vs. Central Michigan
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Oh Crap.

Since practice makes perfect (or so they say), a practice was scheduled to start shortly after our arrival in Mt. Pleasant--this after a 1.5 hour practice that afternoon, a 1 hour plane ride and a 1.5 hour bus ride after that. Needless to say we were all a bit irritable after travelling all day and the last thing we needed were problems. That's where I come in. It's my job to make sure that if everything is going smoothly, something gets messed up. As I donned my practice gear at the hotel, I realized that I had forgotten to pack my shoes. I had nothing but a pair of two-year-old running shoes that also have to double as my dress shoes. "Oh crap." I said, turning to my roommate Matt Moran "I forgot my shoes!". I wasn't panicked or even worried about it--I was actually borderline apathetic. After all, the shoes weren't there and getting my panties all in a knot about it wouldn't suddenly make my shoes appear in the bag so I just sat there on my bed, shrugged my shoulders and called our athletic trainer Mike Gilmartin (the man to turn to when something goes wrong). Unfortunately, Mike had already left for the bus and I had to talk to assistant coach Jamal Meeks. "Coach, I've got a big problem here."


"I forgot my shoes." I knew what was next.

"You a damn fool, you know that?"

"Yeah." Thanks for the brilliant insight, coach. "Can we get them shipped up here for the game tomorrow?"

"We'll work something out."

The instant before his receiver hit the cradle I head him screaming like a banshee. Oh well...the worst was yet to come. We were all on the bus waiting to depart for the stadium when Byrd got the word. He was happy (insert sarcasm here) and started to scream at me as he walked to the back of the bus where I sat. I just looked him in the eye and didn't say a word, only nodding when he made his points. I messed up...what could I do? The damage had been done and I was paying the price (or at least the first installment--as I write this I'm on the plane back to Chicago and we'll have practice about an hour or so after we get back so I imagine I'll be running my butt off for this). After making several comments about how impossible it is to miss "two big-ass size 21 sneakers" we were on our way. Fearing an inversion (technical jargon for a rolled ankle), I wound up practicing in my running shoes. The next morning after breakfast, Coach Meeks arrrived in my room cradling my beat up pair of white Nikes and announced that he'd collect the money for their delivery later. Later that day in our pregame meal, Joe Branch and Jevon started ripping on me saying that our trainer would have to tape a pair of flip-flops to my feet so I could play. Very funny guys...very funny.

Oh Crap, part 2

From the minute the game started, we knew that this was our time. Our team had not won a road trip since the NIT team of 1994--a 17 game losing streak on the road. Going home on Christmas break just after a loss tends to screw up one's entire time away from school (even if it is only a four day "vacation") so we were determined to go home happy.

We got off to an early lead holding Central Michigan scoreless for quite a portion of the first half. At one point we were up by as much as 15 or so and due to nearly flawless execution, Matt and Joe's extraordinary rebounding and overall smart play. Then we all got the scare of our lives. After a multi-player collision, point guard Geno Carlisle lay on the floor motionless just 6 feet in front of our bench. Geno is infamous for his acting ability, able to draw fouls at will from any player, and I thought this was just another of his little acts--that he would get up after taking a little breather, smile and play on. But when he didn't get up after the whistle blew I knew there was a problem--a big problem. He wasn't moving. He wasn't responding to voices. "Oh crap." I exclaimed under my breath. The only sign of life from him was his still heaving chest. Some half hour later, the paramedics arrived with an immobilizer board and hauled him away. By the time they got there, Geno was awake and responsive but since he was out for so long they were still very cautious. Geno was held overnight for observation at the local hospital and released the next morning with the go-ahead to play as soon as his headache cleared up.

When the game resumed, Geno's absense was felt as a string of poor shot selections and bad passes gave Central Michigan the lead, but the tenacious play of Joe Branch, freshman sensation Matt Moran and three consecutive steals by Jevon Johnson helped to make up the difference. We all knew we had to pick up our level of play to make up for Geno's absense and Joe in particular did just that. In the middle of the second half, Jevon ripped the ball from Central's point gaurd and passed ahead to Joe who was streaking his way down the floor. With two men underneath him, Joe soared from near the free-throw line and slammed the ball into the hoop with so much authority that Shon Morris, who was announcing the broadcast live on WJJD AM 1160, very nearly soiled his drawers. Jevon's high-hitting bank shot with 7 seconds left in the game was quite a shock too.

Joy to the World

Back in the locker room, the team was ecstatic. Coach Byrd frolicked amongst the players, all the while giving high-fives to everyone and smiling with his patented ear-to-ear Cheshire Cat grin. This would be our first Merry Christmas in two years and it felt good. We were all sky-high from the adrenaline but someone had the presense of mind to remember Geno. We all gathered around in a huddle and said a prayer for our point guard and thanked God for finally granting us a road victory. 'Tis the season to be jolly, and with a road victory and the report of Geno's good condition that it would be....that it would be.
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