When Great Lakes lost to Rochester University by twenty on Wednesday night, they looked like a lost team.
Lost drive, lost motivation, lost season.
Maybe that was the team the Red Hawks of Indiana University-Northwest thought they would face when they entered the Doty Center at 2:45 on Saturday afternoon.
The Red Hawks had had some trouble navigating the snow-covered highway to reach the stadium, and arrived nearly an hour after the scheduled tip time. The game was pushed back to a 3:00 tip to accommodate the visitors, who had only a few minutes to warm up before the game started.
No worries, right? After all, these were the Crusaders we were talking about here; a team whom IUNW had downed with relative ease, 90-80, back in the Lakes' season opener in October at their home court, on a night in which the Crusaders shot a paltry 35.2% from the floor and committed 27 turnovers.
At halftime in Saturday's contest, the Red Hawks' lack of concern seemed justified, as they held a comfortable 44-36 lead on a Crusaders team that looked fairly listless and uninspiring for most of the half.
A team who had won one game all season, and had it taken away due to the presence of an ineligible player on the roster.
A team hobbled by injuries, missing both leading scorer Kyle Downing and senior leader Tyler Piercefield.
The kind of team who might as well shut it down.
Apparently the Crusaders didn't get the memo.
I don't know what went on in that Crusader locker room at halftime.
I'm not sure I want to know.
All I know is that what happened next may have been the greatest twenty minutes of Crusader basketball the Doty Center hardcourt had ever seen.
The limping Crusaders looked the Red Hawks in the eye and said 'bring it'.
Because they were coming.
The teams traded buckets for a few minutes before the Crusaders made their move; Devlin Jefferson drove to the basket and laid it in with 14:31 to go to cut the Red Hawk lead to 53-48, the smallest it had been in the half. That bucket started a run that no one could have seen coming.
Three possessions later, it was Jefferson in the corner, delivering the three that gave GLCC their first lead since being up 11-10 early in the first half; 55-53.
A lead they would not relinquish.
If you want to pick out a defining moment in the game, there are plenty to choose from;
D.J.'s go-ahead three.
Troy Aubrey or Maurice Jordan or DeAngelo Brown (take your pick) driving the lane and cashing in with a lay-up.
Taylor Richards grabbing the rebound and putting it back for two.
Luke Flokerts getting serious air for the offensive board... again.
Nathan Shelton hitting a bucket of his own in the final minute.
Or Mike Vickers nailing not one, not two, but three triples in three consecutive possessions to make the lead 81-59 with 3:47 to play, capping off the run that Jefferon started for the Crusaders over ten minutes before.
But you can't. It was all special.
The Doty Center was in a kind of euphoric dreamland, that 'is this really happening?' kind of state where you look at the guy next to you and you're both screaming/squealing like little girls because your David has Goliath by the throat.
It's not a moment anyone who was there will forget any time soon.
When it was all said and done, the scoreboard read 94-72, in favour of the home squad. The scorecard can tell you all kinds of other things;
Six Crusaders had ten or more points; Jefferson (22), Vickers (18), Richards (14), Brown (13), Jordan (11), Aubrey (10).
Troy Aubrey got his double-double with 10 assists in addition to his points, as well as seven rebounds and three steals. He led the team in all three categories.
The team shot 20/22 from the free-throw line, led by Jefferson, who shot a perfect 10/10.
Mike Vickers shot 4/5 from beyond the arc, leading a 6/12 overall effort by the team from the team. GLCC also shot 54% from the floor, converting 34 of 63 attempts.
What the scorecard can't tell you is what this win means to that hobbled, beaten down, winless team who gutted out the performance of a lifetime and shock everyone (including themselves) with a huge, huge, huge victory.
"I want to give thanks to the team and to God," said Mike Vickers during the post-game celebration, "When the team talked at halftime, we said that if we give our thoughts to God He would bless us and he did with a 20-point win."
"Everybody steps up," said head coach John Piercefield, "these guys had the potential all along, and they've been given an opportunity. We've got guys down, and it’s nice to have an opportunity to have everybody play, and play well."
"It was even more special because it was a home win," said Troy Aubrey, "you know, we're coming off a loss, we needed this win, we're down some players, a couple of guys are injured, so this was like a statement game."
The Crusaders host rival Kuyper on Tuesday night at the Doty Center at 7:00.