expected, but Elon had yet to go on their big run. I am usually not a good prognosticator, but Elon opened the second half in a flurry. Ryley Beaumont hit a three and Troutman followed with a dunk. Troutman swatted away a lay-up at the other end to set up another Beaumont three and just like that the Phoenix were up 14 to the joy of the student section which were adorning Hawaiian shirts for the whole Maui theme.
It seemed like everything was going in for Elon as they extended their lead to 20. Colgate had to do something and switched to a 2-3 zone to try and slow down the game. Elon can score points in a hurry, but the offense starts to sputter when they are trying to milk the clock and play a half-court game. Little by little, Colgate was able to cut the deficit. A six-point burst from Mitch Rolls had it back to single digits with a just over three minutes to go.
With the game winding down, there was a mishap with the shot and game clock. I was sitting in the first row, right behind the scorers table, so I got to hear the whole conversation. I always wondered what they were doing over there, but now that I see that the machine they use looks like it's from the 70s, I can see why it takes so long. Well, that and the fact that the timekeeper may have been watching the Notre Dame football game on his laptop.
With the clock issue finally fixed, Colgate made one last ditch effort to make a comeback. It was working when Damon Newsome hit a three to make the game 74-68. That would be the closest Colgate could get though as Troutman had a nice day on both ends of the floor. He tacked on his seventh block of the day in the final minute to seal the game for Elon.
Elon would be moving on in the winners bracket of the Maui Invitational Mainland Regional. Just typing that sounds ridiculous, but it's the way college basketball is trending. On the bright side, it gave me a chance to see teams that I otherwise would have a hard time seeing.