Even though the men’s basketball team lost its last four games, the RedHawks’ most recent win was one I will never forget.
While the rest of us splintered across the nation to enjoy the holidays, the Miami University men’s basketball team hit the road to take on the University of Illinois, a team the RedHawks had never beaten.
Although the RedHawks faced stiff competition on and off the court, the Red and White did have at least a few supporters during their visit to Champaign.
In a sea of orange at Assembly Hall, there were a couple red beacons sitting courtside among the Illini student section, namely sports editor Mike Zoller and myself.
While the Fighting Illini have struggled this season, they are only three years removed from the NCAA Championship game and the consensus No. 1 national ranking through most of that season. Needless to say, Vegas wasn’t betting on the ‘Hawks.
As the game neared, I was cautiously optimistic about our chances. Miami has played relatively well in non-conference play this season with a win over Xavier University and a third-place finish at the Anaheim Classic. I’m not a big believer in “moral victories,” but the hard-fought road losses to the University of Southern California and University of Louisville gave me hope that the RedHawks could pull out a surprise win.
This isn’t the first time I’ve entered enemy territory to watch one of my favorite teams compete, but I may not have been more outnumbered than I was that night. I’ve seen my beloved Cubs play throughout the Midwest, but wherever they play there always seems to be a Cubbie Blue contingent in attendance. There are always at least a couple others nearby to give a high-five to after a big play.
While Millett Hall constantly struggles to attract fans to home contests, it comes as no surprise that our road attendance wasn’t much healthier.
So there we were, two guys in bright red Miami shirts outnumbered by about 16,000 to two.
While the fear of an angry mob turning on that obnoxious guy cheering for the other team went through my head more than once that evening, there is nothing more fun as a fan than watching your team pull an upset on the road.
The ‘Hawks weathered a 24-point, 15-rebound storm by Illini senior center Shaun Pruitt and a second half deficit to pull out the 61-58 overtime win.
Sure, doing my best impression of Jim Carrey’s “most annoying sound in the world” from Dumb and Dumber among the silence of Assembly Hall during a Pruitt free throw didn’t make matters better, but listening to fans compare Head Coach Charlie Coles to Uncle Leo from Seinfeld and having fans express superficial sympathy for not attending Illinois made Miami’s win that much more gratifying.
Knocking the Illini fans off of their high horse was almost as fun as the game itself.
The next week while wearing a Miami sweatshirt, my dad was asked about the RedHawk “basketball powerhouse” while getting his driver’s license renewed in Chicago.
Now I wouldn’t go as far as to say that the ‘Hawks are a powerhouse by any stretch of the imagination, but at least teams may start taking Miami more seriously.
While they are no lock for the NCAA Tournament or even the MAC Championship, David has shown that he can not only hang tough with Goliath, but might even knock him out if he isn’t careful.