A few minutes into the second half of his team's record-setting 116-12 loss at Southern on Monday night, Champion Baptist College coach Eric Capaci glanced over at the opposing bench with a bemused expression on his face.
Southern already led by nearly 70 points, yet the Jaguars were still trapping and pressing full-court almost every possession.
"I looked over a couple times at their coach, like, 'Are you serious?'" Capaci said. "I was in shock. There's a part of me that felt like I needed to approach him and defend the guys, but then again what do you prove if you blow up and get a technical? I just told the guys during timeouts to keep their heads up and keep playing hard. Let's not fight with elbows and fists and words. Let's fight with heart."
Heart, alas, was no match for a Division I foe with superior size, speed and athleticism and no qualms about running up the score.
Southern led 44-0 by the time Kris Connor sank a pair of free throws to get Champion Baptist on the scoreboard and 52-2 by the time Zach Hendricks hit a jump shot to give the Tigers their first field goal. No player from Champion Baptist scored more than four points as the tiny 250-student school from Hot Springs, Ark., sank only 3 of 44 shots, committed 27 turnovers and got out-rebounded 71-21.
The 44-0 blitz broke the record for the longest scoring run to start a game in Division I basketball history, surpassing the 34 straight points Seton Hall scored to open a game against Kean in 1998. Southern's 104-point margin of victory was the most in any Division I game this season, but it fell 13 short of the record set by Long Island when it defeated Medgar Evers 179-62 in 1992.
It didn't dawn on Champion Baptist players that they had been on the wrong end of history until they began checking their phones in the locker room after the game. They soon learned via calls and texts that SportsCenter had devoted time to the game and that it had been written about on Yahoo Sports, CBSSports.com and other national sites.
"Someone told me before I got to the locker room that a record had been broken, so it gave me the opportunity to walk in with a little knowledge and be able to encourage the guys," Capaci said. "Part of life is facing adversity and getting humbled. I just reminded the guys, 'We're not going to face anybody like them at our level. Wouldn't it be a great story if we come back from this and go on to have success the rest of the season?'"
Could Southern have done more to spare Champion Baptist some embarrassment on Monday night? Why did the Jaguars trap and press well into the second half? A Southern spokesman did not return a text message Monday night or a voicemail on Tuesday morning seeking comment from coach Roman Banks, but Banks did tell the Baton Rouge Advocate he was attempting to prepare his team for league play and wasn't trying to embarrass Champion Baptist.
"The gameplan was to play hard every possession so we can get better going into conference play," Banks said. "We’re going up against two [conference] teams later this week, and we wanted to work on us."
It might seem strange for a Division I program to schedule an opponent that has no scholarship players and competes in the little-known Association of Christian College Athletics, but the game served a purpose for both programs.
Southern receives five-figure paychecks in return for playing a handful of challenging road games against elite Division I teams each season, so Monday's game represented a rare chance to build confidence against an overmatched opponent before league play. Champion Baptist College accepts a few thousand dollars to play a handful of road games against lower-level Division I and II teams each season in order to pay for jerseys, charter buses and other necessities for its basketball program.
In its three previous games against Division I competition this season, Champion Baptist College lost by 54 to Southeastern Louisiana, by 60 to Mississippi Valley State and by 63 to New Orleans. Those scores were certainly ugly, but they were nothing compared to the onslaught against a Southern team that entered Monday's game with a 3-9 record.
"We lost to Southern last year by 54 points," Capaci said. "That's normal. They didn't press us the whole game and we scored quite a few points. I don't know why that happened this year. I don't know of any bad blood between us. In fact, I told [Banks] before the game that when they played Gonzaga in the NCAA tournament last year, we were all in front of the TV cheering Southern on. I'm not upset with him personally. I shook his hand after the game. It was just abnormal for us to face a full-court press like that."
Since Monday night's game ended, Capaci has received numerous phone calls.
Some have been from reporters curious about how his program is handling such a demoralizing loss. Others have been from friends in the coaching industry offering words of encouragement.
"I had Division I coaches call me last night and apologize," Capaci said. "The coach of the University of New Orleans actually texted me and said, 'Call if you need to talk.' He said, 'We got beat by Michigan State by 54 points the other night and we're a Division I school.'"
Capaci would like everyone to know his players will be just fine.
They wish they had scored a few more points to stay off SportsCenter, but they're already moving on from the loss. In fact, with some of the money the school received from Monday's game, Capaci plans to drive his team to Houston this afternoon and have them attend the game between the Rockets and Sacramento Kings.
"It's a little treat for the guys," Capaci said, and if anyone deserves the morale boost, it's Champion Baptist.
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