Game #9-113: Towson at Eastern Kentucky ColonelsNovember 17, 2012 6:00 pm
"They aren't very good, you know."
"Eastern Kentucky. They aren't very good." The man repeated himself slowly and returned to pecking away at the hotel computer.
He was right. The Colonels entered the Comfort Suites Invitational ranked 289th in the Pomeroys. In fact, the tournament participants read like an all-star roster of bad basketball. Host Eastern Kentucky Colonels of the OVC (#289, 16-16 in 2011-12). The Radford Highlanders of the Big South (#297, 6-26). The Kennesaw State Owls of the Atlantic Sun (#294, 3-28). My personal favorite Towson Tigers of the CAA (#335, 1-31). This was the Beatles of crappy non-SWAC hoops, and I couldn't be happier.
I had decided to stay at the Super 8 in Richmond because it was $40 per night cheaper and a full TripAdvisor dot better than the round-robin tournament's titular sponsor. After arriving for check-in and explaining to the hotel manager what brought me to Richmond, we had the brief exchange above. With the shake of his head, he continued.
"I took my son to a game once. Never again. Nobody there. Bad team."
I nodded, took my keycard, and headed upstairs to my room. Of course, I had circled this tournament on my calendar well in advance specifically so I could see these particular teams. However, basketball masochism isn't exactly easy to explain in a sixty second front desk conversation. After a quick nap, I hopped in my car for the short drive to campus.
Every school's arena is like a fingerprint. Some are more different than others, but every single one is unique or interesting in some way. McBrayer Arena is part of a larger complex known as Alumni Coliseum, which includes a natatorium not far from the arena's back entrance. Throughout the game, kids in swim trunks would wander into the concourse and take in a few minutes of action before answering their mother's call and returning to the pool.
The dominant feature of the arena itself, apart from the faint smell of chlorine, is a gorgeous wooden ceiling. Other arenas can be harshly lit warehouses, but McBrayer felt more like a dimly lit cabin, indicative of the bourbon-soaked country feel of the area. Charmed by the visual, I settled into my center court seat with an overdone personal pan pizza and a Mountain Dew, ready for a doubleheader of epic proportions.
The previous night, I had seen host Eastern Kentucky down Kennesaw State in the early game and Towson defeat Radford in the late game. Tonight I was back for more, this time with the winners playing each other. Since I wouldn't be around for Day 3 and its thrilling ticket deal, this was more or less the championship game for me.
Despite being far from full, the fans in McBrayer Arena were definitely energetic, including one female superfan sitting in the first row who loudly clapped and shouted encouragement at the Colonels throughout the game. I always appreciate fans who are unashamed to be loud for the full two hours, and the team fed off of her enthusiasm.
They needed it in the first half. Both teams kept it close (the largest lead was five until the final play) despite Eastern Kentucky's talent advantage. The Colonels went to the locker room with a 34-28 lead.
Halftime was a wealth of entertainment, featuring an unusual selection of stand tunes from the pep band (the delightfully profane theme song from Team America: World Police?!) and a bizarre game of tic-tac-toe with the Colonels mascot for Kentucky lottery scratch-offs. Unsurprisingly, the Colonel was exceptionally bad, and each contestant left the floor with a fistful of tickets.
The second half saw Eastern Kentucky jump out to a double-digit lead, and for a while it seemed as if they'd run away with the contest. Towson appeared to be the same old Tigers, cruising to another disappointing loss. Eight minutes into the second half, with the game on the precipice yet again, Towson went on a 7-0 run to make it a dogfight for the rest of the half. Two free throws by the Tigers Mike Burwell tied the score with 23 seconds remaining, and Eastern Kentucky's Mike DiNunno couldn't end the game in regulation when a last second jumper bounced off back iron.
Overtime featured five ties and five lead changes, with neither team gaining the upper hand. It became readily apparent that the squad with the most luck would win the game, and a questionable foul call on Towson's Jerrelle Benimon sent Eastern Kentucky's Deverin Muff to the line with 1.4 seconds remaining. Muff sunk both free throws to turn the tie game into a two point Colonel advantage. Towson couldn't even get a shot off as time expired.
Tigers players were clearly disappointed as they trudged off the court. They were understandably upset, but I viewed it as a rare moral victory. Despite the unfortunate result, this was truly a "good job, good effort" game for Towson. They had fought the hosts extremely tough, and their performance indicated that perhaps the Tigers would be a bit more competitive this season going forward.
On the other bench, the Colonels picked up the second win of their tournament. As of this writing, they are one of only seven schools below the Red Line still undefeated (6-0), and the owners of the best record in the OVC. Not bad for a team that only finished at .500 last year. Who knows? Maybe it's time for the hotel manager's son to finally go to that second game.at EASTERN KENTUCKY 71, TOWSON 69
TOWSON 1-2 (0-0) -- J. Benimon 3-6 6-9 12; J. Hairston 4-11 1-1 9; B. Dixon 2-4 4-6 8; M. Damas 3-6 0-0 8; R. Guthrie 5-8 5-8 16; M. Burwell 2-6 2-3 7; K. Walden 2-5 0-0 4; T. Parker-Rivera 1-3 3-6 5. Totals 22-49 21-33 69.
EASTERN KENTUCKY 3-0 (0-0) -- M. DiNunno 6-17 2-3 17; G. Cosey 5-11 3-4 14; C. Walden 2-8 0-0 4; E. Stutz 3-6 3-4 9; T. Johnson 3-9 1-1 8; J. Johnson 3-5 0-0 7; D. Muff 2-3 4-4 8; M. Lewis 0-3 0-0 0; R. Stenzel 1-2 0-0 3; T. Knipp 0-0 1-3 1. Totals 25-64 14-19 71.
Three-point goals: TOWS 4-15 (M. Burwell 1-2; M. Damas 2-5; K. Walden 0-2; R. Guthrie 1-3; J. Hairston 0-3), EKU 7-26 (M. DiNunno 3-9; C. Walden 0-4; J. Johnson 1-3; R. Stenzel 1-2; E. Stutz 0-1; G. Cosey 1-4; T. Johnson 1-2; M. Lewis 0-1); Rebounds: TOWS 41 (J. Benimon 16), EKU 28 (J. Johnson 7); Assists: TOWS 10 (J. Hairston 3), EKU 15 (G. Cosey 4); Total Fouls -- TOWS 19, EKU 23; Fouled Out: TOWS-R. Guthrie; EKU-T. Johnson.