The start of my trip tonight to Burr Gymnasium threw me for a bit of a loop. My first stop upon arriving at a new venue is, predictably, to head to the box office to pick up my ticket. There was just one problem -- I couldn't find one.
After wandering around outside in the cold for about 10 minutes, I went inside to see if anybody could help me out. That's when I discovered that I was able to walk right into the arena and sit down, even without a ticket. I had overlooked the easiest explanation, thinking there was no way it could be true: Howard University does not charge admission for their home nonconference basketball games.
With that said, however, if you're one to come for the gameday aspects besides the basketball itself, a game at The Burr may not be for you. Simple distractions that you would usually expect when attending a college basketball game just aren't there. No halftime show. No in-game contests (except for three fans who fired up shots from halfcourt at halftime -- a prize may or may not have been involved, I'm legitimately unsure). No music during timeouts. Heck, tonight you didn't even get cheerleaders or a pep band to go with the action on the floor.
It's not altogether surprising, considering that Howard spends just shy of $700,000 each year on their basketball program, less than all but 20 of the other 340 schools that sponsor Division I basketball. Why spend the money for flashy in-game production when you can sink that cash into the team itself?
The result is that Howard, at least on this night, gave a game experience that was no-frills even compared to other universities below the Red Line. You're not going to be entertained by the action on the court? Frankly, you might as well not even show up.
That mentality probably goes a long way to explain why the announced attendance was a mere 349 people for tonight's game against the St. Francis College Terriers, and even that number is probably generous. The Burr only seats 2,700, making it the smallest gym in the MEAC. Even still, the place felt rather empty.
Those who did attend, however, were in for a treat. The game featured 11 ties and 16 lead changes, and was competitive all the way to the end.
The game was tied at 68 going into the final minute, when SFC's Ben Mockford spotted up for his seventh (!) 3-pointer of the game, putting the Terriers up with 35 seconds to go. A botched Bison possession at the other end gave the ball back to the Terriers, and Howard was forced to foul to keep things alive with just seven seconds to go.
After St. Francis sank one of two free throws, Howard got a quick three from Simuel Frazier to draw back within one with just two seconds left. Frazier alertly fouled before the inbounds pass, and forced SFC back for more free throws. A make and an intentional miss would have ended the game, but a clock malfunction caused time to run down before any of the Bison had grabbed the rebound. The officials awarded Howard the ball, down two, with one second left.
The now-raucous crowd of 349 was on the edge of their seats, as the Bison managed to get off a good pass for an open look just past midcourt.
Clank. The Terriers escaped with a victory.
The total cost for this excursion? About $3 in round-trip bus fare from my home to the arena. Not bad for what was one of the most exciting live basketball games I've seen in a good while.
However, I can't help but wonder why Howard can't draw a larger crowd. Surely there are more people like me, who only need a good basketball game to be entertained. Anybody who loves college hoops for the purity of the sport should probably take in a game at Burr Gymnasium. It's an experience that money -- literally -- cannot buy.
SAINT FRANCIS (NY) 73, at HOWARD 71 12/12/2011
SAINT FRANCIS (NY) 3-6 (1-1) -- S. Perunicic 4-8 4-6 15; J. Cannon 4-6 5-6 13; B. Mockford 7-11 3-4 24; B. Jones 1-9 1-2 3; A. Johnson 2-5 5-6 9; J. Newton 0-2 1-2 1; T. Nichols 0-2 2-2 2; K. Douglas 1-5 0-0 2; M. Milk 0-0 0-0 0; P. Santavenere 2-3 0-0 4. Totals 21-51 21-28 73. HOWARD 3-7 (1-1) -- S. Frazier 4-11 4-5 15; M. Phillips 4-11 8-10 16; P. Okoroh 2-9 7-9 11; D. Collins 1-4 0-0 2; C. Thompson 4-7 3-4 12; T. Boyomo 0-0 0-0 0; A. Leary 3-4 0-0 6; A. Dickerson 4-6 0-0 9; O. Ellison 0-1 0-0 0; B. Bailey 0-0 0-1 0. Totals 22-53 22-29 71.
Three-point goals: SFNY 10-20 (S. Perunicic 3-4; B. Mockford 7-10; T. Nichols 0-1; B. Jones 0-2; P. Santavenere 0-1; K. Douglas 0-2), HOW 5-15 (C. Thompson 1-3; A. Dickerson 1-3; D. Collins 0-2; S. Frazier 3-4; P. Okoroh 0-3); Rebounds: SFNY 27 (J. Cannon 10), HOW 33 (M. Phillips 12); Assists: SFNY 13 (B. Jones 7), HOW 8 (S. Frazier 3); Total Fouls -- SFNY 20, HOW 26; Fouled Out: SFNY-None; HOW-D. Collins.