WHO: The 2019 Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks men’s basketball team.
WHAT: A dramatic victory over college basketball’s perennial powerhouse, Duke.
WHY IT’S SO GREAT: To start with, let’s watch the clip of the final moments of overtime in the Lumberjacks’ road game against the mighty Duke Blue Devils:
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Let’s unpack this. Duke, which gets its name first in every story about men’s college basketball by being the game’s most dominant force, has a program that has been to the NCAA tournament every single season that it has been coached by Mike Krzyzewski since 1984. It’s won five national championships in that time, too. In this clip, they’re playing at home, where they have—up until the final moments of that very game—won every one of the last 150 non-conference games they’ve played. Then, the fan base of an elite university—famous for chanting to opposing players, “it’s all right, it’s okay, you will work for us someday”—gets outplayed by the unranked Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks.
150 straight non conference home wins but yes, I’m sure the school named “Stephen F Austin” will be the ones to snap that. https://t.co/VC1lgaH4Dm
— Sad Barstool Blue Devils (@BarstoolBDevils) November 26, 2019
Now, about those Lumberjacks.
The team from Nacogdoches entered the game as 27.5-point underdogs. The game was meant to be an easy win for Duke, while the Lumberjacks entered the game unranked. But Stephen F. Austin’s men’s basketball program isn’t so bad—while they’re outside the Power Five conferences, they’ve qualified for the NCAA Tournament in four of the last five seasons, winning two games. (Last year, they dropped an early loss to an eventual Final Four team in Texas Tech.) It would be a stretch to say the Lumberjacks are a competitive power—but the team, at 5-1, is certainly in a promising spot for another shot at the tournament. And the boost of confidence a team gets from a win like that is likely to buoy spirits for the next few months.
Also boosting spirits is the reaction from the sports world to Nathan Bain, the player who won the game at the buzzer for the Lumberjacks. Bain is a native of the Bahamas and set up a fundraiser in September to raise money for his hometown after Hurricane Dorian. For much of the time after he posted the campaign to GoFundMe, however, it was stalled out at $2,000, just eight percent of its $25,000 goal. But after the game, the donations flowed in—from Stephen F. Austin fans, from Duke haters, and everyone else who needed to be reminded that sports can encourage us to do good in the world. Now, Bain’s family and church are getting more than $50,000 to rebuild their home.
While Duke lost, that’s unlikely to affect their postseason—they’re still on track to make the tournament as a high seed, if not a number one. Stephen F. Austin will get a boost from the win, but they’ll need to carry that through for the next several months to be playing basketball in March again.
But still—this is an underdog story, with a likable team from Nacogdoches triumphing in dramatic fashion over college basketball’s greatest villain. If the two somehow meet again for the tournament in March, the first chapter of that story will be a fun part of history.