Red Wolves gutsy performance needs to be applauded

When the Red Wolves arrived to San Marcos, Coach Mike Balado had all of seven scholarship players to chose from. His three-point sharpshooter? Out. His enormous paint presence? Unavailable. His bench depth? Decimated. The guys he had left? Somewhat hobbled. It was like arriving to a tank fight with a pillow.

The starting lineup featured two freshmen, Terrence Ford and Izaiyah Nelson. Starting guard Caleb Fields was still nursing a broken wrist. Seldom used senior guard Dylan Arnette wound up logging seven minutes. Avery Felts was limited with twenty stitches in his lip, an injury sustained during practice. Malcolm Farrington was out with a sore Achilles tendon. Mak Manciel and Antwon Jackson were out for the season. Alaaeddine Boutayeb, the seven-foot center, was still recovering from a busted hand. Injuries continued to sideline Caleb London.

Overall, it wasn’t an ideal time to face the Bobcats on the road. And yet, when the halftime buzzer, er, buzzed, Arkansas State was down only three. Midway through the second half, the Red Wolves seized the lead, with a dinged-up Markise Davis drilling the Bobcats for 19 points. Ford, the freshman wunderkind, managed nine points while spending significant down time with the team medical crew. Omar El-Sheikh, absorbing blows in the paint all night long, led the team with eight boards. What was this magic?

The Bobcats, struggling themselves this season, had that grim look on their face – that exasperated look Apollo Creed gave Rocky when a bloody Italian Stallion emerged from his corner in the 15th round. Why aren’t these guys dead? Deep in the second half, the Red Wolves seemingly were dead, down by nine with only a handful of minutes left on the clock. A-State knees wobbled. They could barely lift their gloves. This fight was over.

Roundhouse three-pointers from Fields and Davis revealed the Red Wolves only to be mostly dead, and suddenly the Bobcats lead was only four. The crowd would feel the comeback, like knees pressed against the back of their stadium seats. The air tasted like chemicals! You can’t beat someone who won’t give up!

It wasn’t enough, of course. Rocky loses to Apollo in the end, but to go the distance was a victory in of itself.

PHOTO: A-State Athletics with my own edit