Game #9-417: Saint Louis Billikens at Butler BulldogsFebruary 22, 2013 7:00 pm
INDIANAPOLIS - The biggest dilemma in writing, no matter what the genre, often doesn't come down to what to include, but what to omit.
Wonderful scribes sometimes get bogged down in detail, leaving their audience moving one way than another, never quite wrapping the seemingly wonderful details into a cogent story.
After a whirlwind day that culminated in me seeing a game that could be considered worthy of thousands of words in its own right at a sold-out Hinkle Fieldhouse, I'd be grateful if you gave me a little bit of latitude.
I'll do my best not to let my giddiness bleed into the story. I write this to you from O'Hare Airport at 3 a.m., so early (or late) that I sit almost alone. I haven't slept in nearly 24 hours. I'm still not tired. I don't much care, to be honest.
"C'mon Trip, we're going to Hinkle."
Most speakers of the English language would probably be able to make sense out of four of those six words in context. Trip? Hinkle?
It was 5:30 p.m., 90 minutes before tip-off and I had arrived at Butler early enough to take a quick walking tour of the campus when I heard those words from behind me. My ears perked up so much they knocked my hat off.
I twirled and saw nothing but a white van with the Butler logo on the back. As I got closer, two bulldogs started wandering toward it, one much quicker than the other. Butler Blue II meandered along, while Butler Blue III, or Trip, pranced around like the young pup he was, evading his handler momentarily before making his way into the van.
Blue was much easy to get a photo of and to pet, both of which he's done thousands of times in his illustrious career
It occurred to me that the two mascots represent a changing of the guard for Butler basketball. Blue II, like the Mid-majority, has seen some hard times and lived through the glory years together, culminating in back-to-back NCAA finals, a feat not even a canine likely thought was possible when he first took over the job in 2006. This season is his last, as he goes into a well-deserved retirement
and gives way permanently to Trip.
Trip, born nine months after the second finals appearance, won't really know what it was like to be a mid-major. He only knows capacity crowds and national television appearances. To many pundits, Butler doesn't qualify as a mid-major these days; by next
season - when Trip becomes the face of Butler basketball full-time - they could be in a conference with Georgetown and Villanova.
Trip probably wouldn't have time for the Mid-majority anyway, even if he did know who we were.
Trying to capture what makes an historic building (literally in this case
) like Hinkle so special is just about impossible to put into words. Great cop-out, I know. I loved the way that I was unrestricted in walking wherever I wanted to pre-game. Like the Palestra, you can feel the history in touring the place, sense the people - famous and not-so-famous - that have graced its presence.
Even after a tough Butler home loss, the court remained open for an hour after the final buzzer. Kids of all shapes and sizes took their turn including a giant Knockout contest that had to involve 100 children. When you see enough people kicking people out of their arenas five minutes after the final buzzer so their cleanup can go a little faster, that means a lot.
Once tip-off came, the Butler cheerleaders, band, students, and most of the fans knew every cheer, knew when to get loud and when not to. The sounds coming from a made dunk or a three-pointer echoed through the building, as did the anticipation of every loose ball or end of a possession.
In short, Butler may be outgrowing us at the Mid-majority. The saying from Hoosiers that sits in Hinkle and was one of the iconic phrases from Butler's first run to the championship game:
may not really apply
anymore. Butler a small school? Not without doing some serious gerrymandering.
But if my long-lost cousin Zorterak from Mars decided to drop in on Earth and said, "Show me college basketball, cuz", I'd jump in his teleporter and set it to Hinkle Fieldhouse. Big school, small school, RPI, Adjusted Offensive Efficiency in the Final Two Minutes of Conference Games, whatever. What I saw Friday night is what college basketball is meant to be. And that's about as big a compliment as I can pay.
Tweets come and tweets go, but I did see one the other day from old TMM friend Travis Mason-Bushman that caught my eye:
"Stepping into a catch-and-shoot three is one of the most beautiful acts of the beautiful game."
As a 5-foot-8 kid (and now man), that's about the only skill I had in my hoops career, so I wholeheartedly agree.
One of my biggest little pleasures in life is to head to an empty gym and just shoot. All kinds of shots, pretend like you're taking it off the pass, imagine that the clock is running down. Yes, even at my age. In the underrated movie Eight Men Out, Buck Weaver gives a tremendous monologue
about the feeling of catching the ball just in the sweet spot of the bat, which concludes, "Damn, if you don't feel like you're going to live forever."
Well, when the ball releases off your hand just right, and you see it spinning toward the rim and you know you're about the hear one of the most beautiful sounds I know, the ball rippling cleanly through the net, damn if you don't feel like you're going to live forever.
Since I'm not coaching, I can count the number of times I've shot around on both hands this season. But about 30 miles east of Indianapolis lies tiny Knightsville, home of Hoosier Gym, where they keep the original Hickory gym from Hoosiers as a kind of Hoosiers museum. It's fun to look at the locker rooms and hear stories about how the movie was filmed, but the biggest draw to Hoosier Gym? There are always basketballs laying around for you to shoot.
Friday afternoon, I had a whole half-court to myself and started shooting. Twice I told myself it was time to go. Twice I ended up taking my coat off again and going back launching #superhoops. Self-discipline not a strength on this day.
After some big-time rust for the first few minutes, I caught a groove, making three, four in a row.
"You're pretty good," one of the men working at the gym (interestingly, both men working at Hoosier Gym were headed to Hinkle that night) yelled.
"It's pretty easy with no one guarding you," I muttered instinctively.
I might still be shooting if there wasn't a birthday party coming in.
If you asked college basketball people (a huge generalization, I know) who the best catch-and-shoot player is currently and you don't get Rotnei Clarke in the first three names, they're probably not trying very hard.
Clarke, an Arkansas transfer, is averaging 17 points and nearly four superhoops per game for the Bulldogs, and might have the quickest release in the game, surely developed over years of being harassed by defenders. Surely, many times in many big games, he has let go of shots he knew were destined for nothing but twine, .
As the crowd roared and his team was victorious, damn if he must have felt like he would live forever.
On this night, though, nothing was going to come easy. At least after the first few minutes. Clarke had two early superhoops to stake the Bulldogs to an eight-point lead, but Saint Louis didn't get to be one of the hottest teams in the nation by letting people shoot at will. Clarke would get one more three-pointer off an offensive rebound kickout late in the first half, but that was it.
Billiken defenders, with Mike McCall Jr. leading the charge, were impervious to the screens set to get Clarke open. They didn't fall for his shotfakes and stayed with him step-for-step when he tried to put the ball on the floor. And importantly, it didn't take three or four players to do it. When Clarke tried to pass he saw those lanes obstructed as well. Clarke finished with 13 hard-earned points, but also had six turnovers.
Fellow gunner, freshman Kellen Dunham, also had some early success and finishedwith 14 points, but just 2-of-7 from behind the arc. In the end, Butler had 14 turnovers, while Saint Louis - in one of the most hostile environments in college basketball - had just four.
It was different and probably tougher to appreciate, but Saint Louis' defensive performance was as picturesque as a Clarke three-pointer. It was also a lot more democratic. Talking, switching, helping, teamwork that goes unseen by the naked basketball-watching eye, but wins games and championships. Surely, Brad Stevens could just stand and admire. After all, that's what his teams had done to opponents on the way to those title games.
As has happened more times than we care to count, the national media will begin clutching onto Saint Louis long after we were doing the same. They are a great story, and I just hope they haven't peaked too early, and that Rick Majerus' guiding hand may push them to great things this season.
With an early morning flight back home and therefore nowhere to go (Sleep? Really?), I wandered Hinkle Fieldhouse. I already alluded to the fact that kids were allowed to play until they didn't feel like playing anymore, but it's always interesting to me what happens what the television lights go off.
The disappointed Butler players eventually meandered out and talked to their families and friends, just as if it were a high school game. Dunham, who could pass for about 12 years old, signed autographs for the youngsters that were eliminated from the giant Knockout contest. The band and ESPN crew packed up their stuff and got ready to depart.
On the other end of the floor, a jubilant Saint Louis squad emerged (and there was a sizable visiting contingent that made their way from St. Louis to Indy), full of hugs and handshake bumps.
Finally, at about 10:10 p.m., more than an hour after the final buzzer, the court was empty and the last of the folk were ready to leave Hinkle Fieldhouse.
Among them was Jim Crews, who surreally stood about 10 feet away from me as I was reading people say on Twitter that he should be a Coach of the Year candidate. Crews had actually bought a home in Indianapolis two years ago (he played and was an assistant coach at Indiana before becoming a head coach), thinking - at the age of 57 - he might be done in the coaching ranks, after not only having been fired at Army, but done so just before the 2009-10 season due to alleged misconduct (abuse of players).
Funny how life works, though. Three years later, here he is, just about atop the college basketball world, even if his title still currently says "Interim" on it.
I saw him talking to family members, including an elderly man with an ill-fitting hat and a cane, who turned out to be Crews' 94-year-old father Warren (to put it in perspective, Warren was 11 when Hinkle opened in 1928). Crews laughed and joked, waited for a van to come around and slowly walked his father to the sidewalk, gingerly placing him in the backseat before jumping in another adjacent van.
The champion of the evening in more ways than one.
It was finally time to leave Hinkle, and as I walked down the streets of Butler University to my car, I heard the usual Friday night sounds of partying from a college campus in the distance. I sat for a moment, thinking of a poem that sat in Hoosier Gym called "Return to Heaven". It's pretty sappy to be honest, but the last three lines resonated at this moment:
"So whenever I leave my domain, I always take with me the anxiety and yearning from deep within my soul that just can't wait until my next 'Return to Heaven'."
Damn, if I didn't feel like I was going to live forever. At least for a few hours.
SAINT LOUIS 65, at BUTLER 61
SAINT LOUIS 21-5 (10-2) -- M. McCall Jr. 5-10 6-8 18; D. Evans 7-13 3-5 17; R. Loe 3-6 0-1 7; J. Jett 3-10 1-2 7; G. Glaze 1-3 0-0 2; C. Ellis 0-4 0-0 0; J. Barnett 0-1 2-3 2; C. Remekun 0-0 0-2 0. Totals 19-47 12-21 53.
BUTLER 22-6 (9-4) -- R. Clarke 5-11 0-0 13; A. Smith 4-8 1-2 9; R. Jones 3-8 7-11 13; K. Dunham 4-10 4-4 14; K. Woods 1-1 0-4 2; K. Marshall 2-4 1-2 5; A. Barlow 0-1 0-0 0; E. Fromm 0-1 0-1 0; C. Stigall 1-2 2-2 5. Totals 20-46 15-26 61.
Three-point goals: SLU 3-15 (K. Mitchell 0-2; C. Ellis 0-2; J. Barnett 0-1; J. Jett 0-2; R. Loe 1-4; M. McCall 2-6), BUTL 6-18 (R. Clarke 3-6; C. Stigall 1-2; A. Smith 0-2; E. Fromm 0-1; K. Dunham 2-7); Rebounds: SLU 23 (R. Loe 6), BUTL 36 (A. Smith 9); Assists: SLU 10 (J. Jett 3), BUTL 11 (A. Smith 3); Total Fouls -- SLU 16, BUTL 22; Fouled Out: SLU-None; BUTL-R. Jones.
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