Emotional rescue for Musketeers

Thursday, December 3, 1998

'Tonight, we had a cause,' Gary Lumpkin said.
(AP photo)

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First, Gary Lumpkin wanted the roof raised. He pumped his palms in the air and nodded his head at the noise. Then, at the final buzzer, he took the game ball and threw it halfway to the ceiling.

Later, the Xavier guard lowered himself to one knee and said a silent prayer. The sweat dripped from his soggy brow and onto the floor of Cincinnati Gardens. An evening of passion and purpose would end with a little pool of perspiration forming near the half-court stripe.

The Musketeers beat Miami Wednesday night, 64-56, and they played with an intensity that suggested their whole season was at stake. The disturbing results of a junket to Puerto Rico had raised doubts about the Musketeers' prospects on the mainland, and raised the stakes of the backyard rivalry with the RedHawks.

"This was a test for us," Lumpkin said later, at his locker. "For the last six games we went through a lot -- a lot of ups and downs. Tonight we thought would be a good day to get the emotion back and get a little bit of fire."

The mood was March

The schedule said it was December, but the mood was unmistakeably March. Xavier fell 10 points behind at the start of the second half, but Xavier coach Skip Prosser would

never substitute after intermission. He left his starters on the floor, trusting their fire would overcome their fatigue, and he watched them claw their way back into control. Asked later how long it had been since he had failed to replace a single player in the second half, Prosser guessed it might have been when he was a high school coach.

"It worked," he explained.

"The story of that game wasn't our shooting," said Miami coach Charlie Coles. "The story of that game was Xavier's top-flight effort. (James) Posey, Brown and Lumpkin going the distance, and no substitutions in the second half, that wore us down."

Two different teams

It was an act of will as much as a triumph of technique, a case of savvy seniors and energetic freshmen combining in a chorus that could be summarized in a single word: Enough.

"If you saw us play today and in Puerto Rico, it was like two different teams," said Lenny Brown, the senior guard. "If we play every game like we did tonight -- as if every game was our last -- we'll be OK."

If the Muskies played every game the way they played Wednesday, they'd be worn out by the middle of next week. Lumpkin would swing his arms wildly when his shots found their mark. Brown would jump up and down after his baskets until he was back to midcourt. Freshman Lloyd Price, a key player on both ends, exchanged vigorous chest bumps. Posey was more restrained, but he had spent most of the night shadowing Wally Szczerbiak, the Miami scoring machine, and this is work.

"Once Wally had the ball, it was our five against Wally," Posey said. "I never ran off so many picks in my life."

To celebrate each basket as if it had clinched a championship takes its toll over a period of time. But for this one night, Xavier had more energy reserves than Exxon and Mobil combined.

Prosser had made passion a priority, posting a sign in each

player's locker with an advisory from Ralph Waldo Emerson: "Nothing great was ever achieved without enthusiasm."

For a while, the Muskies seemed to have focused instead on another Emersonian passage. They flung the ball at the basket with such a resounding thud that it seemed as if their goal was to fire the shot heard 'round the world. Lenny Brown was one-for-seven from the field in the first half; Lumpkin two-for-six.

When Lumpkin stopped to pray at game's end, it was to express his gratitude that he had retained the courage to keep shooting. At the end, his aim was true. His purpose was plain throughout.

"Coach always talks about having a cause," Lumpkin said. "Tonight, we had a cause."

Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail. Message him at tsullivan@enquirer.com.