Before it all becomes a blur, here’s how a man watches more basketball in one day than most people do in a month:
I’ve been waiting for this day for a couple of weeks now, ever since I found a guy selling tickets to the first two days of the Southern Conference basketball tournament on Craigslist. I described the first day, a three-gamer, in the last blog post.
When I get home, I start getting ready for Day 2, which will include two women’s quarterfinal games, starting at 9 a.m., followed by the four men’s first-round games. It’s a matter of laying in provisions for a long day at the Bojangles Coliseum, as I don’t plan to eat the corporate namesake’s chicken from the concession stand all day — not that there’s anything wrong with that, I just don’t want to spend the money. I’ll be able to leave the arena every couple of games to take a tailgating break.
So I pack my cooler — some sandwiches, a box of “movie candy” for a sweet treat, some macaroni salad, a few sodas. I feel like Strom Thurmond prepping for a filibuster, only I’ll get to go to the bathroom. I put the cooler in my car.
I actually get a late start to uptown Charlotte and the coliseum, arriving at 9:30 a.m., a few minutes before halftime of the first game between the Elon and Samford women. Elon, which dispatched Wofford easily in Thursday’s first round looks like they’re not a “morning” team — after hanging with the Bulldogs for a half, they only score 13 in the second half and lose, 57-38.
The other game is about the same, as No. 1 Chattanooga defeats UNC-Greensboro, 82-64. I’m impressed with the Mocs’ Shanara Hollinquest, a 6-foot senior forward who was the conference’s women’s player of the year. She drops 24 points on the Spartans, equally comfortable with the pull-up jumper and some smooth moves to the basket.
During the break, I buy what’s easily the coolest hat at the souvenir stand. It’s the Wofford Terriers. Logo’s kind of retro-looking, don’t you think? So for the rest of the day, I’m a Wofford guy — although later on some drunk man in the rest room sees the black-and-gold headgear and mistakes me for a Saints fan, making some joke about Jake Delhomme being my new backup quarterback.
The afternoon session brings what there hasn’t been much of so far — close games and a big crowd with some energy.
The latter is evident because the “hometown” Davidson Wildcats are playing. It’s their first time playing in the first round since 2001 — looks like they put this appointment in their planner, and so did a good number of their red-and-black-clad fans, who are waiting to get in the door when the first session ends.
But this is not your Davidson Wildcats team of the past couple of seasons, with shooting star Stephen Curry scoring from everywhere and the ‘Cats giving Division I’s powerhouses all they can handle. (He is in town to play for his current team, the NBA’s Golden State Warriors against the Charlotte Bobcats on Saturday, and may well have been here but I didn’t see him.)
Without him, this year’s Davidson team is just another middling (16-14) mid-major. They’re playing Elon in a rematch of a game from the previous Saturday. In that one, senior Steve Rossiter stole an inbounds pass and hit a three-pointer in the last seconds to give the Wildcats a 99-96 double overtime victory over the Phoenix at Elon.
This game is close, but nothing like that one. Davidson is its own worst enemy, turning the ball over at inopportune times. Elon hits enough three-pointers to hang on to the lead and pulls away for a 66-59 win. Anyone who wants tickets for the rest of the tournament can get them easily from the dejected Davidson fans, who are selling off after the game. My friend and former student Justin Parker, who has joined me for the afternoon session, gets tickets for the night’s last two games that way.
(And the Southern Conference’s financial types are probably looking for an uptown skyscraper to jump off, as the prospect for any kind of crowd for the rest of the tournament has gone downhill fast.)
The second game of the afternoon doubleheader is also close, but ragged and not very engaging until its puzzling conclusion.
Furman, which really hasn’t done much in the conference since it dominated it through most of the Seventies, plays UNC-Greensboro in this one. UNCG misses a chance to put the game away in the final seconds when the Spartans’ Mikko Koivisto hits only one of two free throws. The Paladins look like they have a shot, down 66-63 but with the ball in the hands of their best player, junior forward Amu Saaka. Everyone in the building expects him to pull-up to try for a game-tying three-pointer.
But inexplicably, he drives to the hoop for a thundering dunk, leaving UNCG still up 66-65 and they run out the remaining fraction of a second on the clock to escape with the victory. It’s the subject of much conversation as the building empties in preparation for the two night games.
The Citadel is enjoying some modest success these days under the coaching of Ed Conroy — his cousin is the author, Pat Conroy, who as far as we can tell doesn’t show up. They play Samford in the evening’s first game. As you might expect from South Carolina’s military college, the Bulldogs play a disciplined game with emphasis on teammwork and ball movement. They pretty routinely dispose of the other Bulldogs, 55-43. Nice game from Cameron Wells, the Citadel’s top player, an athletic 6-foot-1 guard, with 17 points.
But the biggest impression this game leaves on me is how the Citadel pep band and cheeerleaders stand at ramrod-straight attention during the playing of the national anthem before the game. Even The Citadel’s real bulldog mascot displays that military discipline — he makes no effort to get into a box of treats his handler leaves on a chair beside him during the game, and sits quietly for most of it. Good dog.
The last game of the evening between Georgia Southern and Chattanooga is enough to clear out the building, but the diehards like me and the two schools’ fans are there when the game ends around 11 p.m. Chattanooga, last year’s surprise conference tournament winner, ends up an 82-62 winner after leading by as much as 30 in this game that has at least been fast-paced.
After spending most of the last 13-1/2 hours inside, I am free to go home. I feel like somebody should be giving me $10 and a suit of civilian clothes.
Instead, here’s the financial accounting of what I spent for the two days:
Game program $5
Concessions $12 (three Bojangles giant legendary sweet teas)
Cool Wofford hat $15
Not bad for two days of fun. And I’d sure do it again. Just not tomorrow.