My favorite sport to cover is basketball, and one of the reasons is that there are so many different ways to play the game. I saw one worth writing about on Saturday night when I covered a men’s game between Queens and Pfeiffer at the Grady Cole Center here in Charlotte.
These two schools usually battle each other near the top of the standings in Conference Carolinas of NCAA Division II. This year is a little different as Queens is struggling through a 2-11 season with a lineup made up largely of freshmen and sophomores.
But Pfeiffer is doing what it usually does, wearing down its opponents with one of more unsual approaches to the game I’ve ever seen. Coach Dave Davis runs players in and out of the game in waves, generally substituting five-for-five every few minutes. And they play it at a tempo just a hair short of chaos. (It reminds me a little of a hockey game, with players going all out in 1-2 minute shifts, then replaced by a whole new unit.)
Davis, who has been at Pfeiffer for 15 years, says this strategy began as a way to evaluate a lot of players in a short time during pre-season drills.
“It sort of evolved into something we do all the time,” he said. “There’s no excuse for a player not to play hard in this system, because he’s only going to be in the game for a few minutes at a time.”
Davis played 13 players in the game, 11 of them for at least 10 minutes. And it eventually wore down the young Royals, who battled back a couple of times before going down to a 98-84 defeat. Eleven different players scored, led by senior forward James Crowder’s 25 points. He hit 7-of-11 three-pointers.
“The only way to prepare for this is actually to play against it,” Queens coach Wes Long said. “You can’t duplicate it in practice.”
Davis agrees. “You aren’t going to see anything like this against anybody but us, so it does give us a little advantage.”
Pfeiffer plays it this way against everyone, even the North Carolina Tar Heels in a November exhibtion game back in 2006. They lost by 36 points, but the 140-104 final score indicates that everyone at least got their entertainment dollar’s worth, including the Falcons.
“We had the time of our lives,” Davis said when I talked with him about it as we were watching a game at Belmont Abbey shortly afterwards. “Great fun.”