It’s the most intense, most storied college basketball rivalry in the Miami Valley these days and yet Saturday afternoon, Central State relied on two guys who know almost nothing about the history and connections to help save the day against Wilberforce.
“No, I don’t know a thing about all that,” said CSU’s junior point guard Charles Ruise as he stood on the edge of the court at Beacom Lewis Gym after scoring 15 points in the Marauders’ 81-74 victory.
Senior shooting guard Davone Daniels — who led CSU with 17 points on 6-for-7 shooting — was in the dark as well when it came to the weight of these games with their fellow HBCU just across Route 42.
“I don’t look at this as a rivalry,” he said. “To me it’s not part of the big picture. Beating them doesn’t put a banner up on the wall here. It’s just another game.”
Both players’ lack of reference can be forgiven.
The past three seasons Daniels played at St. Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Indiana. In fact, he had a 14-point game against the University of Dayton last season at UD Arena. But after the school year, the college closed its doors and he, like the rest of the students, was left scrambling.
The past two years Ruise played 55 games for NCAA Division I Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne (IPFW). He said he was a backup and wanted more so he decided to transfer.
CSU coach Joseph Price had close connections to coaches involved with both players. He knew Daniels’ high school coach in Indianapolis and is good friends with an IPFW assistant.
Daniels joined the Marauders at the start of the season and is the team’s second-leading scorer, averaging 13.4 points.
Ruise initially wanted to transfer to Flagler College in St. Augustine, Florida — he grew up on a farm in nearby Baker County — but that didn’t work out and he came to CSU in January. Saturday was his third game.
He hadn’t yet begun playing for the Marauders when they lost over at Wilberforce’s Alumni Complex gym, 83-70, in mid-January. It was only the fourth time in the history of the rivalry that the Bulldogs beat CSU and tensions were high among some fans afterward.
There were several post-game fights in the parking lot and several area police departments were called in to restore order.
Saturday, CSU did everything it could to return the game to the intense but good-natured bond the two schools often share.
The game was moved to an afternoon start instead of the original 7 p.m. tip. Fans had to pass through a metal detector to get into Beacom Lewis and inside there were at least 16 police officers, four in every corner.
The lawmen ended up as wallflowers.
This meeting followed the old script of so many of these next-door knock-fests. The CSU band all but blew the roof off the old gym, the CSU Dancing Belles — looking like 11 gold-and-maroon-clad Wonder Women — dazzled and danced in the corner, and the fans traded chants and occasional chorused insults, all while the players went at it on the court.
“The last time, I think since they are an NAIA team, we looked down on them and didn’t come ready to play,” Daniels admitted. “We started paying attention to the crowd and just didn’t focus.”
Price knows a thing or two about rivalries. He was a standout player at Notre Dame — before a long pro career in Europe — and was involved in many big time match-ups.
“I played in plenty of big games against rivals — UCLA, Kentucky, Indiana, Syracuse in front of the fourth-largest crowd ever. Dayton, too, and as a competitor you enjoy that environment. But you shouldn’t need anything to get you focused for a game like that.”
Daniels said after the loss to the Bulldogs — who are now 4-15 — students on the CSU campus didn’t ride the players: “They just let us know not to let it happen again.
“We understood that. It’s a respect thing. As a man you don’t want to let somebody beat you like that, especially when you are (NCAA) Division II scholarship players and they are NAIA. You can’t let that happen twice.”
And Daniels has added incentive against Wilberforce.
His former girlfriend, Jamee Denman, now plays for the Wilberforce women’s team. She played at Saint Joseph, too, and then joined the Bulldogs when the school closed. He said they broke up this summer.
One CSU official thought she now dated a Wilberforce player, though Daniels shook that thought off and grinned:
“She won’t ever find somebody that matched me.”
When he came in the game, the Bulldogs bench initially seemed eager to talk to him.
He soon changed the narrative, hitting four of his five 3-point attempts, including one deep in the corner with six seconds left before halftime.
A Bulldog bench player said something and he turned and said with a laugh:
“That was money!”
Ruise had made a similar impact when he came in near the 13-minute mark in the first half with his Marauders trailing 14-7. He hit four baskets in just over eight minutes, his last one lifting CSU to a 26-24 advantage.
The Marauders, now 8-14, would not lose the lead again.
“Davone and (Charles) feed off each other,” Price said. “They both can score and that’s what we’ve been in need of since we lost Dwight Richards. He was our best player, our biggest scorer.”
Last season Richards scored 42 points when CSU dumped Wilberforce at Beacom Lewis.
At the end of Saturday’s game, the CSU crowd began their trademark song, which begins: “I’m so glad…I go to CSU.”
Standing on the edge of the court afterward, Ruise began to understand.
“I’m really starting to love Central,” he beamed. “Yeah, I love it.”