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  • Writer's pictureKevin Scarbinsky

BuckyBall blasts off at Samford

One day we'll say we were there, those of us in greater Birmingham who love basketball, who ventured out to the Pete Hanna Center on Thanksgiving Eve 2020, wore a mask and sat in the socially distanced seats to "Be on the neon" to witness history. Some of you who didn't make it will fib and say you did.

We'll say we were there at the beginning of #BuckyBall Goes to College because, as debuts go, opening-night mid-major exhibitions against DIII opponents don't often set the college basketball world on fire.

Samford 174, Greenville (Ill.) 99 did, and the final score wasn't as eye-popping as the halftime score.

That count: Samford 102, Greenville 50. (OK, they later adjusted the official final box to 99-50, but sorry, Poindexter, I know what I saw on the scoreboard in real time with my own four eyes.)

That is psycho but not a typo.

Had this been a regular-season game, Samford's final total would've been a school record - by 43 points. The halftime total would've been another school record - by 18 points. There would've been one more school record for margin of victory at plus-75.

More fun with numbers: Samford handed out 42 assists and forced 41 turnovers while shooting 20 for 42 on 3-pointers, 51 for 69 on 2-pointers (mostly transition layups and dunks), 71 for 111 overall. Fourteen Bulldogs scored, 10 of them in double figures, led by senior guard Myron Gordon with 28. The team finished with 64 points off turnovers and 102 points in the paint. I need a timeout just typing that.

Afterward, the memes flew as fast and furious as new coach Bucky McMillan's Bulldogs did racing up and down the floor and in and out of the revolving-door rotations, deploying the madness-with-a-method attack that won five Alabama state championships at Mountain Brook High School.

The official ESPN SportsCenter Twitter account checked in. So did Sports Illustrated. Former Samford QB Devlin Hodges, now with the Pittsburgh Steelers, was impressed, as was legendary former Samford point guard Joey Davenport. Former Samford and LSU head coach John Brady gave his old school a shout-out, as did Jerry Palm, the self-described "resident sports geek at CBS Sports," and Pat Forde of SI, who penned a nice column on McMillan over the summer.

In one endless, unselfish, relentless 40-minute barrage of deflections, disruptions, runouts, finishes at the rim and splashes from deep, Samford basketball may have earned more national attention than it had since back-to-back NCAA Tournament trips in 1999 and 2000.

A few Debbie and Danny Downers popped their heads out of the social media sand to object, old school coaches subtweeting their disapproval and run-the-picket-fence fans nitpicking the outrageous numbers. Greenville University? A Division III school in Illinois that led all NCAA divisions in scoring last season at 133 points a game but finished 14-13? Get me my smelling salts. The 3-point shot and the shot clock have ruined the sport.

One conscientious objector tweeted, "Sorta like Mt Brook vs Victory Christian. 7A vs 1A. Sorry, I wish him well, but to (be) giddy over Game 1 is a bit overboard."

Overboard? In that case, man the lifeboats and look out below. Cannonball!

Was it overboard to get excited about Samford basketball when Brady and Jimmy Tillette arrived in 1991 and lit a fire under that place? Was it overboard to spend a lot of cold winter nights in Seibert Hall as the old gym with the big windows turned into a hothouse of winning hoops?

That's what's coming back to the beautiful campus on Lakeshore. A different style, but a similar enthusiasm. A different personality in charge, but a common commitment to winning and doing it the right way. When COVID-19 is a thing of the past and there are no crowd limitations, The Pete is going to be The Place To Be on game nights.

Samford is not going to score 102 points in a half or 174 points in a game every night, or maybe any other night during the regular season. Numbers aside, the new-look Bulldogs demonstrated Wednesday night that they're going to play a lot of players a lot of minutes, and those players are going to squeeze every last drop out of those minutes.

But if you know basketball in Birmingham and you know Bucky McMillan, you already knew that. It's how his teams play, how they win and why they're so much fun to watch, if not to face. This night was a sneak preview for the rest of the college basketball world, and it was a smashing success.

For the locals, the bandwagon still has good seats available, and the regular season starts Sunday at 2 p.m. at The Pete against Alabama A&M. Memo to the visiting Bulldogs: Bring masks. Oxygen masks.

Final score: Samford 174, Greenville 99. An exhibition game, but still. (KS photo)



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