Before this post, some business: First off, we’ve had an absolute explosion of new visitors in the last few days, undoubtedly thanks to our self-pimping on Goggles’s/Hamel’s/my event page for the UMass-BC game on Facebook. I just want to thank you all for checking us out and we hope you keep following the blog for the rest of the season and beyond, and again, contributors are always welcome so if you want to write for us in any capacity, big or small, contact one of us through here or Facebook or wherever. And please spread the word. We’re trying to make this about the student body here, something I think gives us a unique perspective as opposed to the other college hockey blogs out there (not that we don’t like their angles – we’re just filling an empty niche). As soon as our lazy asses get around to it we’ll be pimping the blog out on bulletin boards around campus, but word-of-mouth is always nice too. We’re not doing this for money or for our own careers – we just want our work to get read, and to open discussions.
And one more thing: Welcome aboard Ben, a.k.a. “Flag Guy!” We’re lovin’ your contributions so far.
So halfway through tonight’s Xavier-UMass basketball game, with X up 50-33 and with all the momentum in the world, I said to nobody in particular, “Let’s just make it respectable. That’s all I ask. Get it to single digits, make a run, show us something.”
It started reasonably enough, with Vinson and Riley knocking down a few shots and UMass up 13-10. And then Big City checked into the game and proceeded to play zero defense, Xavier got away with a vicious trip on someone (Gurley, IIRC) and everyone fell apart as the Musketeers went on a monster run to seemingly put the game out of reach before the 10 minute mark of the first half. The Gurley Show looked like it needed to be cancelled. Ricky Harris looked…old. Vinson disappeared. “Here we go again,” we groaned. “Is it Friday yet?” we groaned. It was so bad that the biggest applause came when the Hoop Band decided to reveal that they have, in fact, learned how to play not one but THREE Lady Gaga songs (Bad Romance, Paparazzi and Poker Face). Sidenote: This is the greatest moment for the Hoop Band since they started playing “Army” by Ben Folds last year.
Then, lo and behold, UMass came out of the halftime locker room possessed. Gurley and Riley stopped taking stupid 3’s. Ricky started to actually knock down shots. Javorn Farrell became a beast on both ends of the floor, as did TV. UMass was hustling defensively. Even City looked more like the guy we saw in the Memphis game, shedding the “Big Shitty” label if only fleetingly. People like Sean “Hov” Carter and Big City were – gasp – actually hitting free-throws.
This is the UMass team we want to see from here on out. This is the up-tempo, aggressive, drive-and-dish offense Kellogg wants to run. This is the energetic defense these guys need to start using. This is what DK and Walberg are building here in Amherst, a team that could develop into a serious A-10 title contender and bring basketball glory back to the Pioneer Valley. UMass erased that 17-point deficit, and even held a lead in the later stages of the game! Hell, that’s better than T-Fraud’s teams did last time Xavier was in town a couple years ago, and we were good back then!
Ultimately, and somewhat predictably, the machine ran out of gas – Xavier showed their combination of experience and young talent, pulling away with a big run as the defense came together to shut down Ricky, Gurley, et al. There were still some rough edges, sure, and Xavier shot itself in the foot with careless turnovers to help fuel the run. But for once, the Mullins faithful finally saw first-hand for the first time (unless they were in Boston for the Memphis game) flashes of the potential this team has. Remember, Farrell’s a freshman. Riley’s a freshman. Vinson’s a freshman. These guys are only going to get smarter, stronger, more efficient, more adjusted to the offense they’re trying to run.
Until tonight, and even through the first half, I was concerned about the progress this team was making. I’ve conceded that the gelling of this team probably won’t end up happening quickly enough to rescue their A-10 tournament hopes, but I was getting to the point where I actually felt this team was regressing. But they heeded my call. They showed me something. And that’s all you can ask for in a rebuilding year.
Baby steps. Let’s keep our fingers crossed that the team keeps taking them, in a forward direction, from here on out.
So yeah, Friday. BC. About that…I’ll be hitting up the Motion City Soundtrack concert tonight (Thursday) in Hartford, and between that and classes I prooobably won’t have time to write anything before the BC game, or, for that matter, Saturday’s annual URI road-trip. Maybe the other guys will having something to say, but otherwise, fear not, there’ll be plenty to say after the games, good or bad. Until then, all I have to say is…Friday, PACK THE DAMN MULLINS CENTER! (as if it even needs to be said!) And as for Saturday: this.
It will never, ever, ever get old.