Game #9-488: Wright State Raiders at Valparaiso CrusadersMarch 12, 2013 9:00 pm
In the Horizon League, March is truly maddening. And the madness only increases with each win. If you are the 1 seed and graduating 6 seniors, 5 of whom start and the other who plays a key role, the spectre of a loss looms large, bringing with it that dreaded R word (rebuilding). It may take a while to scale to these heights again. This game may be your last one in the spotlight for a while, and you REALLY don't want to lose on your home court for the 2nd year in a row.
Then again, if you are the team who was picked to finish last in the conference in the preseason (mainly because your big star transferred to greener pastures), and you find yourselves in the title game for the auto-bid, it would be a real shame to swing and miss this close to the Big Dance. Losing is like watching your dream dance in front of you, reaching out to grab it, and having it slip through your fingers.
That, to my mind at least, perfectly describes the two combatants who will fight each other for that one and only Horizon League ticket to the Big Dance. One team will go Dancing, the other will go home and watch it on TV. For one team, the Madness only escalates; for the other, it ends in a loss - but the madness does end. For the winner, they get to go through the whole cycle again. There's still another do-or-die game to play god-knows-where (at the moment). Plus, they have ascended one rung higher into the rarefied air, increasing the likelihood that they are going somewhere they'll never get to again. Each win takes you higher and higher, farther and farther than you have ever imagined being. It sharpens the senses - you don't want to miss a second of the experience. And then for 2 hours you strive with all your might to prolong the madness.
And in the back of your mind, you fight off those horrible thoughts: what if we have an off game? In an instant, it could go horribly wrong and all your hopes and aspirations go flushing down the toilet. You are inviting - with open arms - the looming Regret Monster into your world. He promises to bring with him all those things you kick yourself for doing or not doing. He has the almighty projector which he will run in your head all summer long, showing you all the plays you failed to make: the layups that rolled harmlessly off the rim, the pass that looked so great when you thought to make it only to be swiped by an intruder, the charging foul you swear you were set for only to be called a block, and so many more moments that could rip your heart to shreds.
Or maybe I'm projecting what it is the two fan-bases are feeling onto the players. Could be; I never seriously played this game, it wasn't in me. I learned proper free throw shooting technique from the great Virgil Sweet, but when I was on the court in uniform, 99% of the time I was like a clueless visitor from another planet who could learn the movements but had no feel for the game. The game taught me I don't belong - and the lesson was administered harshly but clearly.
As fans, we gravitate toward feelings of outlandish hope, supreme confidence, or nail-biting tension, depending on how we feel about our team's season. If your team (who was favored to win the league) is the 1 seed with a record of 25-7 playing on its home court, a win is absolutely necessary if you want to show your face around the internet next week after you've been strutting there all year up to this point. If your team is the 3 seed initially picked to finish last, you are overwhelmed with your team's propensity to pull off the "impossible" and you have begun to believe that the impossible is now possible.
More than that: destiny is a powerful emotion for both fan-bases. For the underdog, with each advancement (first over a dangerous but shaky 6 seed, then over the reigning high-flying champion with their McDonald's All-American and their perpetual Sports Center Top 10 dunking machine) comes the heightened feeling that this is "our year". For the Favored 1 seed with its 6 departing seniors seriously looking to cheat competitive death (cutting it way too close
in their first HL tourney game), comes the growing sense of rightness of cause: No, this is OUR YEAR.
One of these two teams will fail tonight and will experience a premature ending ushering in the summer of regret. The other will return to the starting gate to run the whole maddening race all over again, only on an even bigger stage. As Rush The Court's "Circle of March"
beautifully illustrates, the Stage gets bigger and bigger the less teams are on it. Ask Butler version 2010 how blissfully happy they are to have been one of only two teams on that stage, only to lose the last game of the year. Trust me, those 3 centimeters will probably haunt Gordon Hayward for the rest of his life, to say nothing of the baseline jumper he missed with about 10 seconds to go. Well, again, I don't know that, but I'm fairly certain it will haunt Butler fans for a long time. And that I DO know something about.
The other thing I know is that there is nothing in sports more compelling than what will take place tonight on Homer Drew Court in the Athletics Recreation Center on the campus of Valparaiso University. March is indeed maddening, and I wouldn't have it any other way.
For the first few minutes, Madness was threatening to run up the score, which typically is not good news for Wright State. Then a lid developed on their basket. After tying the score at 5, Valpo ran off the next 13 points, and there was opportunity for WSU to panic, but I don't believe they did. They kept at it, and eventually Valpo opened the door a bit (Maddeningly, as they sometimes do). WSU closed the gap with a 9-0 run of their own, before Valpo widened the lead once again. So close and yet so far away - Madness.
There were a few flurries of dueling turnovers, where one team would lose the ball, but then on the break the other would give it right back. As maddening as that can be, anytime the pace is quickened like that, it favors Valpo.
There was one injury, but instead of a player, it was a fan. AJ Pacher went flying into the WSU bench, but he came out of the crowd unscathed. A Raider fan sitting in the front row was not so lucky (I discovered later that it was Billy Donlon Sr, father of the Horizon League coach of the year). I have no idea how serious it was, but the two teams were given a free timeout while they attended to the fan. Injuries are especially maddening in a game like this. Valpo fans remember last year, and to a lesser degree this past Saturday. Of course, Cole Darling still sits out, so WSU is already dealing with this issue. They are the most team-oriented team in the HL, but he is still a quality veteran that they miss. Oh, what might have been, Raider fans must be thinking.
The halftime score was 36-25 Valpo, and Valpo emerged first from locker room. Raiders finally returned to the court with 2:20 to go in the halftime. I wonder how Billy Donlon dealt with the madness in his locker room.
Would the madness abate in the 2nd half? Ummmmm, no. Wright State came out with a renewed sense of purpose, and they stormed out to a 15-4 run to tie the game at 40. One play kept happening over and over again: Valpo tried to find a seam in the WSU defense but failed, the ball carrier reversed course right into the waiting arms of a chaser who immediately swiped the ball and headed in the opposite direction. For the game, Valpo committed 25 turnovers. The Crusaders are not the most careful team in the Horizon League with the ball, but 25 turnovers is a bit much even for them. Time after time, one of the Raider guards would see Matt Kenney or Wil Bogan or Ben Boggs trying to drive the lane only to be turned away - always with their head down - and head over to ambush them when they changed directions. For whatever reason, Valpo could not seem to adjust to this. Bryce Drew drained all his timeouts trying to break WSU's rhythm, seemingly to no avail. After a tie at 42, the Raiders scored 5 straight points. Valpo finally managed to hit a shot instead of turn it over, but Matt Vest responded with an open 3 to give Wright State their largest lead at 50-44 with a little over 5 minutes left.
5+ minutes until a dream is destroyed, and it looked like it was going to be Valpo's dream that would die. Certainly if things didn't change, that's what was going to happen. This is Madness: you just cheated death
on Saturday night. As ecstatic as Valparaiso was that night after Ryan Broekhoff's magical shot, that only makes losing to Wright State all the more abhorrent. If Valpo loses this game, every time a fan remembers Ryan's buzzer beater, they will be forced to recall opportunity lost 3 nights later. The latter memory will dominate. In March, winning prolongs and heightens the madness.
But if you are Wright State, you never breathe easy. There is still a little more than 1/4th of the 2nd half to play, and your lead is only 6. You are still on the other team's home court, with the ARC filled to the rafters with hometown fans. Interestingly enough, this is about the time that both sides of the court rose to their feet to inspire their team. The chairback side of the ARC is notorious (deserved or not) for being too sedate. The bleacher side had actually been standing for a few minutes already. Finally, the elder folks decided it was time to truly make their presence felt on behalf of the Crusaders.
Coincidentally or not, Erik Buggs, Ryan Broekhoff, Kevin Van Wijk, and probably every single Valpo player dug down deep yet again and found a new level of strength and tenacity. To say they were mad would be to engage in gross understatement.
That's the only way to deal with March Madness: embrace it. Let me correct that slightly: the only right way to deal with March Madness is to embrace it. In the entire 2013 Horizon League tournament, there was only 1 game
where March Madness was nowhere to be found. The losing team's highest profile fan on twitter declared the game over fairly early in the first half, observing what he found to be a team that had quit. That's the other way to deal with March Madness, but of course it endears you to no one.
The overwhelming choice of Horizon League teams this year was to stare down the Madness and dare it to kill them. When March Madness starts gunning for you, stand up to it: "It's either you or me, and you're going to have to kill me because I'm not backing down." It takes will, confidence, but mostly fearlessness and its partner, sacrifice. That's when March Madness is truly a thing of beauty: when the players excise their fear of elimination and challenge fate (and each other).
I wish I could report evenly on the final 5+ minutes on the way both teams handled this exhilarating moment in time, but I found myself studying the Valpo players more intently than the Wright State players. Fortunately, the scoreboard tells a significant story: approximately 4 minutes later on the game clock, the score was Valpo 60 Wright State 50. That's right, a 16-0 run by the home team. I saw the Raiders missing shot after shot. One was even an air-ball. From my floor level seat in the corner pocket (literally) of the ARC, my view was less than ideal. I could not tell if the air-ball was caused by the defender or simply because the shooter was tight. I could only trust the referee's call that awarded the ball to Valpo.
Erik Buggs made several steals during this sequence. A couple of them I could not describe because my view was blocked. I was able to see Ryan Broekhoff once again be a terror on the defensive boards. In short, the team that looked so out of sync for almost 15 minutes found their rhythm just in the nick of time and exerted their will over the game. For all I know, Wright State did not so much falter as they simply were overpowered. In one excruciating sequence, Erik Buggs blocked a Reggie Arceneaux layup, only to lose it back to him, then steal it from him all over again, head up court for a layup on the other end that fouled AJ Pacher out of the game. I don't think Wright State ever gave in to the fear, I just think they lost to it. But there is no shame in losing to the Madness. If you face the Madness without fear and lose, the only thing that hurts is the finality of the result. It's shrinking from the Madness that causes the kind of hurt that leads to shame and dishonor. I honestly believe the Raiders have nothing whatsoever to be ashamed of in this loss. In a way, what lessens the pain a tiny bit is that each Raider player has eligibility left for next season.
For Valpo, they get a couple of days to enjoy their conference tourney trophy, then their battle with March Madness begins anew, and the Madness is really going to bring it now. They figure to be a 13 seed give or take 1 slot, which means the challenge is going to be enormous. The seniors fought hard for 4 years to get this opportunity and they are challenged now to make the most of it, knowing - as always - that one misstep could end it all way too soon.
Prolong and heighten the Madness.
at VALPARAISO 62, WRIGHT STATE 54
WRIGHT STATE 21-12 (10-6) -- R. Arceneaux 6-16 1-2 14; K. Griffin 2-2 0-0 4; J. Young 3-7 1-2 7; M. Dixon 2-7 2-2 6; M. Vest 2-4 0-0 5; T. Sledge 3-5 1-1 7; J. Yoho 1-6 2-2 4; A. Pacher 2-6 2-4 7; J. Bramanti 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 21-54 9-13 54.
VALPARAISO 26-7 (13-3) -- R. Broekhoff 2-8 2-2 7; E. Buggs 9-13 4-6 22; W. Bogan 4-6 4-4 14; M. Kenney 0-4 2-2 2; K. Van Wijk 3-3 4-7 10; L. Dority 1-2 0-0 3; B. Boggs 1-2 0-0 2; B. Capobianco 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 21-39 16-21 62.
Three-point goals: WRIG 3-11 (M. Dixon 0-1; A. Pacher 1-3; M. Vest 1-1; R. Arceneaux 1-3; J. Yoho 0-2; J. Young 0-1), VALP 4-14 (W. Bogan 2-3; E. Buggs 0-1; B. Boggs 0-1; M. Kenney 0-2; R. Broekhoff 1-6; L. Dority 1-1); Rebounds: WRIG 21 (T. Sledge 4), VALP 25 (K. Van Wijk 10); Assists: WRIG 8 (K. Griffin 2), VALP 9 (E. Buggs 3); Total Fouls -- WRIG 23, VALP 15; Fouled Out: WRIG-A. Pacher; VALP-None.