Sunday, November 21, 1999

UC foe falls short only on scoreboard

Team finds victory in not backing down to No. 1

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Elmer Brown couldn't sleep. Not a chance. He had waited too long, and he had wanted this too much. He was an athlete afflicted with the temporary insomnia that comes with the chance of a lifetime.

        One game against No. 1. One shot at shocking the world. One moment suspended in time. One night with eyes wide open.

        “I just laid there and talked to God,” the Youngstown State senior said Saturday evening. “I asked him to give me and my teammates the strength. We knew what we were going up against, but I was excited. Me and my teammates were talking about trying to upset the No. 1 team.”

        Reality set in shortly after 6:05 p.m. Saturday night, when the Cincinnati Bearcats came out on the basketball floor at Shoemaker Center like so many uncaged lions, setting up a full-court press more mind-bogglingly suffocating than anything the Penguins could have simulated in practice.

        The score was 7-0, and Youngstown had succeeded in launching only one shot from the field when coach John Robic called his first timeout. As his players gathered around him on the bench, the first-year coach observed that, “deer in the headlights look.”

        “They didn't know what to say,” Robic said after UC's 94-67 victory. “They were staring at me. I told them to take a deep breath.”

Game of a lifetime
        UC openers are usually like this: more a tuneup than a test, more about piquing interest than supplying answers. These games serve to get the kinks out and the fans excited and the record padded and the cash flow flowing. By midseason, maybe sooner, some Bearcats may be hard-pressed to remember who exactly they played on opening night.

        For Youngstown State, however, the memory will be indelible. This was not just another payday — another lucrative loss to balance the budget — but something to tell the grandchildren about. If Elmer Brown does nothing more in basketball, he can always say that he played one game against the No.1 team in the country and went home as the sharpest shooter on the court.

        Brown scored a career-high 30 points Saturday night — the last three on a 38-foot bomb at the buzzer — and if he felt any disappointment in defeat, it was mitigated by the knowledge that he could have made the UC team; that his game might be good enough to go national.

        “I had a great time playing against those guys,” Brown said. “I've played against some good players, but I never played in front of a crowd that big.”

        There were 1,352 people in attendance when Youngstown opened its season against Slippery Rock. Saturday's crowd was announced as 13,176 — another sellout at The Shoe. The experience was so unlike what Elmer Brown is used to that when he appeared at a postgame press conference, he stood awkwardly hunched over an adjustable microphone rather than raise it to accommodate his 6-foot-4 height.

Measuring up
        Some of this stuff is already old hat to world-weary UC freshmen like DerMarr Johnson and Kenny Satterfield, but it is new and novel to Youngstown.

        “You should have seen their eyes when they walked in yesterday,” Robic said. “This is by far the most people our kids will play in front of unless we get to the NCAA Tournament.”

        Robic's description conjured that scene in Hoosiers, where the Hickory High School team walks into venerable Hinkle Field House for the Indiana State Tournament and Gene Hackman orders that the baskets be measured to reassure his overwhelmed players that the hoop is still 10 feet high.

        You don't see that kind of innocence in sports very often anymore. It is such a rare and precious thing that you tend to forgive the schedule-makers for arranging mismatches such as UC-Youngstown. The chance of a lifetime is always worth seeing, whatever the score.

        “I sort of expected what was going to happen,” Robic said. “(But) We came in looking to win the game. I want to use this as a measuring stick for my program. I told them to compete for 40 minutes, and they didn't quit. I'm very happy that last ball went in, because that told me they didn't quit.”

        Triumph sometimes takes different forms. Sometimes, it involves an advantage on the scoreboard. Sometimes, it is the self-confidence that accrues from finishing the fight.

        “They're going to see we're not afraid of anybody,” Elmer Brown said.

        They can't take that away from him.

        Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your E-mail at


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