Saturday, November 26, 2016

Night of the Mastodon

Raise a dribble glass now to the Month of What Th--?, the Month of This Can't Happen, Can It?, the month when the curse of curses died (with a curse on its lips, no doubt), and a dark, gibbering cartoon character became the leader of the free world, and an extinct mammal stomped the life out of basketball royalty.

Say these things slowly, because we are all still wrapping our heads around them:

The Chicago Cubs won the World Series.

Donald J. Trump -- game-show host, sexual deviant and flim-flam man out of the classic mold -- is the President-elect of the United States.

IPFW 71, Indiana 68.

Of all of them maybe it's the latter that shocks you must, and maybe it's the latter that shouldn't. What happened last night in red-swaddled Assembly Hall -- er, Memorial Coliseum, aka The Hall North -- was a testament as much to everything that makes college basketball great as it was to This Can't Possibly Happen. It was a testament to the fact that everyone has players now, and occasionally they can rise above themselves, and there are coaches out there in Division I's hinterlands you haven't heard of yet simply because you haven't heard of them yet.

And so raise a glass, too, to Jon Coffman, who put together an impeccable game plan and got his players to execute it impeccably, against an IU team that clearly didn't think this would be any kind of fight. But the Mastodons, those crafty old extinct mammals, were not intimidated by the Hoosiers' pedigree and No. 3 status in the slightest. They went right at them at both ends of the floor, blocking shots, making shots, moving the ball crisply on offense and staying between the Hoosiers and the rim on defense.

And slowly, as they led and led and led some more, you remembered a few things about them.

You remembered this was a program that has won 65 games the last three seasons, that came within three minutes of making the NCAA Tournament two seasons ago, that won 24 games and the regular-season Summit League title last winter.

You remembered they had Mo Evans, as good a shooter as there is in these parts, a veteran senior guard who's been starting games since he was a freshman.

You remembered they had Bryson Scott, a four-star Purdue recruit out of Northrop High School in Fort Wayne, a player who, before he transferred from West Lafayette, was twice the Freshman of the Week in the Big Ten.

You remembered they had John Konchar, who played 45 minutes last night and had a double-double (15 and 11), and who was a first-team All-Summit League pick as a freshman last year and one of the nation's leading rebounders.

Everyone has players now. And as yawning disinterest from the Hoosier faithful morphed into vague unease and then frustrated disbelief and finally, inevitably, into these-refs-are-horrible, you came back to that essential truth.\

IPFW 71, Indiana 68.

And now a memory, from late last night, as the stunned red tide flowed back out of the Coliseum. The crowd parted, and here was an IPFW fan, wearing a blue joke T-shirt.

On the front it read "IPFW Football." And on the back, "Undefeated 50 Years And Counting."

The joke, of course, is that IPFW doesn't play football.

Basketball, however ...

Oh, yeah. That, it plays.

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