Mario Austin's dramatic return occurred on the largest of stages at historic Madison Square Garden in New York City. The contingent, while not overtly pro Bulldog,certainly recognized good basketball and cheered along with the few Bulldog faithful who were in attendance. Mario, nor the Bulldogs, disappointed the fans, the scouts, nor the future competition.
Bulldog fans drove from near and far to the capital city just a few short days later to procure a memory and a ticket stub to prove they were there when the Bullies sold out the Coliseum. The game was close at the half, but after the halftime adjustments, the Dogs quickly put GSU in the rear view mirror and gave the reserves some much deserved playing time in front of the capacity crowd.
The Sugar Bowl classic brought many challenges and questions from the national media who still weren't completely sold on the Bulldogs or their smothering defense. The challenge also went out to Bulldog fans to travel to the Bayou State and compete with Tulane and LSU fans for tickets to the event. The fans showed up, and boy were they loud. Many have told me that at times they could barely hear Jack Cristil over the radio.
The game was tied at the half and the Bullies had allowed many chances to slip away.
The team came out with a sense of urgency in the 2nd half and the fans matched their intensity. Coach Sampson of Oklahoma stated in the postgame press conference that down the stretch the crowd was a huge factor. As the Dogs pulled away late, the crowd was worked in to a fever pitch as the players began feeling that victory was in hand. Mario Austin stood at half court and encouraged the crowd as the final seconds ticked away. The game ended with Derrick Zimmerman spiking the ball as the horn sounded.
As Mario and Z were collected for post game interviews by the commentators, several LSU fans began to heckle the two. The call from the purple and gold contingent was there was no way the Bulldogs would beat John Brady's Tigers in Baton Rouge. Z only responded with, "You just make sure you are there!"
The Tiger fans were not impressed as Z held up two fingers in a V sign. One of the more obnoxious fans said, "Peace? There won't be peace until we sweep you all."
Z responded, "Not peace. I'll see you in two weeks."
Since the Sugar Bowl classic the Bulldogs have won two hard-fought road games in the state of Alabama. The Bulldog fans poured out in support in what proved to be very hostile environments. While the teams weren't nationally ranked or highly regarded by the national media, the Bulldogs got the best shot from both squads. Every team is looking for a marquee win over a top ten team and the Dogs will just have to get used to it.
The Bulldogs will continue to encounter such behavior as the season wears along. This team is now the hunted as opposed to being the hunter. There are plenty of subplots to be found all up and down the schedule. Just look at the next few games. Tuesday's Florida game will be broadcast to a national audience as part of ESPN's Super Tuesday. The promo calls the Bullies "The upstart Mississippi State Bulldogs". I'm sure master motivator Stansbury will remind the team of that and how we still get no respect. Maybe he'll remind them that on ESPN's College Hoops Tonight that they showed a picture of Mario Austin with a Colonel Reb logo next to him as if we were Mississippi.
It's Mario's first home game of the season and the Hump will be rocking. The SEC opener provides a challenge as well as another opportunity for these Bulldogs to showcase their talents before a national audience.
Saturday, the Bulldogs travel to Baton Rouge for their first SEC road game of the season. The Dogs let one slip away last year to Brady's boys. The loss sparked a run that saw the Bulldogs win the SEC Tournament and not experience another loss until the 2nd round of the NCAA tournament. Rick and John are old friends and Brady hates losing to MSU. The Tigers ambushed Arizona a few short weeks ago and would love to knock off another top 10 team. With losses to teams in front of the Bulldogs this week, they should move up a spot or two. This will be quite a challenge and despite the fact that LSU has no answer for Mario, it will be a tough game. Go buy tickets if you can make it.
The Bulldogs biggest rival on the current Basketball radar is Alabama. The bad blood has only grown worse after allegations were made that involve Alabama in the Mario Austin grade fiasco. This game will be broadcast on Jefferson Pilot and it is a shame that a national audience won't get to see the goings on at Alabama. If the Dogs were to win this one at Bama, it would certainly change the landscape in the SEC West.
MSU will have to earn it in the SEC. The 10-1 start is where most of us expected this team to be. The only difference was we all expected that the loss would have been to OU or Xavier. The meat of the schedule is now upon us and there won't be any easy ones the rest of the way. I know Arkansas is struggling, but we haven't been able to win in Bud Walton arena. Auburn has some challenges as well, but we have had some difficulty sweeping these guys most seasons. Georgia made us look bad last year, so Z and company will be looking for some payback. We have to travel to UK this year and that one will be a war. Then there's Mississippi; enough said. South Carolina was improved down the stretch with Tony Kitchings taking a bigger role in the offense. We beat them at their place at the end of last season. Vanderbilt is always fundamentally sound and we'll have to play physical to win that one.
I know a lot of folks have made plans to make two more return visits to the Big Easy this year. There is a lot of basketball to be played before any of that matters. This team has a chance to be special and I'm sure they'll hold up their end of the deal. The question remains will the fans. The home games should certainly be packed, but we need to ensure that we have some rowdy maroon and white fans in every arena the Bulldogs play in. Thus far, the fans have answered the call. Where will you be when the Bulldogs have their next memorable moment?
Until next week,
Steve Robertson is a free-lance correspondent who writes The Robertson Report for the premium site portion of Gene's Page. Steve's email address is email@example.com.