When Mark Lyons walked off the court at the end of Arizona's three-point loss to Ohio State last night, he already began fading into the tapestry of college basketball history. Unless he finds unlikely noteriety at the next level, ten years from now he will be indistinguishable in the memories of most fans from Casper Ware and Curtis Jerrells and Zabian Dowdell and a hundred or a thousand other guards who shot too much and distributed too little to be true point guards but were too short or too streaky or too passive to be true scoring guards. They come and they go, each entering school with his dreams and leaving with little more than a degree and no debt.
Mark Lyons deserves more than that.
Plato asserted that, outside of this physical domain, there existed non-material, abstract "forms" of everything that we see, and that the physical manifestations in the world around us do not possess the same immutable reality as these forms do. I don't know if that holds any water, but it is still a little applicable to college basketball. Marshall Henderson may always have been a goofball, but he clearly feeds off the reactions of the people he offends. JJ Redick recently told Grantland that he "was kind of a [slang term for male parts]" because he loved it when opposing fans hated him. Henderson and Redick and "Psycho-T" and almost everyone else who grabs his 15 minutes of fame when ESPN turns its eye to our sport are all playing the role, growing into it as it grows with them.
Mark Lyons, on the other hand, never, ever seemed to give two pints of warm garbage what anyone thought of him; he was always exactly himself, no matter what. He showed up on campus gunning, began gunning as soon as he was eligible, and gunned his way to Arizona this year. While Tu Holloway was graft and guile and softly spoken press conference quotes (with one notable exception), Mark Lyons got "King of Upstate" tattooed on his arm and then played every game like he was out to prove he deserved his self-appointed regency. He was in attack mode 100% of the time.
This, of course, was a two-edged sword. When he scored the final seven points of Xavier's 70-69 win over Dayton in the A-10 tournament last year, you loved his guts. When his decision making made you wonder if he had suffered a very recent concussion, you begged him to switch it off for just one minute. He never did though. Whether he was hitching a ride to the game with Xavier's opponent before dropping six threes on them or flying into the Cincinnati bench in what can most graciously be described as an overzealous attempt to defend a teammate, it was full go all the time from Lyons.
In his final game, Lyons came up against Aaron Craft, the man many talking heads have described as the best on-ball defender in the nation this year, and completely shredded him. The man they call Moog (I have no idea why, or even what that means) needed only 12 shots to drop 23 on Craft and OSU and posted an ORtg of 125 on the game. On the second to last possession of his career, Lyons took Craft to the top of the key and attacked, executing a barely contested finger roll at the rim while Craft frantically backpedalled in a doomed attempt to stay on his feet. The very next play, with his team down three with less than half a minute to go, Lyons eschewed the three-pointer to attack LaQuinton Ross in the open court, finishing through contact before tying the game at the line.
It wasn't enough, as Ross hit the game-winning shot on OSU's last possession. Hack writers are already telling you that Craft and his 3-9 from the floor willed the Buckeyes to victory, but my enduring memory of this game will be OSU's rosy-cheeked savior collapsed against the stanchion that supports the bucket as Lyons soared above him to lay the ball in, confident of his claim to supremecy, not giving a crap what anyone else would think.