At the request of the National Invitation Tournament, they held the Ball State-Utah Family Reunion Thursday night in the Huntsman Center, starring Rick and Dick. For a time it was a close, strategic little affair, matching the wits of the mentor, Utah coach Rick Majerus, against those of the protege, BSU coach Dick Hunsaker. By the end of the night, Hunsaker was hurling his clipboard to the floor and insults toward the officials.
So much for one big happy family.The Utes won 72-57 to raise their record to 21-10 and advance to the second round of the NIT against Arizona State Tuesday night. The Cardinals, 24-9 and finished for the season, returned home to Indiana having been beaten by the very man who had raised their program to prominence and brought many of them together. Talk about irony.
All Hunsaker had wanted to do was get the Utes to the final 10 minutes even. "Then we thought we'd have a shot," he explained. With 8:43 left in the game, it was 53-52, Utah; the Cardinals had the Utes just where they wanted them. Or so they thought. The Utes scored 18 of the next 20 points to blow the game wide open.
"We hit shots tonight that we normally miss, as anyone who has watched us will attest," said Majerus. "We're not that good of a shooting team."
For once Majerus wasn't overstating matters. The Utes, a 45 percent shooting team, shot 72.7 percent in the second half, 55 percent for the game. Phil Dixon, who rode a slump through most of the second half of the league season, was flawless, making six of six shots from long range and totaling 14 points. Antoine Davison, who set up permanent residence in the coach's doghouse this season, totaled 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting, seven boards and two blocks, and still won only a lukewarm review from the coach.
"His shots went down, but he gave up four baskets on defense," said Majerus.
Bryon Wilson and Paul Afeaki, meanwhile, totaled 26 points and 15 rebounds between them.
Majerus, ever the sentimentalist, was nothing if not relieved to have the game finished. "I'm glad it's over," he said. "I like those guys."
The NIT knows a hook when it sees one, and this game had it, even if only 5,882 fans cared enough to actually witness the event. As head coach at Ball State for two seasons, Majerus had coached and/or recruited four of the Cardinals' five starters and hired Hunsaker as his assistant. Majerus developed such respect for Hunsaker that he referred to him as his co-coach, and when he left for Utah three years ago, he passed the job to him.
All week long both coaches said they dreaded playing against each other, but, then again, Hunsaker closed his practices and dodged interviews for a couple of days.
"I wasn't coaching against Rick," said Hunsaker. "We were just playing another team. The guy on the other bench was just another coach."
Uh-huh. It almost goes without saying that Majerus and Hunsaker have few trade secrets, and that quickly became evident. When Thursday's game began, the Utes discovered to their dismay that the Cardinals didn't even bother to defend non-scorers Tyrone Tate, M'Kay McGrath and Thomas Wyatt. They simply sat back in the lane and protected the basket. "When we saw that, we knew Dick had watched a lot of film," said Ute assistant coach Jeff Judkins. The Utes quickly sent their smaller (scoring) lineup into the game.
That's the way the game would be - punch and counterpunch. No sooner would Hunsaker yell a play to his players on the court than Majerus, eavesdropping from his bench, would shout an explanation of the play to his players. And viceversa.
"I think they were calling our plays," said Ute guard Jimmy Soto.
Both teams tried to run their favorite plays at the end of the first half and wound up getting snuffed. They saw them coming.
The Cardinals opened a 15-7 lead, and only Dixon was keeping the Utes afloat. Utah had to score six straight points to make it 33-30 at halftime.
The Utes used a small lineup to "make them cover us," early in the second half and made a 10-0 run. Hunsaker called a timeout and threw a fit - not to mention the clipboard and a marker - on the bench. Center Bill Gillis responded by scoring the team's next 11 points to even the score.
More tactics. The Utes sagged on Gillis, who scored 22 points but none in the game's final 11 minutes. "We simply needed to step up and hit jays," said Hunsaker. But it wasn't in the Cards, who shot just 37.5 percent. They scored just five points during the game's final eight minutes.
Holding a one-point lead, the Utes made their move. After Dixon sank an outside shot and Afeaki turned a Tate pass into a jam, Gillis was whistled for a technical. "The official told my captain that (Gillis) grabbed (a Ute player's) shirt," said Hunsaker. Hunsaker was still steaming about the T after the game, but it was only a two-point swing (Soto's two foul shots).
Afterward, Majerus' post-game radio show was interrupted by his former Ball State players and Hunsaker, who stopped by to chat. Majerus planned to visit with them later that night, but don't bet on anybody asking for a rematch.