My NIT Experience: What A Night

Beth Hall-USA TODAY Sports

For just the second time this season, I wasn't a member of the media. And despite the general disappointment of falling to the NIT, Tuesday night turned into a memorable night in more ways than one.

"Oh yeah! I remember that game. We got called for a walk, but (US) Reed actually got tripped. Larry Bird's team beat us, you know."

That was my lovely mother's quote when I asked her if she remembered what happened the last time Arkansas and Indiana State faced off. Me, my stepdad and my mother all tried to figure out whether the game actually cost us a trip to the Final Four (which it did) on our way to Mellow Mushroom for her birthday dinner.

After being stuffed with amazing pizza, the next phase of the night was the NIT game in Bud Walton. The night NIT game tickets went on sale, I got a text from my mother saying she wanted to come up for the game since it was on her birthday and she could get off work. So I did my best to secure three of the best seats in the building. I think I did OK.

But the fun was just beginning.

Once the players were on the floor, all she could say was "man, these guys are huge!" She specifically spoke about how big Bobby Portis is several times during the game. She really enjoyed the seats, and I did, too.

Sitting that close to the floor and the bench really makes you feel more part of the game. You can hear the players talking and Mike Anderson talking. You know those all-access shows where a camera is inside the huddle and near the bench where you can hear the coaches during games? It felt like that. It was all kinds of cool.

Then the game started. And if you watched the game you know Arkansas didn't play exceptionally well to open. Portis missed a few bunnies, threw a ball into the ISU bench. He had some nerves. No big deal, right? Well, the dimwits sitting directly behind me and my mother had an opinion on everything. Mike Anderson, really, should have just asked them to coach.

I recall Coty Clarke missing an elbow jumper early, and the guy saying, "Oh, there goes Clarke again, shooting jumpers. He's killing us. GET HIM OUT OF THE GAME!" Anderson then put Alandise Harris in the game, and the guy was back at it again. He then had the gaul to call Alandise Harris – the man chiseled from stone – soft. I turned around and just looked at the guy. It was unbelievable. I almost lost it.

Sitting up at the media tables most of the year, I had missed the #HotArkansasSportsTakes from Jethro and Cletus all season. I wasn't used to listening to the badmouthing of the players like I was last season.

My mother, on her own birthday, was my calming influence. And at halftime she said, "wait til we go on a run in the second half. He'll shut up." A mother's intuition.

And just like she said, Arkansas went on a run, leading by 19 points behind a strong half from Bobby Portis, Anthlon Bell and the "marshmallow man" Alandise Harris. Just like that, the guy had nothing to complain about, and the night was extremely enjoyable again. As negative as the guy was when the game was close, he was probably upset he had nothing to bitch about once Arkansas took control. I guess some people aren't happy unless they're miserable.

Last night also made me realize how ignorant fans can be. I actually feel bad for some of Arkansas' guys and what they have to listen to night in and night out. Calling Alandise Harris soft? Yelling at Bobby Portis that he had no spring about him, and that he can't rebound? Just stop, guy. You're embarrassing yourself.

And as the clock wound down on an already enjoyable night with my stepdad and mom on her birthday, I asked her one final time if she had a good time, which she assured me she did. The final buzzer sounded and she had one final request before getting out of the Bud – sing 'O Lord It's Hard to be Humble'. We did. It was a good time.

So we begin the trek from the floor of the arena back to the concourse when I see Nolan Richardson sporting the gnarliest sweater of all-time. I turn back and look and my mother and tell her we were in Nolan's section. Then I say, "go get a picture with Nolan for your birthday."

We waited for Nolan to finish taking pictures with young Razorback fans and talking about his sweater, then we met the man himself. I shook his hand (twice!!) and asked if my mom could have a picture with him for her birthday. She then told Nolan that she and my father named me after Scotty Thurman (which isn't true but it's a fun story to tell). He looked up and smiled at me. We then took the picture, spoke to him for a moment and thanked him for taking the time. It was an awesome moment.

My mom was elated and couldn't stop smiling afterwards. So I basically wrapped up Son of the Year in my family, and mom took something home she'll remember for a long, long time.

Tuesday night wasn't exactly what most Arkansas fans wanted after an exciting finish to the season, but it turned out to be a terrific night. The crowd of less than 8,000 was a loud and enthusiastic one. And in what might have been the last game in the Bud this season, we got to see a little bit of that Bud Walton magic one last time. What a night.

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