Game #9-204: Evansville Aces at Butler BulldogsDecember 22, 2012 2:00 pm
Saturday was "Hoosier Hysteria Day at Hinkle", honoring the legacy of Indiana High School Basketball, particularly those events held at the old fieldhouse. When Butler Fieldhouse was built in 1928, it was partially funded by the Indiana High School Athletic Association to serve as the home site for the state finals of its extraordinarily popular boys' basketball tournament, and it continued to serve in that capacity through 1971. Even after the finals then moved to Market Square Arena, Hinkle Fieldhouse continued to host earlier rounds of the tournament into the 2000s; throughout its nearly 80 years of high school action, Hinkle featured Hoosier State legends such as Wooden, McGinnis, Bird, and Alford. But even those of us born after that era recognize that the 1950s were the glory days of high school basketball in this building, and that decade was prominently represented on this special occasion. The Indiana Basketball Hall of Fame brought over a special mini-exhibit for the occasion, and I could write an extensive essay on just those items. However, I'll focus on my personal highlight of that exhibit - a jersey of the individual that I believe is the best high school basketball player in the history of the state, also representing one of its all-time great teams. Here is the uniform worn by Oscar Robertson of the Indianapolis Crispus Attacks Tigers.
Of course, Hinkle's connection to 1950s high school basketball was not limited to just the real world. This picture was not from the Hall of Fame exhibit, yet the young lady's attire from the Rade Butcher Collection perfectly fit the theme of the day.
But the most beloved of all the stars from the '50s, especially in these parts, has seemingly spent the past 50-plus years drifting back and forth between reality and mythology. After hitting The Last Shot in the 1954 title game to cap off the Milan Miracle, he went on to success as a college and AAU basketball star, an insurance salesman and financial consultant, a restaurateur, and the inspiration for Jimmy Chitwood. All in all, a pretty good life for a kid from small-town Indiana. Presenting the game ball for the day's game - Butler's own Bobby Plump.
Amidst all of the ceremony, there was a game to be played here as well, and it was a significant one for the host Bulldogs. The opponent was in-state rival Evansville, and the Purple Aces and their star senior Colt Ryan had no reason to be intimidated by Butler. Over the past three seasons, which have been fairly successful ones for Butler, Evansville has won two of three games in the series, and Ryan has been a significant factor in each contest.
November 21, 2009: Butler 64 Evansville 60; Ryan 17 points, 3 rebounds, 2 steals
Butler led by ten with a minute left to play, when the freshman Ryan led a furious comeback in front of a stunned Evansville crowd in which he had 12 points and 2 steals within a span of 59 seconds, missing a three-pointer that would have tied the game. All of that was achieved against a team just over four months and eight pixels away from winning the national championship. November 27, 2010: Evansville 71 Butler 68 (OT); Ryan 14 points, 4 assists
Ryan drew away the defensive attention and found an open Denver Holmes, thereby assisting on the game-winning three-pointer in front of a stunned Butler crowd and ruining my birthday. Yes, I'm still fairly bitter about that.November 12, 2011: Evansville 80 Butler 77 (OT); Ryan 23 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 5 steals
In the first-ever game at Evansville's Ford Center, Ryan hit a free throw with 0.9 seconds remaining to tie the game, leading to a bizarre sequence in which (i) Butler's Andrew Smith caught a length-of-the-court in-bound pass and laid it in for the game-winning score in front of a stunned Evansville crowd (note the recurring theme?); (ii) the officials reviewed the shot and found it came after the buzzer, but called a foul on Evansville, sending Smith to the line for two shots; (iii) Smith missed both shots. Ryan then dominated the overtime session, scoring six of his team's eleven points and leading them to the season-opening win.The anxieties I had entering this game were increased significantly in the first few minutes, but not really because of Colt Ryan. With a quick five points from Lithuanian freshman Egidijus Mockevicius, the Aces jumped out to a 9-3 lead. Here we go again!
Mockevicius soon went to the bench, replaced by sophomore Ryan Sawvell. After Butler fought back to tie the game, Sawvell went to work, converting consecutive put-backs off of offensive rebounds, then scoring on a driving layup to keep Evansville with a small margin. But then, a 17-6 run over a five-minute stretch gave Butler a nine-point lead; I exhaled a bit, noticing that Ryan had been held to just two points due primarily to the defensive effort of Butler's Roosevelt Jones. Big mistake by me! On the next trip down the court, Ryan hit a three-pointer and drew a foul. His four-point play keyed a 10-5 Evansville run over the rest of the half, and Butler held just a 35-31 lead at intermission.
After Ryan hit two of four shots in the first two minutes of the second half, which cut the Butler lead to two points, the Bulldogs played very well for the majority of the second half and steadily increased their lead. After Jones rebounded a miss by Evansville's Ned Cox with 2:30 left to play and with Butler then holding a 68-55 lead, my mind started to drift toward my post-game plans. Then, Colt Ryan left Butler with one more memory.
In sports, there's nothing quite as unnerving as seeing a player from an opposing team being in "The Zone." While in The Zone, this player wants the ball, demands the ball, and when he eventually gets the ball, you can feel your breath get caught in your throat because you know he's going to score. For me, seeing Colt Ryan in The Zone is doubly unnerving, since I've seen him there so many times before. Suddenly, Colt Ryan was back in The Zone, and the once-solid lead was vulnerable. Even during stops in action, Ryan seemed to always be on the move - here he is walking across the "R" on the court, with Roosevelt Jones continuing in pursuit.
A steal by Troy Taylor led to a pass to Ryan; the senior was fouled and converted both free throws. Later, Ryan converted a layup, then another layup, then he pulled up a knocked down a long-range three-pointer. With nine points in just about two minutes of action, Ryan again had brought Evansville nearly to the brink of victory. The 68-55 lead had been cut to 71-67, with 24 seconds still to play. From that point, Andrew Smith and Rotnei Clarke converted free throws for Butler, while Cox and Ryan misfired on long-range attempts for Evansville. When the clock ran down to zeroes, the scoreboard showed the home team with a 75-67 advantage, and the most of the fans were left to wipe the sweat from their brows. The final totals for Colt Ryan: 25 points, 5 rebounds, 5 assists, and 5 steals.
So, barring an unlikely matchup in a post-season tournament, the final tally shows a 2-2 tie in the series between Butler and Evansville during the Colt Ryan era. Looking back on it, I believe Butler's coaches were better off for having to game plan against Colt Ryan, and that Butler's players were better off for having to work to defend Colt Ryan. Personally, I'm not sure that my nervous system was better off for having to experience those games as a fan. Colt Ryan has helped to teach us all that no lead is ever safe!
Butler has been fortunate to play in a number of big games over the past four years. In doing so, they've competed against many great teams and many great players. I'm not sure that any of those players have left an impression on me quite like Colt Ryan has done. I wish him and his team much success in the upcoming Missouri Valley Conference season, and I hope they are able to make a run so that Ryan can get to experience the NCAA tournament. As I watched him walk off the Hinkle Fieldhouse court, I stood and applauded in his direction with a single thought in mind.
"I sure wish you played for my team!"
I suppose that's the ultimate compliment.
at BUTLER 75, EVANSVILLE 67
EVANSVILLE 7-5 (0-0) -- C. Ryan 8-22 7-9 25; N. Cox 4-13 3-4 12; R. Sawvell 5-7 0-0 10; L. Jones 2-3 2-2 6; T. Taylor 1-2 0-0 2; J. Jahr 2-4 0-0 5; D. Balentine 1-5 0-1 2; E. Mockevicius 2-4 1-2 5; J. Nelson 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 25-61 13-18 67.
BUTLER 9-2 (0-0) -- R. Clarke 6-13 5-5 20; A. Smith 6-8 7-9 20; K. Dunham 4-10 5-5 13; R. Jones 5-6 2-2 12; K. Woods 3-4 4-6 10; C. Stigall 0-4 0-0 0; K. Marshall 0-2 0-0 0; A. Barlow 0-1 0-0 0; E. Fromm 0-1 0-0 0; A. Smeathers 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 24-49 23-27 75.
Three-point goals: EVAN 4-15 (C. Ryan 2-7; N. Cox 1-3; J. Jahr 1-2; J. Nelson 0-1; D. Balentine 0-2), BUTL 4-16 (R. Clarke 3-6; C. Stigall 0-3; A. Smith 1-2; E. Fromm 0-1; K. Dunham 0-4); Rebounds: EVAN 27 (T. Taylor 6), BUTL 36 (K. Woods 12); Assists: EVAN 14 (T. Taylor 6), BUTL 10 (A. Smith 4); Total Fouls -- EVAN 24, BUTL 21; Fouled Out: EVAN-L. Jones; BUTL-A. Barlow.