Game #9-230: New Mexico Lobos at Saint Louis BillikensDecember 31, 2012 7:30 pm
As a teenager, I read only one genre. Sports. No Harry Potter. No Lord of the Rings. If I was going to read something, it was going to be real, dammit, not a story about magicians or hobbits.
My favorite book of all-time is "Season on the Brink" by John Feinstein, detailing Bobby Knight's 1985-86 Indiana basketball team. The star of that squad was a guy named Steve Alford. Shortly after reading that book, I went to the library and discovered there was another book about Indiana basketball entitled "Playing for Knight." It was written by Steve Alford. I read that one, too, and Alford quickly became one of my new sports idols, ranking just below Isaac Bruce and Edgar Renteria.
I was 15 years old when I read Alford's book. Alford graduated from Indiana in 1987 after winning a national championship, four years before I was even born, and yet I still looked up to this guy. I knew I'd never be an All-American like Steve Alford in any sport, but he seemed like the epitome of how a star athlete should act. He was fully committed to the game of basketball, completely obsessed with becoming the best. Like every athlete, he had legendary stories about spending holidays and weekends in the gym, getting his shots up at the expense of a social life.
These stories always seemed dramatic and inspiring to me. The thought of being so fixated on one goal is a romantic idea, something I quite frankly carry into my daily life as a 21-year-old now. Win at all costs. Do the work required to get where you want to go. These were the values of Steve Alford.
On Monday night, he was 15 feet in front of me. Alford is now the head coach at the University of New Mexico, a job he took several years ago after a rocky end to his tenure at Iowa. Before that, he reached a Sweet 16 at Southwest Missouri State (now simply called Missouri State) and also made the Division III Final Four with Manchester. Now, though, he's excelling in his sixth year as the head coach of the Lobos. They've already won three Mountain West titles under Alford, and on Monday, they visited Saint Louis with a top 25 ranking to their name.
That's the Steve Alford I remember. A success story. But as the Billikens obliterated New Mexico in the first half, I watched Alford react in front of my very own eyes. It was fascinating. His team had more turnovers (16) than points (13) at halftime, but he just sat there throughout the first half without making a sound. Sometimes, he'd get up from the bench and offer some sort of vague input to his players, but mostly, he just planted his right hand on his cheek in disgust. His team had already won at eighth-ranked Cincinnati four days earlier, so maybe he'd have to chalk this game up as a mulligan against a good Saint Louis team. When the half ended, he waltzed to the locker room with his head down. No emotion, no words, nothing. Man, if only I could be as cool and calm as Steve Alford. That's why I've always looked up to this guy.
I don't know what happened at halftime, but his team immediately responded in the second half. New Mexico had trailed 33-13, but it cut the lead to nine in the opening five minutes of the half. Here come the Lobos. Look out, world. Alford's got them rolling. As quick as the comeback began, however, things then fell apart. The deficit was 20 again almost in the blink of an eye, and it appeared New Mexico would have to take its lumps in this one. Behind the bench, Alford's family looked miserable. They'd come all the way to Missouri to see this beatdown, and it seemed like a waste of time on New Year's Eve. His parents sat in silence. A young woman who looked like his daughter sulked in the first row as though she were being tortured. There was nothing Alford could do to soothe them. This game was way over, and there was no chance of a comeback.
That brings me to the 9:26 mark of the second half. Steve Alford calls a timeout. Good decision, coach. Then, you see an argument. You hear a whistle. Technical foul. Then, you hear another whistle. The crowd roars. Technical number two. The official thrusts his right hand in the air and clenches his fist to signal an ejection. Goodbye, Steve Alford. As the Chicago White Sox television announcers say, "he gone!"
That certainly wasn't the Steve Alford I knew. With the crowd taunting him, Alford walked gingerly to the locker room. I, of course, pulled out my cell phone camera and captured this picture:
The ejection doesn't ruin my impression of Steve Alford. I still think his life and career is inspirational, but I do question some of the things I heard in the post-game press conference. Before Alford appeared in the interview room, those of us in the room were talking about the game and the ejection. One of the reporters, who was apparently sitting close enough to hear what Alford said to the officials, claimed Alford had dropped an f-bomb. His story went as follows: Alford called a timeout, then said 'that's a foul,' got a technical, then dropped an f-bomb and got ejected. We all had a good laugh about that one.
Alford had a different story. In a jovial tone, he explained to us how the situation happened. He said he 1) called a timeout three times before finally getting the refs' attention, 2) said 'that's a foul,' 3) got T'd up, 4) said 'that's a foul' again, and then finally 5) got ejected. He explicitly said he did not curse.
Who was telling the truth, Alford or that reporter?
I spoke up. "Did the official misunderstand what you said to him?" He smirked. "He may not speak English," Alford said.
I have no idea whether Alford lied to us or not. Frankly, I don't really care. All I know is, I briefly had a conversation with Steve Alford! The 15-year-old version of me thinks that's pretty cool.
at SAINT LOUIS 60, NEW MEXICO 46
NEW MEXICO 13-2 (0-0) -- K. Williams 5-14 4-4 15; H. Greenwood 1-3 0-1 2; A. Kirk 4-9 3-3 13; T. Snell 1-4 3-4 5; C. Adams 1-3 0-0 2; C. Bairstow 2-3 0-0 4; D. Walker 0-6 3-4 3; N. Banyard 0-1 1-2 1; J. Fenton 0-0 0-0 0; C. Thomas 0-1 1-2 1; K. Alford 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 14-44 15-20 46.
SAINT LOUIS 10-3 (0-0) -- D. Evans 2-6 0-0 4; C. Remekun 7-9 1-2 15; K. Mitchell 2-9 1-2 5; K. Mitchell 2-9 1-2 5; K. Mitchell 2-9 1-2 5; K. Mitchell 2-9 1-2 5; K. Mitchell 2-9 1-2 5; M. McCall Jr. 3-7 5-6 12; J. Jett 1-5 2-4 4; C. Ellis 3-7 4-4 13; R. Loe 3-7 0-1 7; J. Barnett 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 29-88 17-27 80.
Three-point goals: NM 3-12 (D. Walker 0-2; K. Williams 1-4; A. Kirk 2-4; H. Greenwood 0-2), SLU 5-37 (K. Mitchell 0-4; C. Ellis 3-6; J. Barnett 0-2; R. Loe 1-5; M. McCall 1-4); Rebounds: NM 32 (A. Kirk 8), SLU 54 (D. Evans 8); Assists: NM 9 (K. Williams 4), SLU 30 (J. Jett 5); Total Fouls -- NM 20, SLU 27; Fouled Out: NM-None; SLU-R. Loe.