A moral victory

Dec. 19, 2013 @ 07:46 AM

The term “moral victory” is thrown around a lot in today’s sports world, but it seems no one has a fixed definition for what one is. Some fans claim moral victory if their team plays well, but comes up just short against a vastly superior opponent. Others say there are no such things as moral victories. After all, a loss is a loss.

While I understand the second point of view, I believe a team can have moral victories, mainly because I saw one Monday night. The Gardner-Webb Bulldogs went toe to toe with the Duke Blue Devils in the hallowed halls of Cameron Indoor Stadium and gave the home team a stiffer test than they expected. Not that you would know that by reading the headline on ESPN, “Duke Whips Gardner-Webb.” The stats tell a different story.

Yes, GWU eventually lost the game 85-66, but began the contest a perfect 6-6 from the floor, finishing at 62.8 percent for the half. Yet GWU was still trailing at the second media time out. They were literally perfect on the offensive end of the floor and were still losing. You can’t get much better than perfect.

During those early stages of the game, I was reminded of what Captain Picard told Data in Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Sometimes it is possible to not make a mistake and still lose.”

Both the Bulldogs and the Blue Devils cooled off from the field for the rest of the half and the game. Even so, little Southern Baptist affiliated Gardner-Webb outshot the Devils by nearly four percentage points for the game. They also outscored a much taller Devils team in the paint, 34-30. That’s a moral victory in more ways than one.

On the defensive end, however, the Bulldogs were far from perfect, particularly in the first half. Duke shot 58.8 percent from the field, including seven three pointers.

“We just couldn’t stay with them,” said GWU coach Tim Craft after the game. “They beat our zone and they beat our man-to-man.”

Craft nor the Bulldogs should feel bad, however. Duke does that to a lot of teams with a much richer basketball tradition than Gardner-Webb. Besides, if you factor in the second half defense, GWU acquitted themselves well. They held freshman superstar Jabari Parker and the entire Duke offense under their season scoring average. GWU also won the points off turnover battle, 16-15. That doesn’t sound like a whipping to me.

Some may say that I’m sugarcoating a loss with stats and that the only thing that really matters is the final score. In the short term, I would agree. There is no way to get around the fact that GWU lost.

In the long term though, the Bulldogs’ performance shows that they can win the Big South Conference and play in the NCAA Tournament. As coach Craft said, “This gives the guys the confidence to know that they can play with anybody.”

That’s what I call a moral victory.