Friday, January 20, 2006

A Rare Road Trip

On Wednesday after work I drove up to Ypsilanti to watch the BGSU men's basketball team take on Eastern Michigan. There aren't too many away venues for the Falcons which are feasible for me to attend on a weeknight, but I like to go when I can. Since Ypsi is only about an hour north, I decided it would be a good time for me to make up for missing BG's home opener due to the chicken pox. I wasn't entirely sure the trip was going to happen until I actually got on the road, though. For one thing, the winter weather seemed to conspire against me, as it snowed Wednesday morning and stayed cold enough for the possibility of icy roads. Beyond that, the Falcons generally don't play very well on the road, and I wasn't totally sure I wanted to go up there to watch them struggle. If there was a home game this weekend, I probably would have passed on making the drive, but since they aren't home again until next week, I finally decided I would go.

The weather didn't stop me from going, but it did make the trip just a little bit of an adventure. Not because of bad road conditions per se, but because some of the street signs I was relying on were snowed over. This caused me to drive right past a street on which I needed to turn, and I wasn't totally aware of it until the street I was on suddenly veered off to the right and became one-way. I wasn't entirely sure how I was going to get back to where I needed to be, but I managed.

Aside from that, the EMU Convocation Center is actually extremely easy to get to. It's a nice facility, relatively new, and has plenty of parking available. It offers no inherent reason for fans to stay away, but stay away they do. The official attendance for last night's game was 1,275, and it seemed like even less than that. In a 8,800-seat arena, 1,275 spectators leave a lot of empty space, and without fans, even a nice venue seems soulless and sterile.

I'm very much afraid of something similar happening when BGSU finally gets around to building a new basketball arena. Sure, our current facility is small, old, and maybe even outdated, but no one can say it doesn't have personality. It's one of my absolute favorite places in the world. While I'd like to see a new arena just for the recruiting advantage it would bring, I would hate to sacrifice the ambience of Anderson Arena and the home court advantage that comes with it. Hopefully they'll find a way to build that into a new building when the time comes (and frankly, I'm in no hurry, just in case).

Of course, maybe more people would attend EMU games if the Eagles were a more competitive team. They were looking for their first conference win against BG, and their overall record was 3-9. It's not so good up there right now. I had a good feeling for the Falcons starting with the pregame introductions. EMU does the standard lights-off introductions with each player spotlighted as he's introduced. Instead of doing this to Metallica, AC/DC, or even the band playing the fight song, the Eagles came out to the lilting strains of a Phil Collins tune. I'm not making this up. Right off the bat, this told me that there's something seriously off-kilter about the mindset of EMU's entire basketball program.

Something else I think can be a sign of a desperate program is an overly enthusiastic public address announcer. I definitely don't mind some homer-ism, putting a little excitement in the voice the home team, especially for key plays, but there is such a thing as taking it too far. It's a fine line between getting the crowd into the game and driving them crazy, and I think EMU's guy went way beyond. He was one of the more annoying announcers I've come across in my travels. At one point I thought he was going to rupture my eardrums with the sheer volume of his voice.

As for the game itself, BG came out on top, 79-72. Martin Samarco, playing in his hometown, led the Falcons in scoring with 35 points, followed by Steven Wright with 17. Given the trouble they have going on the road and beating even bad teams sometimes, it was great to see them get a win. They played pretty well for the most part, save for a couple of stretches (mostly in the first half) when it seemed like we were trying to give the game away with turnovers and missed shots. BG started off well and got a lead, and then EMU went into a zone defense. That really killed BG's offense for a while, allowing EMU to get back into the game and then take a lead. That's when Samarco started getting hot with his outside shooting, though, and after a few made three-pointers, EMU abandoned the zone for the rest of the game.

BG's team is really interesting to watch this year. Of course, they're interesting most of the time, due if nothing else to the volatility and personality of their head coach, Dan Dakich. The team on the court is pretty intriguing as well, though. There isn't much experience, due to the graduation of last year's seniors combined with a crop of transfers over the past few seasons, but it's a good group of guys who play hard all the time and are quickly learning how to play together. They've already improved a lot from where they were at the beginning of the season, and while they'll have some rough games along the way, I think they'll continue to improve and be a decent team by the end of the season.

One thing that makes life difficult for the Falcons is the fact that there are only two real post players on the roster in center Matt Lefeld and forward Erik Marschall, and Marschall is a true freshman. Both are good players, but both are also prone to getting into foul trouble. This leads to interesting matchups sometimes when they're unavailable. On Wednesday night, EMU's best player (6-9 forward John Bowler) was most often guarded by 6-5 Mawel Soler, with occasional help from 6-7 Dusan Radivojevic (another true freshman) and 6-6 Alvin Freeman (a sophomore walk-on). Even with the height difference, that combination managed to hold Bowler below his season average and kept him from hurting the Falcons too much.

One thing very much in the Falcons' favor, on the other hand, has been the improved play of guard Perrick "Moon" Robinson. Moon is only 5-9, but he's a tenacious defender. He and Mawel Soler have really contributed to the way this team plays defense. Both were on the team last year (Moon as a true freshman, Soler as a first-year JUCO transfer) but didn't play much due to foul problems. Both have improved in that regard, and they really keep guys locked down. Moon has come up with some clutch steals and stops in the past couple of games, and he's also starting to look more comfortable on offense. Last year he had a tendency to force things, driving the lane and, with his diminutive stature, getting his shots blocked. This year he's making better decisions and distributing the ball, and providing some quality minutes in relief of John Floyd. Floyd is a good guy to have on your team, a tough kid who's going to make all the hustle plays, but he's also good for at least one ugly, boneheaded play per game, which is rough for a point guard.

I don't think EMU's team is quite as bad as their record would indicate. They play hard and they've got some shooters. Their defense wasn't bad, especially when they were in that zone. They just made some mistakes and had a hard time holding onto the ball. Some of that was caused by BG's defense, of course, but some of it was just carelessness and lack of focus. All in all, they aren't a very good team, but they've got the potential to pull a few upsets on upper-echelon MAC teams if those teams don't take them seriously.

Anyway, BG got the win, giving them a winning record within the MAC and making it a worthwhile road trip for me. They aren't world-beaters just yet, but they're getting to be an opponent that no one will want to play. Plus, they're fun to watch and they seem to be a good bunch of guys. The next time I see them play will be in the friendly confines of Anderson Arena, where I know my ears won't be assaulted by the announcer, but they may be by the crowd.

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