Fun & Games: If the gods are for us…

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Anthony Harrisonby Anthony Harrison

College basketball, for me and many other North Carolinians, represents serious business. We all have our loyalties — mine largely reserved for the Tar Heels. I frame many clear-cut, dualistic conflicts by this frame of reference: Carolina is to light and good as Duke University is to darkness and evil.

But I didn’t attend UNC-Chapel Hill. I graduated from Guilford College.

Thankfully, they possess solid basketball programs for both men and women, and on Jan. 9, I went to Jack Jensen Court to watch the Lady Quakers host the Eastern Mennonite University Royals.

Both teams were well matched, as far as their win-loss records showed; Guilford had won 10 with one loss, and EMU had won nine and lost two games. I figured it would be a nice matchup.

Surprises abounded.

Spoiler alert: EMU routed Guilford. More on that soon.

Secondly, I really got into the contest on an atavistic, tribal level.

Boss man Brian Clarey always told me when I started writing this column, “No rooting from the press box,” but this was a different kind of experience. I really wanted my alma mater to tally another tick in that left column.

But finally — and this is where dualism and regionalist fidelity enter the picture — my mind couldn’t help but frame this contest in a comparison between good and evil, light and dark, Carolina versus Duke.

For one thing, Guilford head coach Stephanie Flamini steered her team towards trying to play the way Carolina head coach Roy Williams instructs his team to perform: Smart two-point shots, hitting the boards hard, oppressive defense, hustling for the fast break. Good old-fashioned basketball.

Meanwhile, the Royals played like Duke: Try to shock the opponent with a blitzkrieg of threes. Grind down their confidence. Demoralize them.

Unfortunately for the Quakers, it worked.

While Guilford junior forward Anais Weatherly tipped the jump ball Guilford’s way to start the game, EMU quickly took possession of the game with senior guard Alicia Ygarza immediately stripping the ball from Guilford junior guard Amy Steller. Fast break, layup, Royals on the scoreboard with two points.

Sometimes, physics don’t fall in your favor. And the Quakers, no matter what, could not make a shot fall. Their shot selection, for all intents and purposes, couldn’t have been better, but that ball just would not drop into the net, taking bad bounces and rolls off the rim.

Meanwhile, EMU couldn’t miss.

The Royals seized the momentum with that first steal and hit two clutch three-pointers to open the game with eight unanswered points.

And they kept hitting threes. And hitting them. And hitting them.

The Quakers seemed stunned by the onslaught.

On an EMU inbounds play late in the first quarter, senior forward Jess Rheinheimer nailed an uncontested shot. Then, their freshman guard Zaria Credle stole Guilford’s own inbounding play for another quick score.

At that point, the Royals led the Quakers 21-8.

Flamini called time out.

“Where was [Credle]?” Flamini asked her seated team rhetorically. “You’ve got to talk! You can’t just sit there.”

After that fiery rebuke, the Quakers picked up any and all slack.

They dominated the second quarter with a hustling press and clever passing. Quick twos and that withering defense stemmed the hemorrhaging; they pulled within four, 32-28, at the half.

“We’ve got to pick it up on defense,” Flamini told me as her team returned from the locker room to warm back up. “That’s why we’re back in the game. And shot selection. We’ve missed some layups like we’re not in it. And rebounding — we’re getting outrebounded right now.”

Sure enough, Guilford maintained their defensive energy and started producing second-chance shots on offensive rebounding, thanks to strong efforts in boxing out from their forwards and sophomore center Jordyn Brown.

But you can’t take the lead if those shots won’t fall.

If you ask me, I’d rather see a missed two than a missed three. Mid-range jumpers typically can be recovered via offensive rebounding; again, it’s all in the physics. Bricked threes just go wild.

Guilford started getting desperate and throwing up three-point attempts. And they were missing.

Still, they weren’t dumb shots. They just… weren’t going through the hoop.

Meanwhile, EMU was getting the royal treatment from the basketball gods as well as the officiating staff.

At one point, Rheinheimer went to the ground and lost possession of the ball — I saw it nearly out of her grasp. But the ref called it a jump-ball situation, granting possession back to the Royals.

This bad call drew intense scrutiny from the home bleachers.

“She didn’t have the ball!” a handful of Quaker fans screamed.

Flamini, meanwhile, paced the sideline with an angry strut, eyes rolling, biting her lip and shaking her head.

Officiating couldn’t halt the inevitable, though.

The Royals coasted away with the road win, 66-51.

I found myself deflated. Before, I’d exhaust myself emotionally only after Carolina games ended this way.

But my loyalty to my alma mater ran deeper than I expected.

And sometimes, the hoop gods and physics just aren’t on your side.