For twenty minutes, I thought about checking my press pass to make sure I was really at the Loyola-Toledo game. Neither of these teams was supposed to make an NCAA Tournament run, but you have a picture in your head when you look at a matchup, even for the first game of the year.
For twenty minutes, the picture in my head didn't look anything like what I saw on the floor.
Uncoordinated, cold, plodding offenses: that didn't sound like the teams I thought I was going to watch. Not with Cully Payne running the Loyola offense. Not with Julius Brown at the top for Toledo.
These aren't the teams you are looking for.
But those were the teams that I got. The defenses for both teams -- that granted, were not supposed to be stellar (230 and 249 rankings at KenPom) -- looked as if there had been no practice for either side. And the shooting was just abysmal.
It picked up a little as the teams went into the half, but I attributed that more to the tired defensive legs from the first 20 minutes of action, rather than an actual concerted effort to score.
Frustrating? You bet, and not just for the fans in attendance. The players looked confused as to why they weren't playing up to the potential that they had. That can be a bad thing: think chippy play, getting a little handsy, and a lot of jawing between the players (well ... certain players, but we will get to that).
This game was getting ugly fast.
If this were a prize fight, you would think both teams were saved by the bell, probably more from themselves than each other. This wasn't what either squad wanted from the game.
It changed after the half. So maybe now we know who gives the better halftime speech, if you believe in those kinds of things (Porter Moser). I prefer to believe the Loyola team just ended up having the better floor leader.
Ben Averkamp leads like he plays. He is a director on the floor. He gives a few instructions and lets his team do what they do best. He doesn't need to be vocal, or demonstrative. When something bad happens to him, he quietly takes it. That is just the way he is.
You have to believe that the calming presence of Averkamp made the difference here. The Ramblers came out of the locker room and went about their business while the Rockets continued to implode.
Toledo was shooting just 23.8 percent from the floor with 3:39 remaining in the second half . They ended going 3-for-3 after it was too late and Loyola had sealed it, going on to win 62-50.
It was about Toledo not getting out of its own way. I now understand what Matt Sussman at Hustle Belt was trying to say when he told me that he wasn't sold on Rian Pearson.
Pearson is tricky. He has these flashes where you understand all of the potential, all of the reasons that he is supposed to be a star in the MAC. But then you watch him try to finish and come up short. You watch him let the missed shots get to him. You watch him react to no calls. You watch his head get away from the game.
That just does Pearson in.
Look, the kid does more on a basketball court in five minutes than I could hope to do in five years. He just never actualizes all of that potential. If he could, man, it would be a sight.
If you were looking for the difference Friday night, that is the place to start. There was one leader, calm and collected. There was another who may have done more to upset his team than pull them up.
That wasn't the story I thought I was going to see, not by a long shot. But it was the story I got to watch.
And sometimes, what you get is better than what you expected. Now I know why everyone in the Horizon League raves about Averkamp. It isn't just the numbers, it is the way he gets those numbers.
Try and pick out how he ended up with 15 points and nine rebounds, and you would be hard pressed to say how any of it happened. It just occurs, like he willed it done.
That is the force of his leadership on the floor.
And that is why the Ramblers will go to bed tonight 1-0 on the season.