Game #9-123: Ball State at Butler BulldogsDecember 1, 2012 2:00 pm
What constitutes a rivalry? Usually two teams need to be in the same general geographic area to fuel a rivalry, and they need to play each other on a regular basis in order to keep it relevant. Most good rivalries also have a long history of competition, and there is usually a good degree of animosity built up between the two sides. A reasonable degree of competitive balance should also exist, as it can't be much of a rivalry if only one team wins. Changes in conference affiliation have extinguished some college rivalries completely (see the devolution of Oklahoma-Nebraska football as a primary example), so an increasing number of teams are unable to define just who is their primary rival, if there is one at all.For Butler basketball, Ball State is probably the closest thing there is to a true rival, though it currently seems to be a relatively friendly competition between the two schools separated by about 60 miles. This year's meeting is the 104th overall, and the teams have met annually since 1950. At my house, there's a special appreciation for this rivalry; my daughter graduated from Butler and my son currently attends Ball State, so our lawn is decorated all year long in this unique Mid-Majority style.
There has been some recent chatter among a handful of Butler fans that Ball State is no longer a worthy rival, that they more often than not serve as an RPI-killer, and that the series should not be renewed when the contract between the two schools expires in 2013. Such views completely ignore the frequent cyclical patterns of success in Our Game; while Butler has clearly been superior over the past decade or so, the expectation that this dominance will be permanent suggests quite a bit of arrogance. One only needs to have a memory that stretches back one year to see some fallacy in this supposed superiority - last December, Ball State led the game from the opening tip through the entire game, limited the Bulldogs to just 30% shooting, and held on for a 58-55 victory.
One of the benefits of a matchup between these schools is that the games are usually well attended, particularly since a number of fans of the visiting team can easily make the trip into "enemy" territory. I usually can tell when Hinkle is going to have a good crowd, simply by looking at how much the upper tier seating fills in on the corners behind the basket. Given this view, I wasn't surprised to hear attendance announced at just short of 8,300. This year's game could not have started out much differently than last year's contest. Butler scored on each of its first seven possessions, and jumped out to a 15-7 lead in just over four minutes. "This seems way too easy," I said to myself, and the action over the rest of the half confirmed that my discomfort was warranted. Ball State was aggressor throughout the first stanza, while Butler was lackluster on defense and had poor shot selection during that time. It seemed to me that the home team came to play, while the visitors came to play to win. My aggravation reached its peak at the very end of the first half. Coach Brad Stevens called a timeout off a missed Ball State free throw with two seconds left in the half - this is one of the "use it or lose it" first half timeouts that he often calls to set up a special play. Rarely used senior Emerson Kampen was inserted as the designated in-bound passing specialist, and I envisioned a series of screens being set to free a shooter on the move for a good look from around half court. Instead, Kampen's pass was incomplete, sailing out of bounds without even being touched, giving the Cardinals another opportunity from right under its own basket. After an alley-oop pass to All-Name Team nominee Majok Majok was converted into a layup that evened the score at 33, Ball State left the court with much confidence and enthusiasm, while the hometown crowd grumbled like it was December 2011 all over again.
At the halftime break, I spotted the captain of last year's Butler team from across the court. Though he's now moved on to a coaching career at a local high school, I smiled wistfully, thinking of how much his old team could use Ronald Nored's defensive intensity in the second half of this game. Any hopes for a sudden second-half turnaround seemed to be quickly extinguished when Ball State's Zach Fields scored a quick lay-up and Jauwan Scaife added a free throw to give the Cardinals a three-point advantage. At that point, Stevens called on sophomore walk-on guard Alex Barlow to enter the game. Barlow is usually limited offensively, but can provide a real spark on the defensive end. As if an invisible switch was flipped upon his entry into the game, Barlow, Roosevelt Jones, and Eric Fromm were all diving on the floor for loose balls, and center Andrew Smith (who stands 6'11" and sometimes plays as 6'1") was chasing after rebounds and driving the ball to the basket with great fury (well, relatively so). Even with Khyle Marshall sidelined with foul trouble and with sharpshooting guards Rotnei Clarke and Kellen Dunham being uncharacteristically inaccurate with their perimeter shots, Butler seized complete control of the game. Over a stretch of just under twelve minutes during which Barlow provided a Nored-esque impact, Butler outscored Ball State 21-2, and the outcome of the contest was clearly determined.
The thoughts underlying the final paragraphs of this report actually emerged several hours after the final horn, while I was attending the second game of my personal doubleheader for the day. At halftime of the Miami-IPFW game in Fort Wayne, I saw a tweet from Loyola Coach Porter Moser, announcing the passing of his former boss, Rick Majerus. While Majerus will be best remembered for building strong programs at both Utah and Saint Louis, my first significant recollection of him was of his brief two-year stint at Ball State in the late 1980s.
In his second season in Muncie, 1988-89, Majerus led the Cardinals to a 28-2 regular season, then earned the school its first-ever NCAA tournament win over Pittsburgh, before falling to the top-seeded Flying Illini. Though he then left for Utah, the next season's Ball State squad, under Majerus' former assistant Dick Hunsaker, went to the Sweet Sixteen (and then took eventual champion UNLV down to the final minute before falling); there was no doubt that Majerus had a lasting impact on that team and helped to shape its success.
Much has been said about Coach Majerus over the past few days. He was a complex and imperfect man, who was somewhat difficult for most of us to understand, as he seemed to go several months immersing himself completely within the game. He seemed to have mellowed and matured just a bit in those final seasons at Saint Louis, but still was a very unique individual. From things I've read about him, he most appreciated kids who played hard and played smart, whether they be All-Americans or walk-ons. I thought about how pleased he would have been with the first half effort earlier that day from his former team from Ball State, and also how much he would have enjoyed the second-half contributions of the walk-on Barlow from Butler.
On Sunday, I stumbled across the last post-game press conference of Majerus' career, after his Billikens suffered a close loss to Michigan State in their second round of the 2012 tournament. In particular, the comments of Majerus and his star senior Brian Conklin about each other are incredibly poignant, and those words say as much about the Coach as any hundred articles of tribute and reminiscence. If you've not seen it, please take a few minutes to see and hear just how much this man gave to Our Game.
He will be missed.
at BUTLER 67, BALL STATE 53
BALL STATE 2-4 (0-0) -- D. Artis 2-6 6-6 10; J. Scaife 1-8 1-2 4; J. Berry 4-11 3-4 12; C. Bond 4-6 0-1 8; M. Majok 3-7 3-5 9; Z. Fields 2-3 0-0 4; M. Posley 3-5 1-3 7; M. Kamieniecki 1-3 3-4 5; B. Calhoun 1-1 0-0 2; M. Ramey 1-1 0-0 2; C. Brogna 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 20-45 11-19 53.
BUTLER 5-2 (0-0) -- R. Clarke 5-18 2-3 15; R. Jones 4-11 1-2 9; A. Smith 6-9 0-2 12; K. Dunham 1-7 3-3 5; K. Marshall 5-7 0-0 10; A. Barlow 2-3 1-1 5; E. Fromm 2-7 0-0 4; K. Woods 3-4 0-0 7; C. Stigall 0-3 0-0 0; J. Aldridge 0-0 0-0 0; E. Kampen 0-0 0-0 0; E. Kampen 0-0 0-0 0; D. Morgan 0-0 0-0 0; A. Smeathers 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 28-69 7-11 67.
Three-point goals: BSU 2-11 (J. Scaife 1-6; J. Berry 1-4; M. Posley 0-1), BUTL 4-23 (R. Clarke 3-12; C. Stigall 0-2; A. Smith 0-1; E. Fromm 0-4; A. Barlow 0-1; K. Woods 1-1; K. Dunham 0-2); Rebounds: BSU 35 (M. Majok 10), BUTL 32 (K. Marshall 6); Assists: BSU 5 (J. Scaife 1), BUTL 14 (R. Clarke 5); Total Fouls -- BSU 15, BUTL 16; Fouled Out: BSU-None; BUTL-None.