TERRE HAUTE —
When I write, and when I can, I like to give myself a bit of time to soak in what I’m going to write about. After Indiana State’s 65-58 loss to No. 4 Wichita State on Wednesday, I went home, had a bite to eat and pondered what I thought the night was all about.
I knew ISU’s disappointment cut deep. Really deep. A cruel reality of sports is that losses linger on in the memory with greater resonance than wins often do. Given the shots that rattled out, fell short and missed the mark in the final five minutes, this is a defeat that will, sadly, dog the Sycamores tonight, tomorrow and 20 years from now.
I could try to light a candle in the darkness and suggest that the sickening feeling ISU’s players have can be turned in a productive direction to give the Sycamores hunger to finish the season with a purpose. And every word of it would be true.
I could also consider the greatness of the Shockers. Say what you will about ISU missing shots from the field and free throws in crunch time, but Wichita State’s defense certainly played its role. The Shockers are the best Missouri Valley Conference team in a generation and are odds-on favorites to finish 18-0 when all is said and done.
But none of the above things will be the primary memory I take away from a taut, suspenseful evening.
It’s how fun it was. What a rush it was to have a big-time atmosphere in our backyard.
ISU students and Terre Haute fans showed what they’re capable of when they shake off their infamous reluctance to get behind their team. The 9,245 fans who ignored nasty winter weather created the best atmopshere Hulman Center has had in my 10 years on the ISU beat … and perhaps for many years prior.
Hulman Center has had big crowds and big games before. In the recent past, there were big turnouts for Missouri State in 2011 and Creighton in 2013. Those were great nights that will live long in the memory.
But Wednesday was something else. The enthusiasm generated from the fans was different. It was louder, it was prouder and it had an undeniable effect on the game.
There was craziness in the stands. Fans in the lower bowl — famous for their reluctance to get jazzed up — who got up off their feet and tried to help the Sycamores along with every sinew their vocal cords would allow for.
It’s the kind of crowd ISU faces annually when it travels to Wichita State’s Koch Arena. There are many ISU fans who never thought they’d see the day, but they did. ISU and Terre Haute united in their pride.
Sure, the allure of taking down an undefeated team generated a lot of the enthusiasm. No one’s going to deny that. But there was every excuse, notably the previous night’s whiteout snowstorm, for fans not to show.
But they did and they did in force. I sometimes hear how Hulman Center isn’t big-time enough for some people. It becomes a vicious, self-perpetuating cycle. What’s forgotten is that the fans are as responsible for making it big-time as the product on the floor is. It goes hand-in-hand, and on Wednesday, those hands were joined at long last.
The student support was outstanding. There were 2,171 students in attendance, believed to be a record. ISU and Terre Haute fans alike owe a debt to ISU student Tommy Lynch. He’s organized The Forest student section. It began last year and has gradually grown to become one of the better student sections in the MVC. It bowed to no student section in its intensity Wednesday.
It’s efforts like Lynch’s that are going to create the breakthrough. Maybe Wednesday’s game was that moment. Fans want to be a part of something fun and the enthusiasm generated by The Forest is what it’s all about. Anyone who bought a ticket couldn’t help but be taken away by the wave of emotion.
My hope is that some of the 9,245 who lived it in person and the many more who watched on TV had an epihany that ISU and Hulman Center can be big-time too. That the Sycamores played well enough and hard enough to earn that kind of support more often.
The Sycamores are a team worthy of that kind of support. Yes, Wednesday had a disappointing finish, but there are four more home games that are just as vital to ISU’s postseason hopes. Put simply, they’re all must-wins, and in their way, just as important as the Wichita State game was.
In the parlance of Hollywood, Wednesday was a great script that, if you were an ISU fan, needed a better ending.
But nothing is written yet when it comes to ISU’s season. Continued enthusiasm from ISU students and Terre Haute fans can help carry this team where it wants to go … to the big-time.
Todd Golden is sports editor of the Tribune-Star. He can be reached at 812-208-2643 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow Golden on Twitter @TribStarTodd.