Did you watch the game? I did, and it damaged my DNA. I woke up the next morning barely able to speak. The sudden brake-stops between joyful exhilaration and rage-full dismay then back to exhilaration had shattered my mind. A team of physicians and psychiatrists from Johns Hopkins just shook their head and handed me a bill. There’s not cure! No treatment. To be a Red Wolves basketball fan is to jeopardize your health and sanity.
The game began harmlessly – an 11-0 run that would eventually become a 21-10 lead behind a pair of threes from Marquis Eaton and powerfully underscored by a thunderous NorSLAM™. This was how life was supposed to be! Everyone was contributing! Desi Sills was slashing through the defense, hitting jumpers and layups. Caleb Fields was pouring in points. The Warhawks were bearing the slings of arrows of the bitter defeat at the hands of the Cajuns. At last, there was justice. I recall feeling pretty cheery.
Except, those damn Warhawks kept sluicing into the paint for uncontested layups. And they had this Georgian (Eastern European variety), Nika Metskhvarishvili, who decided that Saturday would be the day that he would blossom into Dirk Nowitzki.
Who was this man? And why did he hate us? He was everywhere, drilling threes, pounding layups, robbing boards – where was this guy when Han Gruber was assembling his Nakatomi Tower Heist?
The moment the Red Wolves took the 21-10 lead, everything went to hell. At one point, the Warhawks scored an uncontested 14-points to take a 35-30 lead. Plus had become minus, and minus, plus! Red Wolves fans watched horrified as the Warhawks bounded up and down the court, cheerfully creating turnovers and pouring buckets at an insane 61% clip!
By halftime, the Warhawks had a nine point lead and a relentlessly cheerful announcing duo singing the praises of their new superstar, Nika Metskhvarishvili. Meanwhile, Red Wolves fans were shaking their fists to the heavens. What was even happening here? Arkansas State didn’t shoot poorly – about 57%. But the Warhawks defense had forced six turnovers to the Red Wolves thee. And the Red Wolves didn’t seem to have anyone willing to own the paint.
The second half was a masterclass of frustration. Neither team regained its first half shooting sizzle (not even the Mighty Metskhvarishvili), but that made it even more difficult to digest.
Yeah, it seemed hopeless. I had already begun to lose feeling my legs. But then something odd and unexplainable happened.
Marquis Eaton woke up and started hitting jumpers again. This seemed to reactivate Norchad Omier, who followed up Eaton’s grand awakening with a hoop and harm. The Red Wolves were back, baby, with Sills, Omier and Avery Felts making relentless buckets. The Red Wolves reliable free-throw shooting did the rest, and Arkansas State won 90-83.
Eaton led all Red Wolves scoring with 25, Omier got his double-double (24 points, 11 boards) and Caleb Fields put up 17 points with six assists – second to Sills’ 8 assists. It was a great game for the starting five, who only got nine points off the bench (seven coming from Avery).
How did the Red Wolves beat Metskhvarishvili and his pal Russel Harrison (18 points, 6 boards)? Dark Emotions Board Member Kara Richey called it: the Warhawks were pooped. ULM played only two guys off the bench, and one of those guys was Mighty Metskhvarishvili, who put in 33 minutes. The Red Wolves bench may not have chipped in a lot of points, but it gave Arkansas State starters the R&R needed to own the last five minutes of the game.
Bottomline, the Red Wolves escaped Louisiana with a solid win over ULM and an OT loss to the Cajuns. It wasn’t always easy to watch, but I eventually regained my ability to speak. I think that’s a good sign.
PHOTO CREDIT: ULM Athletics, with an assist from A-State’s Mark Taylor