While covering Wednesday night’s lopsided content between Mount Marty and Northwestern, I was struck by something. Even though the deficit was never less than 10 points during the final 30 minutes of the game, I had never witnessed a team play so hard and put forth so much effort in a defeat.
Even with the halftime score being an ugly 47-25 Red Raider advantage (and the final being 85-56 in favor of the Raiders), the Mount Marty Lancers played with a fire that one would expect to see from a team on the brink of elimination. Except, when the deficit grows to 30 points, usually the trailing team sees the writing on the wall and eventually coasts in to the finish. Not these Lancer men however.
Led by the spirited play of guards Mitch Ackelson and Joe Hieb, the Lancers created an atmosphere of unease, at least for the Northwestern fans sitting behind me at the scorer’s table. If the scoreboard were hidden, the second half would appear to have been a hard-fought back and forth battle for control of the game.
Considering Northwestern used a pair of big first half runs (7-0 & 12-0) to jump out to their large advantage, Mount Marty hung right with the Red Raiders for the remainder of the game.
Consider this, in the final 23 minutes of the game, only once did either team score more than five straight points. That one instance was a quick 90-second 7-0 Northwestern run keyed by a technical foul called against the Lancers on what was already a three-point play halfway through the second period. Otherwise, both teams played extremely gritty down low and moved the ball all over the court on each offensive set.
Moral victories are hard to get excited about, especially in elimination tournament basketball. Regardless, I mentioned to Lancer coach Jim Thorson during a post-game interview that I was struck by the effort of his team despite the substantial deficit. Thorson, obviously disappointed to see his team “one and done” in the GPAC Tourney had this to say about his team’s play:
“They kept going at it. …all year long they worked hard. They know how to hustle and work hard.”
Those words might not mean to lot right now to a team feeling the sting of blowout loss, but they should. Coach Thorson has been at this game for a long time… over 30 years as a head coach, and for him to point out the hustle and work ethic of his team, that is a true compliment.
Mitch Ackelson summed up the effort on behalf of his fellow seniors (Will Eddie, Tom Kahler & Spencer Yackley) also playing what will be the final game of their careers: “Our mentality was to never give up.”
They never did give up; and for that they should hold their heads high.