Finally, it's competition, therefore it matters. In high school, I ran JV races, I ran varsity races, I ran in big meets with lots of fans (to the extent that cross-country draws "lots of fans"), I ran against crappy schools with no one watching. It all mattered to me, a lot, and I'm sure Stanford's players feel the same way. So, by the same logic, I'd hope these games matter to our fans.
The winner gets Ole Miss or Illinois State, with Arizona a potential third-round opponent.
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Upper deck is mostly empty, as are the sections behind the hoops. Not like the rest of the place is standing room only either. Optimistically, maybe 2,000 in the house.
Uncontested Josh Owens dunk, Stanford steal, two Cleveland State fouls, Jarrett Mann free throw, two missed Cleveland State shots, Andrew Zimmermann fadeaway… good start for us, 5-0. Cleveland State comes back with five straight as an Owens reach-in negates a charge Zimmermann would have drawn. But then Owens steals and stuffs on an uncontested breakaway, 9-5. Game feels like it's going half-speed right now – both teams need to step it up.
16-minute mark: Stanford 11, Cleveland State 5
CSU's guys are (relatively) tiny, and they look totally disorganized defensively, as most of our points have been off layups or dunks. It's 15-7 now, after an audible Owens block set up a Randle breakaway layup. Cleveland State keeps turning it over and trying to shoot fade-aways over guys six inches taller than them. We keep shooting layups. Dwight Powell makes one; Aaron Bright misses one and then an open three. Kind of embarrassing that we keep getting called for fouls on rebounds given the size discrepancy. I wish we wouldn't have our second-stringers in already. Let's bury these guys, ensure that we're going to advance and everyone will have a chance at playing time in additional game(s), and then put in the cavalry. Instead, what should be a 15-point lead is six.
12-minute mark: Stanford 17, Cleveland State 11
Powell splits a pair of free throws, the only interruption in an 11-1 Viking run against Randle and our second string. Now we're tied at 18-all. And, what do you know, now we put the starters back in. Wouldn't it be better to be leading by 15 now? Not the first time this season fans have complained about substitution patterns, I imagine. CSU has eight turnovers, few if any forced. We're playing zone; Zimmermann likes it as he draws two straight charges. Owens has another sick block.
8-minute mark: Stanford 20, Cleveland State 18
Color commentator says we're soft as Zimmermann can't power past a guy six inches shorter for a layup. It's beyond soft that this is even close; we clearly outclass these guys, yet it's still just 20-18. Zimmermann goes out with two fouls, Jack Trotter enters and now we're tied. Anthony Brown hits another fade-away J. Bright throws it off Owens' knee. Luckily, CSU now has ten turnovers after their guards run into each other. We record our first o-board 16 minutes into the game. Brown, who I think is the only guy in red to score in last eight minutes, save a sole Powell free throw, hits two free throws. CSU responds with a three for their first lead of the game, 25-24. Again, where was the killer instinct when we had them on the ropes early?
4-minute mark: Cleveland State 25, Stanford 24
Owens hook. Then, no one scores for a few minutes in a sequence that sees Owens bounce it off wide-open Josh Huestis' leg, with Huestis two feet from the hoop. Mann misses a pair from the line; we're 4-of-8 there. Mann avenges himself and makes two free throws, but Cleveland State has hit a three and a layup to keep the lead. A quiet Randle – why haven't the coaches put the ball in his hands more, and why hasn't he demanded it – spins in a three with five seconds left to give us the locker-room lead.
Halftime: Stanford 31, Cleveland State 30
They're outrebounding us by 13 at the half, and have 11 offensive boards. We're much bigger. They have shot some threes with long rebounds resulting, and it's harder to rebound from a zone, but c'mon now: that's effort. Anthony Brown has shown me a lot these past few games, and I'd be pretty excited about a starting backcourt of Brown and Randle moving forward. Here, Brown outfights a lot of bigger folks for an o-board and put back, and then hits a three the next possession. His play reminds me of Landry Fields', a shooter who can rebound from the guard spot. Brown has 10 and 7 now. On cue, he hits another J; he's 4-of-5. Now Zimm with a J and it's a 9-0 run. Notice how this run has occurred with our starters. Let's leave them in this time, Coach?
16-minute mark: Stanford 42, Cleveland State 37
We're displaying a variety of zone looks to continue to confuse Cleveland State and it's working, as they're staying stuck under forty. Bright gets a layup and a free throw out of two fast breaks. The top-sevenish guys stay in and the lead grows to 49-39. The squad does play incredible defense; this might be our best D since the Lopez twins roamed underneath. As the lead grows, so does our rotation, and Jack Trotter throws down a dunk to signal that the rout is on, hopefully for good.
12-minute mark: Stanford 53, Cleveland State 41
I'm getting ads for Hustler TV here on the East Coast. You know you're playing out of prime time when… Now we're flowing, as Powell hits a layup off a nice pass from Bright, who has done a good job as a distributor in recent minutes. Bright looks sooo young… guess I'm getting old. Nope, he looks young for a college kid too. Anyway, he hits two freebies. We're in the bonus now and have shot 25 free throws to CSU's seven. Guess we should start checking out flights to Oxford, Miss. (One would go via Memphis?)
8-minute mark: Stanford 61, Cleveland State 44
Hey, at least the Pac-12's on the verge of going 3-0 in the NIT! And you said it was a down year, pshh. Lead drops from 17 to 12, but six minutes left, whatever. Anthony Brown laughs at your 2-3 zone, CSU, and swishes a three. He has 15 and 10 for his first double-double of the season. Powell picks up a charge; we've drawn maybe six of those today. Bright with a crazy bounce high off the front rim as he hits a corner three, then he splits two little green men for a layup. He has 16 points, all in this second half, including nine straight. Announcers say he's our X factor, and they cite the difference in his TO and three-point shooting stats in our wins and losses. Guess Bright is clicking today.
4-minute mark: Stanford 73, Cleveland State 54
We get our deep bench players in. Gold medal to whomever stayed until the final whistle of this one, as these last few minutes drag out. The announcers are really stretching here, giving us a snapshot of a Gonzaga/Ohio State game in the Tournament – which wouldn't even happen until the Sweet 16, should it ever. But hey, all's well that ends well. After a rocky first half, this second period went off without a hitch.
Final: Stanford 76, Cleveland State 65
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