On November 18th, 2000, the Cintas Center opened on the campus of Xavier University. In front of a capacity crowd of 10,250, Xavier hosted Miami University of the Mid-American Conference as a part of a long-standing annual tradition between the two programs. Despite a sluggish start, Xavier went on to win that inaugural game 68-54. The men's basketball program had spent the past seventeen seasons playing at the nearby Cincinnati Gardens. As the prominence and success of the men's basketball program grew in the early '90's, so did the desire to return basketball to an updated, on-campus facility. Cintas, a company founded in the Queen City in 1929 and headed by Miami University graduate Richard T. Farmer, was granted the naming rights of the new facility. Five years later in 2005, Mr. Famer made a $30 million donation to Miami for the construction of a new business school, known today as the Farmer School of Business.
Fast forward eleven years later to the day, Miami made the 34 mile trek to the Cintas Center for the 99th meeting of the two basketball programs. These days, following five consecutive A-10 regular season titles and several late runs in the NCAA tournament, Xavier has rid themselves of the 'mid-major' tagline and has risen to one of college basketball's elite. The Muskies came into this matchup ranked #13 in the AP poll, having just knocked off MEAC favorite Morgan State in the season opener and IPFW earlier in the week. Miami entered the contest following an overtime victory over regional rival Dayton in their season opener on Tuesday.
Despite Xavier's rise to national prominence, Miami continues to play them close year in and year out. Miami has won two of the last four meetings including a 75-64 victory in Oxford last season. This year's Miami squad is led by Senior Forward Julian Mavunga. A native of Brownsburg, Indiana, Mavunga once played on the same high school squad as former Butler star Gordon Hayward. He is also a fan favorite, thanks in part to his interaction with fans on Twitter. @Mavunga tweets about everything from Dunkaroos, to planking, to his love and support for his family.
Upon arrival at the Cintas Center, I headed toward the ticket booth. I had an extra ticket on hand and was prepared to give it away for free. Before I made it there, I was stopped in the parking lot by a guy looking for a ticket. "How much for the ticket?", he said. "You can have it for free. Enjoy the game". "God bless", he responded. A short time later when I arrived at my seat, I learned that I had just aided a ticket scalper. He sold the ticket immediately to a college student and banked $20.00 on the deal.
Prior to tip, I proceeded to the James & Caroline Duff Banquet Center. Located along the top level at the south end of the arena, the 12,000 square foot center overlooks the entire south end of the court. The banquet features a bar and a buffet-like setup serving LaRosa's Pizza, a Cincinnati favorite. A few minutes prior to game time, the center started shutting down and patrons began venturing to their seats for the start of the game.
As expected, the stands were filled with blue shirts with a few specs of red scattered throughout. Backed by a full student section, Xavier came ready to play, jumping out to an early 11-5 lead. But Miami didn't back down. Led by Sophomore Forward Bill Edwards 14 first half points, Miami came back and took the lead 34-32 at the half.
Of the many college basketball arenas that I have visited, Xavier is one of only a couple of schools that provide spectators with a printed copy of the first half statistics. These are available almost immediately after the first half outside the entrance to the Duff banquet center. Xavier cheerleaders also walk around the hallways handing these out.
Xavier also does a good job of keeping fans in the game by featuring a free giveaway at nearly every timeout. Prizes range from basketballs to t-shirts to a trivia question that allows you to win pizza for your entire row. One of the crowd favorites is the Skyline Chili parachute drop, in which a dozen or so parachutes are dropped from the rafters above that have a $5 gift card attached to them.
Following a quite first half of play, Xavier star Tu Holloway picked it up in the second half, amassing 9 points and 6 assists as Xavier jumped out to a 55-49 lead and would never look back. As is Xavier student tradition, with 3:09 remaining in the second half and with the game seemingly in the books, the Xavier student section began pointing to one of the luxury boxes and chanting "Father Graham!" (clap-clap, clap-clap-clap), referring to Xavier University President Michael Graham. To the student's delight, he stood up from his seat, tore off two Xavier t-shirts, and began swirling them in the air.
In the end, Mark Lyons and Tu Holloway nailed key free throws to seal the victory for the Muskies. The final score, Xavier 66, Miami 60. Following Friday night's loss, Mavunga tweeted "I wish I woulda played like my lil sister @SMavunga_23 tonight... She had 35 and the win.. Good job girl.. Love you!"
An early season loss is never easy, but there's still a long season ahead. Miami has a tough schedule in front of them as they face matchups at Ohio State, Vanderbilt, and Cincinnati before conference play begins on January 7th. These guarantee games will undoubtedly help prepare the Redhawks for what will be another exciting and challenging season in the Mid-American Conference.
at XAVIER 66, MIAMI (OH.) 60 11/18/2011
MIAMI (OH.) 1-1 (0-0) -- B. Edwards 6-13 5-5 21; J. Mavunga 6-16 2-2 17; J. Sewell 3-7 1-1 7; Q. Rollins 0-2 0-0 0; D. McGhee 4-4 0-2 8; J. Harris 1-3 0-0 2; B. Sullivan 1-3 0-0 3; W. Sullivan 0-1 2-2 2. Totals 21-49 10-12 60. XAVIER 3-0 (0-0) -- T. Holloway 3-12 3-4 9; M. Lyons 7-13 3-5 18; A. Walker 1-4 0-0 2; K. Frease 6-13 1-5 13; D. Wells 4-7 0-0 8; T. Taylor 3-7 3-5 9; J. Martin 1-2 0-0 2; D. Davis 1-2 0-0 3; J. Robinson 0-0 0-0 0; B. Redford 0-0 2-2 2. Totals 26-60 12-21 66.
Three-point goals: MIO 8-19 (J. Mavunga 3-6; B. Edwards 4-6; J. Harris 0-2; J. Sewell 0-1; B. Sullivan 1-3; W. Sullivan 0-1), XU 2-9 (T. Holloway 0-3; M. Lyons 1-2; J. Martin 0-1; D. Davis 1-2; D. Wells 0-1); Rebounds: MIO 28 (B. Edwards 8), XU 33 (K. Frease 7); Assists: MIO 15 (B. Edwards 3), XU 14 (T. Holloway 7); Total Fouls -- MIO 21, XU 13; Fouled Out: MIO-None; XU-None.