For the holidays this year, the wife and kid and I drove up to Indiana to give the little guy his first taste of what a white Christmas is all about.
Part of the trip also included a treat for me—getting to watch the No. 4 Purdue Boilermakers dismantle SIU-Edwardsville last night at Mackey Arena.
For a southerner like myself, the game was different from any other I have attended. And to be totally honest, I now have a much deeper appreciation for Big Ten basketball and fans.
Nontraditional in shape and size, Mackey Arena is a perfect circle, allowing fans in the corners of the court to be right on top of the action. And this is where I was seated last night—seven rows back from JaJuan Johnson’s ridiculously long shorts.
Much thanks to my friend Steve and to my friends for the night, “Ferg” and Dave, who were gracious enough to allow an SEC homer to sit in their beloved seats—and for spotting the Tim Kurkjian look-a-like who was reffing the game.
Even for an 8 p.m., Dec. 22 affair, Mackey Arena’s attendance was still over 12,000—almost all of whom were decked out in Purdue black and gold. Keep in mind that:
1. SIU-E is 2-10 and in the midst of transitioning to Division I basketball.
2. Purdue’s students were all home for the holidays. To pack them in for that game is no small feat.
So while the game atmosphere was a tad on the tame side without drunken, screaming college kids, I was able to immerse myself in the casual fan’s perspective.
For starters, basketball IQ in the Midwest is much higher than in SEC land. West Lafayette knows shooting form, can articulate intricacies of zone versus man defense, and can easily spot the difference between an athlete and a basketball player.
Dunks are nice, but what brought out more applause than anything was good, old-fashioned hustle, which Purdue players bring plenty of, namely fan favorites Chris Kramer and Robbie Hummel. Fellow freshmen DJ Byrd and Patrick Bade were also given nice rounds for their effort plays.
Despite the fact that the home team was caught sleeping for the first 10 minutes or so of the game, Purdue fans stayed with their team while still showing appreciation for the overmatched SIU-E players—and they were eventually rewarded with a steamroll rout of 90-63.
Perhaps the coolest part of my visit was that almost all of the fans stayed for the entire game, ignoring the lopsided score. In fact, when SIU-E starting forward Mark Yelovich, a sophomore who finished with 23 points (including an impressive 5-5 from three-point range) and six rebounds, checked out of the game for good, Mackey Arena treated him to a nice round of applause.
When we ducked out with about 90 seconds left to play, nearly all of Mackey was still there, cheering on the little-used reserves.
To top it all off, word came in near the end of the game that rival Indiana just so happened to lose to a mediocre MAAC team in Loyola, Maryland. A perfect ending indeed.
So thanks for the hospitality, Mackey Arena. I hope to be back soon.
And tell Ryne Smith he doesn’t have the muscles necessary to walk around like Hercules. Just saying.