Stanislaus men test Pacific in Tigers' night of firsts

MC stars enter game for Tigers

ModestoOctober 30, 2013 

  • ABOUT THE REPORTER
    alternate textBrian VanderBeek
    Title: Staff writer
    Coverage areas: Sports, including preps, colleges and the Modesto Nuts
    Bio: Brian VanderBeek joined The Bee in 1996 after previously working at The Home News-Tribune and The Star-Ledger in New Jersey, the (Dover) Delaware State News and the Hanford Sentinel. He is a graduate of Ripon High, Modesto Junior College and holds a degree in journalism from Fresno State.
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    E-mail: bvanderbeek@modbee.com

— That Bill Murray movie "Meatballs" was hardly a classic, which gives it something in common with most college basketball games during the exhibition season.

At a point late in that movie, Murray rises and delivers the ultimate anti-inspirational speech, which ends with the ultimate non-achiever's mantra: "It just doesn't matter."

For the first 28 minutes of Cal State Stanislaus' men's basketball season debut at University of the Pacific, the game was played by the tenets of the Gospel According to Murray.

It was all at once entertaining and ragged, with Pacific's obvious advantage in size and skill matched at times by the Warriors' desire to share space on the newly christened West Coast Conference floor at the Spanos Center.

That the Tigers pulled away to win 80-70 was an expected outcome, albeit one perhaps closer than one would think when a Division II school visits a Division I mid-major.

But to the surprise of many, this was a game, as Stanislaus — behind a flurry of 3-pointers — was able to whittle a 13-point halftime deficit to a single point heading into the final six minutes.

"In an exhibition I'm looking for our guys not to quit and to play hard the whole game, which is as much as you can ask when you go up against guys at this level," said Stanislaus coach Larry Reynolds, who has one day to get his team ready for another non-counting game at Fresno State.

With nothing tangible was stake, it's up to the athletes to find their own motivation. No problem there, since no basketball player ever has reached a four-year roster without an overriding desire to win.

And in the case of two particular Tigers, this was a chance to make big first impressions.

For the record, freshmen T.J. Wallace and Raymond Bowles, graduates of Modesto Christian High School, both hit their first collegiate shots.

And yes, they will remember the moments.

"That was special," said Bowles, who had four points in nine minutes, playing mostly at the small forward position. "Every time we step on the court it matters. You have to play hard every moment of every game, not matter who the opponent is."

Wallace, fully recovered from the pinky tendon problem on his shooting hand that hampered his senior season at MC, had nine points, two assists and a steal in 19 minutes, moving between the point and shooting guard spots.

"It was definitely a new experience," Wallace said. "I wasn't nervous at all, but I wanted to show the fans how much hard work we've all put in this summer.

"Overall, I just wanted to win. It's an exhibition game, but I'm so competitive that every time I step on the court I want to win."

The design was for Wednesday night to be little more than a shakedown cruise for Pacific under new head coach Ron Verlin — sliding over on the bench after 19 seasons as Bob Thomason's assistant — and also a chance for the Spanos Center game operations crew to dust off the popcorn poppers and hot dog rollers; for the Tigers' cheerleaders to perfect their 40-minute smiles; for the UOP pep band to break out "Louie, Louie" for perhaps the 50th straight season since the Kingsmen made it a hit.

And yes, bringing Stanislaus to Stockton was designed to get a workout under real game conditions and probably an easy victory to open a pivotal season in UOP basketball history.

This year marks Pacific's maiden voyage in the WCC, which means games against Fullerton and Cal State Northridge available on choppy Internet video streams have been replaced by contests against Gonzaga and St. Mary's on ESPN.

While the members of the California Collegiate Athletic Association will and should be impressed the way the Warriors hung with the Tigers, the rest of the WCC will look at this 10-point margin with a wink and a nod, seeing that the new kid on the block has some growing to do.

"I was nervous when the game was 64-63, but it meant that I had to make some adjustments," Verlin said. "Stanislaus spread us out and tested us. I was asked if I had a little sweat going, and no, I had a lot of sweat."

In the first half, both Verlin and Reynolds stayed on the bench, quietly watching the action. In the final 10 minutes, both were up an yelling, and Verlin even questioned an official's call.

"It just doesn't matter?"

Even when the game officially doesn't count, don't you believe it.

Brian VanderBeek can be reached at (209) 578-2150 or follow him on Twitter, @modestobeek

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