In a world uprooted by pandemic, The Basketball Tournament attempted to provide fans a return to normal: basketball.
And what’s more fundamental to sports fan than a come from behind upset?
The Men of Mackey - originally designed to be a team of Purdue alumni’s returning to the gold and black that’s turned to a hodge podge of former Purdue basketball players mixed with familiar midwest college players - went into the Elam Ending trailing Heartfire 77-71, with Heartfire just 8 points away from victory, the Men of Mackey forced a 14 to 2 run over the final stretch and will advance to the winner take all tournament in Dayton, Ohio.
While Purdue fans were excited to see old stalwarts like Isaac Haas and recently graduated transfers like Evan Boudreaux suit up, it was the former point guard from Washington University Justin Dentmon that led the Men of Mackey late, scoring a tournament high 32 points, and hitting a couple huge 3’s late to overcome the near game long deficit the Men of Mackey found themselves in.
It was Purdue’s own Isaac Haas who put the finishing touches on the win, grabbing the missed Dentmon jumper and putting it back in to get to the magic score of 85 points.
It was a rough outing for most of the game for the Men of Mackey. They struggled to shoot the ball. They had stretches where they looked like they had lost their legs, but a key defensive switch that put Isaac Haas on Isaiah Austin, the former Baylor big man, who had been carving up the Men of Mackey in the paint all game. Haas’ ability to force him away from the hoop stalled Heartfire’s offense entirely late in the game.
Jon Octeus continued his world tour of playing basketball. His energy, defense, and quickness filled the state sheet for the Men of Mackey. He struggled to score the ball but he got to loose balls and knocked down some big late free throws.
Jacquil Taylor, who spent his senior season at Hofstra, showed off his length and athleticism early with a chase from behind block off the back board. The big man who was a prize recruit for Coach Painter but was never able to stay healthy while at Purdue, closed out the game, and grabbed a big offensive rebound and put back right before Haas’ to help set up the victory.
Going into the tournament, one of Men of Mackey’s biggest strengths was a roster full of players familiar with each other. They thought they’d get off to a fast start, but with Covid’s continuing difficulties, many of the original roster members had to drop out of the tournament. This led to a team relying on their coach, former Purdue sharp-shooter Ryne Smith, in being able to draw up some instant chemistry.
For the first game, it worked, barely.
The Men of Mackey will now set their eyes on another alumni team: Boeheim’s Army(Syracuse Alumni).
They will play Tuesday at 4 pm. Same as in every game with The Basketball Tournament, the loser goes home.