After a long week of work, the moment I've been waiting for has arrived. I get to attend my first college basketball game of the new season. It's a different experience this year for me as the game doesn't involve my alma mater. Nonetheless, I'm still very excited.
After grabbing a quick bite to eat, I make my way through the crisp but comfortable November evening in Tulsa, OK, to the Reynolds Center on the campus of the University of Tulsa. Although Tulsa is an above the red line school (they returned to that status this year after one season in Mid-Majority land last year), you wouldn't know it when you enter the arena. The Reynolds Center only holds about 8,000 fans, and on this night only about 2,000 of those seats are filled.
I settle in to my seat just as the Tulsa lineup is being introduced. The opponent tonight is Arkansas-Little Rock. The Trojans are returning from a season in which they won the Sun Belt Conference tournament and earned a trip to Dayton for the "play-in" games of the NCAA tournament. However, that team had six seniors that have since graduated and this team is relying on a lot of youth to fill the void.
The tip off goes to UALR and the game is off and running. The game starts off very sloppy for both teams as they exchange a few unsuccessful possessions. The Trojans manage to strike first with a free throw from sophomore guard Chuck Guy, one of the few impact players returning from last year's team. Tulsa quickly answers with a two point bucket and the home crowd finally gets to sit down after a minute and half.
The sloppy play from both sides continues as neither side can put together any type of run. At the under 16 timeout the score is 5-3 UALR and at the under 12 it's 11-8 Tulsa. Along with the sloppy play, the tight officiating brings the game to a crawl as UALR enters the bonus early at the 10 minute mark. As the under 8 timeout approaches, Tulsa attempts to make a run with back-to-back possessions with powerful dunks from Joe Richard and Kodi Maduka, leading to a 19-14 lead.
After the under 8 timeout, UALR sophomore forward Will Neighbour quickly quiets the potential run from Tulsa with a deep three pointer. The remainder of the half plays out pretty uneventfully as Tulsa manages to close the half leading 28-22.
Halftime is filled with the standard spirit squad dance routine, a sorority challenge, and a fly around from the Tulsa mini-blimp fittingly sponsored by the Tulsa Air and Space Museum.
UALR starts the second half ice cold missing their first five shots as Tulsa opens up a lead with an 11-3 run. During this run I noticed something that I don't know if I've ever seen happen during a basketball game. As UALR was getting ready to inbound a ball from the baseline, the referee and the inbounding player fumbled the handoff and ball went scooting away.
At the under 16 timeout, Tulsa had opened up a 37-25 lead. The timeout entertainment was the classic "kiss cam" common at American sports events. Tulsa has turned the "kiss cam" in to a sponsored competition fittingly sponsored by a local dentist clinic. As expected, an elderly couple wins the approval of the crowd.
After the under 12 timeout, UALR begins to make run by capitalizing on a streak of turnovers by Tulsa, cutting the lead to 5. However, the dagger from Tulsa comes at around 9:30 when Tulsa's star sharp shooter Scottie Haralson drains a 3 in transition to push their lead to 10 points. UALR manages to keep the margin in the 10 to 14 point range for most of the remainder of the game.
The game is punctuated by a slightly scary moment as UALR guard Chuck Guy runs into a hard pick in transition with about one minute remaining in the game leaving him laying on the court dazed for a few minutes. Fortunately, he's able to walk off the court under his own power, but appears to be pretty shaken up.
Tulsa empties their bench in the last minute which leads to a bucket from freshman 7 foot 2 inch center David Wishon, drawing the biggest cheer of the night. The final buzzer sounds with Tulsa winning 64 to 49. I throw my jacket on over my Mid-Majority t-shirt and make my way out of the Reynolds Center and back into the cool and clear November night.
Basketball season has officially begun for me and it feels great. Fortunately, my basketball night isn't over as I get to head home to listen to my alma mater start their season with a game on the west coast.