NIT From the Cheap Seats

It is a safe bet: when Stanford shows up in the Show Me State, our columnist in Columbia will be there. He was one of the very few Cardinalmaniacs in the stands Friday night for the season-ending game for Stanford Basketball at Missouri State. Before departing Springfield, he filed this account of the game, with reactions and observerations on a difficult night dominated by the officials.

From the Cheap Seats (in Springfield, Mo.)

In the interest of filing this in a semi-timely fashion, I am going with the Sports Guy's running diary format. [We have a three-hour ride home. Actually, it ought to take a bit longer than that, but if you don't tell the Missouri State Patrol, we won't either.]

Ten minutes to game time: The National Anthem already.  These folks are serious.

MegaMizzouCard's first note: "Matt [Haryasz] looks a lot bigger in real life."  He does.  Then again, this is a bit of a crackerbox of a gym.  We are in the end zone seats, but it feels like we are right on top of the basket.  Not that anybody cares, but I like gyms like this, especially for college basketball.  Too many creature comforts in the new gyms (at least the one at Mizzou, which has a bit of a feel of shined plastic, and not much heart - at least, not yet).

The crowd is not bad.  I would say the place is over three-quarters full.  These folks in Springfield are pretty loyal to old SMSU.  [Yes, I know we are all supposed to say "Missouri State," now that these folks crammed that misnomer down our throats in the last legislative session.  But this is the MizzouCard's column, so I will call it what I want to call it.  No self-respecting holder of the title "MizzouCard" is going to call this place Missouri State.  By the way, it is a fine school that makes a solid contribution to our state.  But it should not be called Missouri State, and won't be by yours truly.  Enough of that.  Believe me, you are not interested in the full details.]

It has already been a good day for the MizzouCard crew.  We had to rush a bit to get here, but it was for a good cause.  Before heading to Springfield, we watched MegaMizzou's old school play in the Class 2 state title game.  Uncharted territory for them.  With the help of one of MegaMizzouCard's best friends (just a freshman, like Mega himself), but mostly with an unreal point guard, Harrisburg won its first state title.  It is always fun to see a small town team get its first championship.

MiniMizzouCard is back in Columbia, playing in his post-season recreation league tournament.  It is absolutely killing him to not be here, especially since this would be his last chance to see Chris Hernandez.  But, to his credit, his loyalty to his team trumped this chance.  Mega, who helps coach, decided he could miss one game and help coach the rest, starting tomorrow morning.

Starting Lineup Announcements: A great moment - the home town announcer just welcomed us to "Southwest Missouri State University."  No matter how bad the rest of this night goes, it is NOT a total loss!  Why are they booing him?  He defended himself by saying it was "the first time all year."  And I was here for it!  Cool.

Mega: "Taj Finger is really skinny."  Have I got bright kids, or what?

15:43 in First Half (First Television Timeout).  SMSU 9, Good Guys 5.  Chris keeps stealing the ball.  Unfortunately, we keep giving it back.  Our turnover problems continue.

11:48 (Stanford Timeout).  SMSU 21, Good Guys 8.  Some impressions that will be old hat to those of you who have been at Maples all year: 1. Tim [Morris] can really jump.  Man, if he could just develop a shot.  2. We are not that good a team when Matt catches the ball way outside.  We have to find a way to get it to him somewhere hear the basket.  3. One concern for the future: our young players really seem to struggle at the line.  They don't look like they have much confidence there.  4. Peter [Prowitt] is definitely the most improved over the last few games.  The guy has really come on.  But there is something about the guy that seems to drive officials nuts, because he gets no breaks from them on either end of the floor.  5. Matt is a warrior under the boards.  He gets everything in his range on the defensive glass.  But we need to get him under the basket to rebound on offense.

Things look bad at the moment.  Then again, I don't think we can shoot much worse than we did since about the first minute of the game, so I am not giving up hope yet.

7:53.  SMSU 32, Good Guys 12.  Several on the HoopsBoard predicted this about the NIT.  This place is absolutely rocking.  Now almost full, and plenty of noise.  This obviously means a lot to the home team, and the home folks.  Undoubtedly lots of folks here who feel like SMS got ripped off by having the highest RPI in history to not get into the NCAA Tournament.  They are taking it out on us.  The fans are jazzed.  Throw in a little "home cooking," which they are getting, and terrible shooting by us, and we are in a load of trouble.  Gotta stop this before it gets out of hand.  If 20 down by the eight-minute television timeout is not already "out of hand."

3:34.  SMSU 36 (but it will soon be 38, because their Mr. Automatic is at the line), Good Guys 29.  A heck of a run by the Good Guys.  Chris starting to take the game over, with good help from the young guys (who are actually looking better at the line).  Some great defense in the sequence, plus SMS is not as hot from outside as they were earlier in the game.  Don't give up hope yet.  SMS will probably extend the lead a bit in this last sequence of the half, but we could be in a lot worse shape right now.  [By the way, if you think the NIT is meaningless, you should be in this gym right now!]

Halftime.  SMSU 42, Good Guys 40.  Believe it or not, they are actually booing the officials as they exit.  No matter how much you do for people, it is just never enough!

Great finish to the half, with Law [Hill]'s steal and Tim's dunk.  [Mega was especially impressed and excited - says, "He can really elevate."]  It is nothing short of amazing that we are within a bucket, after the long cold stretch we had while they were hot.  The natives are a bit restless.  And nervous.  No matter how this turns out, give our guys credit for fighting their way back into this game.  This was an NIT road game, and we were down 20, with nothing going right.  And our guys fought their way back to within a bucket.  I am impressed.

A side note: Law Hill seems to be the key press breaker.  Seems an unlikely role for him, given his height, but he handles it well.  Their press did not do much harm.

15:35 (Stanford Timeout).  SMSU 53, Good Guys 47.  Looks like a repeat of the first part of the first half.  A solid start, then our passing went to pot.  Crowd back in the game big time.  Not a big fan of the "stop the bleeding" timeout, but this one had to be called.

I feel for Dan Grunfeld.  He gave up just a little quickness by blowing out and rehabbing his knee.  Like many Stanford athletes in many sports, he did not have "just a little quickness" to spare.  That little bit of quickness seems to be the difference between last year, when he was able to sneak up on quite a few folks, and this year, when the help defense seems to get there just in time to stop his running six-footers.  As my mom says, life is not always going to be fair.

11:23.  SMSU 53, Good Guys 47.  Haryasz picked up his fourth foul (to go along with four on Mitch [Johnson], of all people).  The locals like that, but the sentiment here is: "We really need to get that No. 11 out of the game. That guy is a player."  He is.  And he needs to be careful, because they are not going to hesitate to call him for a hand check or something silly like that.

Peter and Law continue to impress, along with the other youngsters.  This is a tough environment, and our guys are dong well to be in this game.

Mega: "Taj Finger plays really hard core defense."

7:41.  Good Guys 57, SMSU 53.  The good guys lost two (TWO!) solid drives to the hoop with scores on charging calls.  I am doing my best to exercise my First Amendment freedom of speech rights here, but one screaming lunatic 15 rows up does not help much.

Regardless of how this ends, I am proud to be here to cheer on our guys.  They have come back and hung in there very impressively, even with Matt on the bench.  He is back in now, though.  Gotta get whatever minutes we can from him, but they are going to run him out of here on their first opportunity, so he needs to be really careful.

3:25.  SMSU 62 (but with two free throws coming - of course), Stanford 61.  Anthony [Goods] just fouled out running through a screen.  Matt and Chris cannot really play defense, because it is clear to everybody in this building that they are going to be run at the first opportunity.  This is going to be tough.

0:44.  SMSU 72, Good Guys 65.  Could not write this at 2:18, because I was too angry to type (and too busy doing my best to get run out of this gym - though I must admit that the locals are being pretty accommodating to the lone Stanford nut in the stands).  Imagine them ending one of the greatest Stanford Basketball careers with a charging call while he was dribbling more than 20 feet away from the basket.  How dare they?

Final Score: SMSU 76, Good Guys 67.  (Attendance 5,694.)

Our guys did me proud.  They dared not play defense for the last eight minutes of the game.  SMS, to their credit, took advantage, and then hit their free throws.  They are a good team, and their building is a tough place to play (and officiate, apparently).  No shame in losing to them.

So long, Chris, Matt, Dan, and Jason [Haas].  We are going to miss you.  We certainly did not want to see it end today, but, if it had to end, we were proud to be here for it.  May life bring you all the best.

[p.s. Met Mr. Hernandez after the game, and he was very gracious.  It is always impressive to meet Stanford athletes and their parents.  As I told Mr. Hernandez, it is easy to root for Stanford, because the kids are great.]


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