Game #9-205: Valparaiso Crusaders at Missouri State BearsDecember 15, 2012 8:05 pm
A 7-hour Saturday round trip to Springfield, arriving home at 1 am, resting up on Sunday, driving 10.5 hours to Rochester, Michigan for another game on Monday, 4 hour drive to Valpo to sleep over at my Dad's house, early morning drive back to St. Louis on Tuesday - this may be the closest I ever come to what used to be the Life of Kyle. Of course in my case, I am a fan of the one team playing in both games, so it's not even that close. I was trying to attend both games with an eye toward life in general below the Red Line, but the only reason I was going to those two games is because I'm a Valpo fan.
This write-up is about Valpo's Saturday night game against Missouri State. Part 2 will come in a separate recap.
"The avalanche has begun. It is too late for the pebbles to vote." - Ambassador Kosh of the Vorlon Empire, Babylon 5, season 1, "Sacrifice".
A struggling Missouri State Bears team looks for revenge on its home court for a smack-down 2 years ago by Valpo on TV during the Bracketbuster event. Cuonzo Martin has moved on to Tennessee. Valpo comes in 6-3 but has failed miserably every time they've tried for the upset. These are two teams absolutely looking to get well for conference play (MVC, HL respectively) while the basketball world wrings its hands over the breakup of the Big East and subsequent (inevitable) poaching of the A-10. It is hard not to notice how Butler, who has yet to play a single A-10 conference game, is already as good as gone from that conference and about to become a "Major". Oh by the way, they knocked off the 1 team in the nation today in the Crossroads Classic. For Valpo fans, the envy rages on. For me, I admire Butler's coldly rational navigation to the top, seemingly not the least bit unnerved by it all. I also bemoan the vulture-like culture from on high that looks to pick over the remains of those of us who live below the Red Line.
Although I got my ticket for free as part of the Valpo allotment, I still traveled 3.5 hours down US-44 from St. Louis to Springfield, to a place where my smartphone's GPS got lost and so did I. It's not exactly out in the middle of nowhere, but it feels like it when it's dark out and you can't see street names very well. "Searching for GPS..." is not a very welcome sight when you haven't quite reached your destination and you didn't bother to write down the directions before you left. It feels similar to how hard it is today to maintain my excitement for Mid-Major basketball. I fear getting lost in the forest where no one really cares about you. Everybody's talking about the conference realignment earthquake above the Red Line and how it's ruining everybody's favorite conference. I fully expect tons of tweets in the coming days with the hashtag #BigEastMemories. Just more reminders how irrelevant we all appear to be for them up there.
But then I have resolved to not care. This is why I don't partake of sports talk radio when they talk about college basketball. Because - at least for the station I normally listen to - we are at best an annoying burden to them. But then, maybe there's some solace in that. When Butler made back-to-back runs to the National Championship game, these folks were annoyed to no end, and I grew to enjoy that. We are the annoying fleas and mosquitoes that refuse to go away.
Both of these teams playing tonight have the same game day fan tradition: standing until the home team scores their first point. Valpo started this tradition within the last year or two. I had previously encountered a slightly different tradition at University of Arizona: fans there stand until the visiting team scores their first points. I will always relish Valpo's game there in December of 2001 when Valpo scored the first points of each half. Seeing all those raving Wildcat fans sit down promptly at the beginning of each half will have to suffice as consolation for Jason Gardner's bone-crushing dagger 3 from downtown over the outstretched fouling hand of Milo Stoval to eke out a 74-70 win for the home team.
At the 16:32 mark of the first half, Lavonte Dority, newly eligible, entered the game for Valpo. With the semester just finished, his transfer time out was over. He immediately made his presence felt. 2 hours later, he was the leading scorer with 20 points, including 3 for 4 from beyond the arc and 9-10 from the FT line. He also picked up a flagrant foul for an overactive elbow. He's been very anxious to contribute to his team. He's the backup point guard Valpo has been looking for, although Bryce Drew had hinted beforehand that we might see both Buggs and Dority together at times.
In the first half, both teams struggled. Valpo drew a bunch of fouls driving to the basket, though they got no free throws out of it in the early going. There's something to be said for fouling a guy before he shoots when you're not in the bonus yet. For Missouri State's part, they drew a bunch of charging fouls. Both Bobby Capobianco and Kevin Van Wijk picked up 2 fouls in the first 11 minutes. Valpo players recklessly drove to the basket on several occasions without regard to who was standing firm in front of them, and every charge that occurred in this game was called (sometimes it depends on the officiating crew, as will become clear in Part 2). Missouri State led 26-24 at the half.
There's some history hanging from the rafters here: 4 straight Mid-Con regular season titles (87-90), but more prominently, 2 straight NAIA National titles (52-53). Even more prominently, they were Division 2 National runner up in 59, 67, 69, and 74. Valpo's NAIA team made a bit of hay once or twice in their day, but nothing like this. They have one NCAA sweet sixteen appearance (1999) just as Valpo has but one (1998). Both teams seem to be a long way from recreating that magic. Such fleeting joy, so hard to duplicate. Fans get frustrated, especially when they perceive their school doesn't do enough to leverage the exposure.
The John Q. Hammons Arena is much larger than the Athletics Recreation Center at Valpo. It seats 11,000, including 22 suites. For this game, the place was about half full. However, the arena is used for more than just Missouri State basketball.
To start the second half, Valpo rolled out the other new lineup change Bryce Drew had hinted at: going big. 6-10 Bobby Capobianco, 6-8 Kevin Van Wijk, and 6-7 Ryan Broekhoff started, along with the two point guards Dority and Buggs. For much of the 2nd half, Missouri State got no 2nd chances on offense. Their first offensive rebound came with 5:30 to go. The second one came with 4:26 to go. The third one came with 35 seconds to go, and they got one more with 14 seconds to go. They only scored once off these rebounds.
Lavonte Dority's first game in a Crusader uniform brought with it something that has occasionally reared its ugly head in recent Valpo history: overly enthusiastic play leading to occasional penalties beyond the personal foul. Sometimes, this also draws jeers from opposing fans. After he was whistled for a flagrant foul, a Missouri State fan immediately called him a dirty player. It goes without saying that he didn't use the player's name, but simply yelled out, "4 is a dirty player." I rolled my eyes. As if this person has actually seen Lavonte play before. As if flagrant fouls hardly ever happen. As if no Missouri State player has ever committed one, to say nothing of the fact that many flagrant fouls are not pre-meditated.
In the meantime, this is not the first flagrant foul ever committed by a Valpo player. In fact, there was another one later, when Kevin Van Wijk took a pass on the perimeter, turned to pass elsewhere only to see his smaller defender lying on the floor and the official whistling a flagrant foul. Once again: inadvertent. And yet, this team has lived on the edge for the past couple of years, occasionally playing a little too aggressively. Stay tuned for Part 2 for more on this.
Valpo gradually built up a 10 point lead going into the final media timeout. In the final minutes of the game, Missouri State began pressing. They made some inroads and there were a few tense moments, but between a questionable call or two, turnovers, and missed shots, the Bears ended up losing by 8. Each time they started to scare Valpo, they'd miss a free throw and have to foul.
During halftime, I met a Bears fan who was hoping to meet Homer Drew. He has been a season ticket holder in recent years. He also is a huge St. Louis Cardinals fan, both at the major league level and at the AA level (The Cardinals' AA franchise is located in Springfield, Missouri). After the game was over, he really wanted to meet Homer Drew and Bryce Drew, and he was able to do just that. As we left for our cars, he wished me a safe trip back and said he'd be rooting for Valpo the rest of the way. I could do no less than wish him the same things. Maybe it helped that I started my conversation with him with "I hate to say it, but I think we got more home cooking that you guys did."
This game melted away all the national realignment news. That's what a hard-fought basketball game can do, even if it is a bit on the ugly side. When the ball goes in the air, nobody really cares what's happening at the top of the pyramid. For 2 hours, the Booyahs and the vultures don't exist. For 2 hours and change, Our Game, the associations it relentlessly builds, and the stories it tells on its own reign supreme. The only important question in the aftermath: Will that supremacy endure, or will we allow it to be submerged by the sportz bubble?
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