Western Kentucky doesn't exactly fit the Apollo Creed role. FIU was the higher seed and had split with Western this year. The Hillpeople slogged through four games in four days and "slog" fits the fourth game, Monday's Sun Belt Championship game with FIU. Nobody gave up much cheap. You had to work for your bargains.
But FIU's the coagulation that came together during the season, that was picked 10th in the Sun Belt, that knocked off a Middle Tennessee State team with a 17-game winning streak. And it was FIU that kept getting knocked down Monday night only to drag themselves off the canvas with plays as tough as Cameron Bell's driving scoop reverse layup among the trees or Malik Smith's catch-and-shoot from NBA three-point range. FIU's the team with the walk-on point guard operating the FIU offense like the option quarterback he'd been at South Miami High. Somebody needs to show Deric Hill some scholarship love next season.
It seemed like it was to be, too. When Jerome Frink hit a three or got the roll on the 16-footer to get FIU within striking range. When two questionable late calls, the invisible foul Bell drew and the offensive foul Hill drew on the next possession, went FIU's way instead of going toward the Sun Belt team that'll be a Sun Belt team next year.
And when the clock zeroed out the ball hurled in the air and Western up 65-63, I was reminded of how I felt as a 9-year-old at Lafayette Square Cinema hearing the announcer say Rocky Balboa lost by split decision in the original Rocky.
Dang, man. Just...dang.