EVANSVILLE, Ind. — The Eastern Illinois University men’s basketball team may not have had the season that fans would expect to be enough to propel it into the NCAA Tournament, but senior fan Devin Pierzchalski knows winning the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament would mean an automatic bid to March Madness and a once-in-a-lifetime chance.
“Just seeing them having the chance to potentially upset one of the bigger schools would be a dream come true of mine,” Pierzchalski said. “I don’t think I would ever need anything else in my life if that happened.”
So, when the business management major heard about the fan bus going to the tournament, he made sure he was one of the first to sign up. In fact, Pierzchalski went above and beyond to make sure a fan presence was noticeable in the bigger arena.
He dished out $147 of his own money to purchase blue headband wigs for fans to wear to help show their support. Pierzchalski said he also likes to lead chants and just do whatever he can during the game to help the team know they are supported by fans.
“Maybe this gives an opportunity to the players to say that ‘maybe they (fans) do care,’” he said. “Maybe that might give them a little bit more motivation. I really don’t know. I hope it gives them motivation. I can’t really channel my inner Muusa (Dama) right now.”
When it comes to having a favorite member of coach Jay Spoonhour’s squad, Pierzchalski said he is stuck between picking Dama and freshman guard Mack Smith.
“Smith’s role has really impacted my viewpoints on who my favorite player is,” he said. “I love Dama’s energy, when he throws down a vicious dunk, who doesn’t love that? It just gives everyone energy, gets everyone amped up. Mack Smith off the screen has amazing shots, he’s not afraid to shoot a contested shot when someone has their hand up. I like his fearlessness.”
When Dama fouled out early in the second half of Wednesday’s opening round game against Tennessee State, Pierzchalski felt like he was watching Eastern’s chances of winning fade away like something off of SportsCenter.
“Somebody was watching up above. I’m just really happy that we had another opportunity to go at it tonight,” he said. “The fact we didn’t have Muusa out on the court for basically the whole entire second half shows how much resilience we have, Muusa is really a big part of our team.”
Eastern was able to hang on to pull off the upset over No. 6 seed Tennessee State 73-71 despite losing Dama to foul trouble. Some missed free throws down the stretch added to Pierzchalski’s increased heartrate and did not make him feel comfortable about his dream of advancing to March Madness.
Following the opening-round win Pierzchalski talked to athletic director Tom Michael and was able to arrange tickets for fans who would come back to Evansville for the second-round game. Pierzchalski knew there would not be a EIU-sponsored fan bus and wanted to make sure fans had every chance to make it back down to Evansville to support the Panthers.
“I just hope my support helps them do a little bit better. Just impact the game to our advantage,” he said.
The cheering wasn’t enough to help Eastern advance past Austin Peay falling 73-66 Thursday night and officially putting an end to his chances at witnessing the Panthers upset a bigger opponent in the NCAA Div. I tournament.
Despite the outcome and graduating in May, he hopes to be able to come back to Eastern in the future and support the Panthers as an alum, similar to the alums he sat next to during the two nights in Evansville.
• To see a complete photo gallery from the second-round matchup visit: PHOTOS: EIU loses 73-66 to end season
• For photos from EIU’s round-one win over Tennessee State visit: PHOTOS: EIU defeats Tennessee State 73-71 to open OVC Tourney play
• This story was written and published for The Daily Eastern News