Thursday, October 21, 2021

Column: "Everything I didn't expect"

November 26, 2020
The Spartans run off the court after winning  the game against Eastern Michigan on Nov. 25, 2020 at the Breslin Center. The Spartans defeated the Eagles, 83-67.
The Spartans run off the court after winning the game against Eastern Michigan on Nov. 25, 2020 at the Breslin Center. The Spartans defeated the Eagles, 83-67. —
Photo by Annie Barker | The State News

“It was everything that I didn't expect,” junior forward Aaron Henry chuckled after MSU’s victory over EMU Wednesday.

I’ve been in attendance at the Breslin for some of the most ground-shakingly loud moments and some of the most eerily silent ones too. 

It’s hard to conceptualize that just last season, upon entering the arena, you’d hear the band playing away, as the Izzone filed in, and the team shooting around to Izzo “(H.O.V.A)” by Jay-Z.

The students would exclaim “who cares?” to each of the opponent’s starters and cheer as their beloved Spartan starters were announced.

It’s hard to believe that just last season, you couldn’t hear Michigan head coach Juwan Howard over the crowd as he exchanged more than a few grievances with the referee after a technical foul and the Breslin became as loud as I’d ever heard it until that point. 

It was difficult to grasp the sequence that ensued a few possessions later after an MSU bucket, as now-junior forward Gabe Brown flexed, the remaining four Spartan defenders slapped the floor, and the crowd noise converted into essentially inaudible white noise.

“That's probably the loudest I've ever heard the Breslin,” Brown said after MSU’s 87-69 victory over Michigan that day. “I never thought it could get that loud. That was my first time I was like, ‘wow, I couldn't hear.’”

It was shocking to hear the home announcer introduce the “No. 1 ranked Michigan State Spartans” as they tipped off against unranked North Carolina in 2013, the roar of the crowd that ensued, and the deadening of the atmosphere that resulted as the Tar Heels rolled over MSU 79-65 on their home court. 

It was just as exhilarating to witness the back-and-forth battle for the Big Ten regular season title on Draymond Green’s senior day as it was sobering to watch Branden Dawson go down with a torn ACL, bringing MSU’s conference title and national title hopes down with him, as Jared Sullinger and the Buckeyes escaped with a 72-70 victory and the outright Big Ten crown. 

And it was awe-inspiring to attend Cassius Winston’s senior day, the last live event I’d attended prior to Wednesday. I told myself to get my questions in, as each game could be the last opportunity to speak with the now Washington Wizards guard. 

What ensued was, as Henry put so concisely, “Everything I didn’t expect.”

So as one can imagine, MSU’s victory over EMU was weird. There’s no other way to put it. 

Some of it was nice. I started from my home in Milford, MI to my empty East Lansing apartment, with nobody illegally parked in my spot, no students to shuffle through at the gate. There was no band noise to pollute my thoughts as I tried to concentrate, struggling to catch a glimpse of play through tubas and drums, something I loathed last season. 

Be careful what you wish for.

On Wednesday night, there were no students swaying during pregame festivities, no in-person dialogue with players postgame. There was virtually no noise at all, aside from the squeaks of shoes, the bounces of the ball, and the artificial sound pumped in. 

But for someone who has always had MSU basketball as an escape — an escape from the dead of winter, the stress of final exams, and the dreariness of the conditions outside — Wednesday’s game marking the start of the college hoops season was a welcome sight. 

It surely isn’t the same, but in a year where “everything is in the air” as Langford put it, I’m beyond grateful, as were the ones taking the court.

“I think we were all excited to just be able to put our jerseys on and be able to play, just with everything that's going on with the virus,” Langford said. “I'm almost a hundred percent positive early on we didn't necessarily know if we were going to have a season or not just because of how everything was. And so just to be able to be on the court, it's definitely exciting.

“I think that the consensus is that we were all grateful to be able to play.”

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