B/R Home Court Advantage: Michigan State's Breslin Center
Of all the games I've watched in the Breslin Center, there will always be one in particular that stands out.
Feb. 20th, 2007.
The day No. 1 fell.
The day that the Izzone earned their reputation as one of the finest student sections in all the land.
Let me set the scene for you. Michigan State was in the midst of a "rebuilding" season, having lost Paul Davis, Shannon Brown, and Maurice Ager to the NBA draft. They weren't expected to make much noise during the season and some even predicted that the Spartans would drop to the NIT.
Wisconsin was a model of greatness during the year. The 2006-2007 season would see the Badgers pick up a school-record 30 wins after victories over No. 2 Pitt and No. 5 Ohio State. Alando Tucker and Kammron Taylor would lead them to big wins all season.
Until Feb. 20th, on a cold night in East Lansing.
Spartan fans don't like Bo Ryan, so the Breslin Center is always a hostile environment when he brings his team to town. We don't like the fact that he is consistently mentioned above Tom Izzo in "best coaches in the country" discussions, despite never coming close to the postseason success that Izzo consistently enjoys.
Something else was in the air that night as well. The Badgers were ranked No. 1 in the AP poll (No. 2 in the ESPN/USA Today poll). ESPN's sideline reporter Erin Andrews decided to give her first report of the night right in front of a bunch of rowdy students, holding a Wisconsin newspaper with a giant headline proclaiming their superiority.
Not a smart move.
Never have I seen such a beautiful woman so quickly showered with choruses of boos. And she deserved every bit for pulling that stunt.
The students entered the building with a pre-existing hatred of all things related to Ryan and Andrews decided to incite them further. Two things working against the Badgers.
Bad things happen in threes. The third? A more personal element to this rivalry.
For two years, I played in Spartan Brass, MSU's basketball band. Courtside seats to see some of the best talent in the country, the whole deal.
Brass uses the same tunnel to enter the Breslin Center as the teams do. This means that if we get in early enough we'll occasionally catch a glimpse of some of the players heading from the locker room to the floor.
My first year in brass, I caught more than just a brief glimpse of Bo. He was giving a radio interview right next to the break in the bleachers where we enter to take our seats. Couldn't help but glare at him the whole way down the hallway until I passed. No words were spoken, just a glare.
Michigan State of course won that game. I like to think I helped just a little bit by rattling Bo's cage.
On Feb. 20th, I had the same opportunity. I was helping unload the drums and while carrying some cymbals to the floor, I again saw Bo giving in an interview. Once again, I glared at the man on the way to my seat, and he noticed. Our eyes met for a brief second and he did a double take as if to say, "What the hell is wrong with these band people?"
I was in his head. It was a beautiful thing.
That story was all true, but I'm not going to be presumptuous enough to say that I had any effect on the outcome of the game. It was all the Izzone.
From the opening tip, the Izzone was in rare form. In two seasons of attending every game at Breslin, I'd never heard the students that loud, not even close. It was deafening.
As soon as Drew Naymick opened the game with a putback from an offensive rebound, the crowd was in it. The crowd stayed in it even though the Spartans would go into halftime on the losing side of the scoreboard. Drew Neitzel and Travis Walton had been hitting big shots and kept MSU in it. The crowd loved every second of it and wasn't about to give up on the potential upset.
Once the second half began, you could sense that something special was about to happen. Neitzel kept hitting threes and Wisconsin began to fold. When Neitzel hit one with 3:55 left in the game, to put State up by two, we knew the upset was going to happen.
And the crowd let Wisconsin know it, too. Everybody in the house was on their feet, even the normally-subdued alumni who occupy the space between the courtside Izzone and the Izzone that occupies the highest levels of Breslin.
Neitzel hit a runner to beat the shot clock with three minutes left in the game and the crowd somehow got even louder. It was a ridiculous shot, a prayer that somehow made it over Wisconsin's big men and into the hoop. Everybody in the building was embracing the opportunity to celebrate after what had been a very frustrating season up to that point.
The best was yet to come, though. With about 2:25 on the clock, Neitzel again came off the screen and launched from the wing (3:50 into this clip). It bounced on the rim for what seemed like hours until it finally dropped through.
Neitzel ran down the court screaming and pounding his chest. Everybody leapt out of their seats screaming and pounding their chests. At this point, I remember leaning over to one of my friends in the trombones section and saying, "We're actually going to pull this thing off!"
Fast forward to 6:05 in the clip that I linked to and just soak in the ovation that Neitzel got when he left the floor. Not only did the crowd provide an incredible atmosphere for the upset, they understood that the 28 point effort was truly amazing. They grasped the magnitude of the upset and were grateful for Neitzel's part.
After the final horn sounded, the students rushed the court. It wasn't some half-hearted gesture with a few sheepish students leading the way. As soon as the buzzer sounded, the entire mass of the Izzone began flooding onto the hardwood in celebration. They moved as one because throughout the game, they had all cheered for their team as one.
It was like nothing I've ever seen and I consider myself very fortunate to have been a part of the festivities. Our normal post-game routine in Spartan Brass is to play an abridged version of the fight song, the Alma Mater, once more through the break strain of the fight song, and then pack up and go home.
The mob of joyful students on the floor wouldn't let us stop the music. We played the full fight song three times before we were able to play the Alma Mater. Once the time came to pack up, we didn't leave. We joined the mob on the floor and soaked it in.
That kind of passion from the students, that kind of dedication to the program even in a "down year" is what makes the Breslin Center such a difficult place for opponents to play. They know that when they come to East Lansing, the Izzone is going to make life difficult for them.
It's a hostile environment, and that's why its one of the best.
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