Divsion II college basketball games, which generally don’t draw huge crowds, are even more sparsely attended when the students are gone for the Christmas break. But basketball junkie that I am, I don’t have to be in a packed arena to enjoy a game, so as the kids say these days, “it’s all good.”
A few random thoughts on a couple of hoops encounters I’ve seen in the last week:
Wingate at Belmont Abbey, Dec, 30: I’m a firm believer that to the basketball addict, the only thing better than watching a game is taking in two of them. This one’s the matinee, and I make my way to the campus of Belmont Abbey College to take in the Crusaders’ game against the Wingate Bulldogs. It’s a good South Atlantic Region matchup of two teams from different conferences, and they ought to play more often.
As I’ve written before, I always enjoy going a couple of times a year to the Wheeler Center on the Belmont Abbey campus to catch a game. The appeal is mostly to my sense of basketball history, as the school is where the late Al McGuire, more famous as the national-championship winning coach at Marquette (1977) and later NBC college basketball commentator started his coaching career.
Belmont Abbey honors him with displays of McGuire news coverage and memorabilia from his days at the Abbey in the late 1950s and early 1960s. I noticed some new items have been added, including a Sport magazine cover and story on McGuire (from the mid-to-late Seventies from the looks of it) by New York writer Jimmy Breslin, titled “The Coach Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight.” Didn’t have time to read the article, but the title is a knockoff of the title of Breslin’s book about Nixon and the Watergate Scandal, “The Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight.”
There are also some items from a recent visit by broadcaster Dick Enberg, who has written a one-man show, “McGuire,” about his former TV colleague, who died in 2001. Actor Cotter Smith plays McGuire in the show, which came to Belmont in early October.
And the coach would be proud that the New York influence still lingers, Listen closely enough in the gym and you’ll hear a few of those accents. And the New York recruiting pipeline started by McGuire still sends an occasional player down here. Sophomore guard Tyshawn Good is from Jamaica, N.Y. in the borough of Queens. He’s not here for this game because of the huge winter storm that the East Coast is still digging out from under.
As for the game itself, it’s Wingate’s afternoon. The Bulldogs (6-4) of the South Atlantic Conference take an 81-65 victory, taking control of the game with a stunning 28-4 run midway throught the first half, including a streak of seven straight three-pointers made.
Coach Brian Good’s team could be one of the most competitive teams in Division II that’s playing without a senior. The leading scorers in this game are a sophomore (Quan
Alexander, 17 points) and a freshman (Robert Carpenter, 14 points).
“We’re playing up and down, and that’s a sign of our youth,” Good said. “We have a couple of juniors that play major roles, but beyond that we’re still pretty inexperienced. Today we were pretty good.”
Fayetteville State at Queens, later that evening: The 7 p.m. game is another non-conference year-ender. Queens comes out on top, 79-77, on two free throws by junior Antonio Stabler with 1.2 seconds to play. It’s a nice finish, especially after the Royals trailed 18-4 early on.
Queens coach Wes Long had given his team a little extra motivation to do well. Long, a manager then a walk-on player at Clemson from 2000 to 2004, told his team that they’d have to practice the next morning if they lost the game. Long had tickets to see his alma mater play South Florida in the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, a 12 noon kickoff for that same day.
And it’s a smart team that doesn’t interfere with its coach’s personal plans.
Erskine at Queens, Jan. 3: I’ve said before that one of the fun things about basketball is that there are lots of ways to play it. But “fun” would not be a word used to describe playing agianst the Erskine Flying Fleet (actually one of my favorite college nicknames.)
The Conference Carolinas team from Due West, S.C. (one of my favorite place names) grinds the game into the ground with its version of the motion, or Princeton, offense. Lots of cutting, lots of passing — but unlike Princeton, the Fleet don’t get a lot of easy back-door layups. Most of their possessions run the shot clock down to the last few seconds and end in a jump shot.
So they get only 6 free throw attempts and hit only 2 of them in a 60-45 loss to the Royals, who win their fifth straight game. Erskine, which trailed 25-24 at the half and stayed close until about midway through the second half, fell to 0-7. The Fleet haven’t lost by less than 10 points so far.
I was interested in getting a player’s perspective on this methodical approach to the game, so I asked Queens freshman forward Brent Evans, who scored 11 points and pulled down 9 rebounds in the game. He was diplomatic.
“You play the way you think will give you the best chance to win,” Evans said. “But at my high school we played run-and-gun, so, no, I don’t think I’d like playing that style of ball.”