Any coward can fight a battle when he's sure of winning; but give me the man who has pluck to fight when he's sure of losing.
Nestled on a hill behind a batch of pine trees near downtown High Point North Carolina is the Millis Athletic Convocation Center. Before you enter the arena there are highlights playing on the PA system outside from radio broadcasts of previous High Point games. The Millis Center is shaped like a tinder box and was filled to its 1,750 seat capacity for the home opener. Even though the opponent was Division Three Bridgewater College, the crowd was excited and the student demand for tickets pushed some of them out of the student section and up into the upper-level seats. The High Point police officer stationed at the game had to reprimand these displaced students several times early in the game for colorful chants about cow manure in reference to disagreeable calls from the officials ,and for throwing paper airplanes made of flyers promoting a sports marketing campaign down into the lower level. Of course the lesson is, as always, if you leave promotional materials that aren't worth keeping on seats before a game, the students will use them as toys.
Bridgewater College is located in Bridgewater Virginia just outside of Harrisonburg, home to James Madison University. They compete in the Old Dominion Athletic conference, and finished last season with an 8-18 record. The High Point Panthers finished 12-18 a year ago and are starting their third season under Scott Cherry. Cherry is most known in sporting circles for playing on Dean Smith's 1993 NCAA Tournament Championship team at UNC-Chapel Hill. He served as an assistant at mid-major powers Western Kentucky and George Mason before taking his first head coaching job at High Point.
On Bridgewater's schedule, tonight's game appears as an exhibition contest. But for High Point this was the official opening for the 2011-12 season. Playing a Non-Division One team in an "official" game is a curious trend among Division One teams. Instead of relegating this piece of theater to the pre-season, this was an official regular season game. Albeit one that won't count towards High Point's RPI (should they need a good ranking for post-season seeding purposes). These games function as the mid-major version of what High Point will do Monday night when they visit Purdue in West Lafayette Indiana. Bridgewater tonight, and High Point Monday night, will be traveling to pick up a pay check for their school. High Point will collect more money from their Big Ten opponent, but they are expected to lose just like Bridgewater was tonight.
Upsets of Division One teams by Division Three opponents do happen, but barring unforeseen circumstances the result is pre-determined. After High Point built an early lead, the fans were able to settle into their seats and discuss the season in a big-picture context. The two people sitting behind me discussed which High Point players had good "speed/handles/upside." While I'm sure they were more knowledgeable of High Point basketball than I am, they were essentially trading talking points regurgitated from what any WWLIS commentator would say about a top prospect during a national broadcast. Or what certain draft experts say when slobbering over these players when they are getting ready to be drafted by the NBA. I learned all of their opinions of Scott Cherry (they weren't fans), and which walk-ons "sucked" the most. At halftime they left, so they didn't get to see the Incredible Jonathan Barnes perform. Shay Shine, best known for doing this terrible thing to a UNC-Asheville player last year led the Panthers in scoring. During the blowout Shine and his teammates had chances for spectacular fast break dunks to showoff what they could do for the crowd. After an alley-oop reverse dunk led to a timeout, Cherry angrily gathered his players and chewed them out for not hustling enough and celebrating too much after the spectacular play. The Panthers will need to show the kind of heart for a full game that Bridgewater exhibited tonight to have a successful season. Spectacular dunks and blowouts of defenseless Division Three opponents are nice, but High Point will have to fight and play like they aren't losing all game, all season even when the outcome appears pre-determined.
at HIGH POINT 95, BRIDGEWATER 52 11/12/2011
HIGH POINT 1-0 (0-0) -- S. Shine 6-13 7-7 22; C. Law 5-8 4-5 14; J. Cheek 2-6 6-8 11; N. Barbour 4-12 1-2 12; D. Wallace 5-9 2-4 14; X. Martin 4-5 5-5 14; L. Harris 1-1 0-0 3; J. Simms 0-2 0-0 0; T. Elliott 1-3 0-5 2; Q. Drye 1-4 0-0 2; T. Duncan 0-1 1-2 1. Totals 29-64 26-38 95.
Three-point goals: - , HP 11-26 (N. Barbour 3-7; C. Law 0-1; J. Simms 0-1; J. Cheek 1-3; X. Martin 1-1; S. Shine 3-8; D. Wallace 2-3; Q. Drye 0-1; L. Harris 1-1); Rebounds: , HP 43 (C. Law 13); Assists: , HP 14 (C. Law 4); Total Fouls -- , HP 17; Fouled Out: -; HP-None.