A lot of my friends were questioning me as to why I was driving around North Carolina watching basketball games on New Year's Eve instead of going out partying and drinking. I do run a happy-hour website for Myrtle Beach and am known to go out many nights a week, so everyone figured I'd have something big planned. The problem is that I think of New Year's (and St. Patrick's Day) as an amateur night. Every idiot in the world is out and usually pretty belligerent by 10 p.m., so I rarely ever go out on New Year's. I'd much rather go to mid-major games than deal with all the drama, and Myrtle Beach is always high on drama.
The second game of my last day of 2011 doubleheader would be at High Point as they would be hosting Coastal Carolina. I know a bunch of conferences have already played some conference games, but I look at this as the true conference opener and was hoping for a real battle.
I made my way over from Raleigh from the atrocious game at NC State and had plenty of time to spare when I arrived in High Point. I'd only been to High Point once before about 12 years ago, when I drove down from Michigan to the "Furniture Capital of the World" for a couch and coffee table purchase that saved about $1500 even after having it delivered. I was in no need of sectional couch this time around as I searched for the High Point campus. I thought I had made a wrong turn, as I seemed to be in a highly industrial, poor part of town, but I eventually found it. High Point has a beautiful campus that I wish I had more time to walk around and explore.
I had other things to attend to though, as I didn't exactly know where the Millis Center was and couldn't find it after circling the campus. I needed to refuel on some food as well and found a Hooters that luckily had wi-fi. After eating the world's most overrated wings, I was able to find the Millis Center on a campus map off their website.
Since the HPU campus is a bit condensed, the parking is limited. The public lot is set a little bit away from the arena, but they have shuttles that quickly get you over to Millis. I was impressed with the arena from the front as it looked like I was about to enter a town hall instead of a basketball arena.
Inside I found a very unique arena, as they have spruced up the Millis Center after a 2009 renovation. The place may be another small Big South arena capacity-wise, but everything looks clean and nice, be it the front entrance, concessions, or even the stands. The place has real character, and the only things that seemed out of place were the four big-screen video boards in the arena. One screen would be ok and two would nice, but four seems a bit out of sorts. They almost seemed like they were placed in a sports bar, and a bowl game or the UFC was about to come on one of them.
I went into the game as one of the few teal-colored CCU fans in attendance. The few Coastal friends and family that made the trip were behind the team's bench, while I was amongst the general fans that were behind the basket. The purple-clad Panther fans were all nice people that I met, and none really gave me a hard time for rooting on the Chanticleers.
CCU was coming off two losses to ECU and Charleston as a 2-3 zone really did them in both games, as did their inability to defend the three. High Point was coming in as a very good three-point team behind senior leader Nick Barbour, but without too much of an inside game. So what does HP come out and do to begin the game? Establish a decent inside game while missing a ton of threes and outside shots. The complete opposite of their strengths, but it was conference season, so anything could happen. Coastal was having a hard time establishing any sort of rhythm, and both teams were shooting poorly, as the under-four minute timeout score of 20-17 for CCU showed. After the timeout, the Chants hit a few shots and outscored the Panthers 10-2 the rest of the half for a sizable 11-point lead.
Coastal was able to build the lead to 15 before High Point turned things around. The Panthers scored the next 14 points to get within one, which could have been more, but the toe was on the line for a few long jumpers for Barbour and Shay Shine. The crowd showed its first sign of enthusiasm during the run and I was getting the close conference battle I was secretly hoping for.
The final 12 minutes were very evenly contested as both teams had to earn every point. Chris Gradnigo of CCU, who had been benched recently, really stood out for the Chants as he made several contested fadeaway jumpers to get CCU back up eight. The Panthers wouldn't succumb easily, and inched their way back into the game. Barbour hit a layup with five seconds to go to get within three, and Anthony Raffa was quickly fouled off the inbound. Raffa missed the front end of a one-and-one, giving High Point one last chance with one second to go. Corey Law had a chance just across half-court with a heave, but missed it off to the right. Coastal escaped with a road win and is 3-0 in Big South play, while HP is still looking for its first win at 0-2.
It was a great game to finish off 2011 and I'm glad conference play is in full swing. CCU is off to a strong start, as they have been the past two years, but as we all know it's all about how you finish at this level and in the Big South. High Point has some fantastic players in Barbour and Shine, and even with the slow start, I still see them making noise in the conference this year.
I'm glad I spent New Year's on the road, while one game was a bust; the other was a tough battle. I can only hope 2012 brings more of the same.
COASTAL CAROLINA 55, at HIGH POINT 52 12/31/2011
COASTAL CAROLINA 10-3 (3-0) -- S. McLaurin 3-7 3-4 9; D. Nieman 2-4 0-0 6; A. Raffa 3-9 1-3 8; C. Gradnigo 8-15 3-4 19; K. Greenwood 0-4 4-5 4; W. Gillis 0-2 2-2 2; J. Pack 3-6 1-1 7; J. Griffin 0-0 0-0 0; D. Moore 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 19-48 14-19 55. HIGH POINT 4-8 (0-2) -- N. Barbour 3-13 8-9 14; S. Shine 6-13 2-2 15; B. Mikulic 2-4 0-0 4; T. Elliott 0-2 1-2 1; C. Law 4-7 3-4 11; X. Martin 2-4 3-3 7; J. Simms 0-3 0-0 0; J. Cheek 0-0 0-0 0; L. Harris 0-0 0-0 0; D. Wallace 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 17-47 17-20 52.
Three-point goals: CCU 3-10 (C. Gradnigo 0-1; A. Raffa 1-4; D. Moore 0-1; D. Nieman 2-4), HP 1-12 (N. Barbour 0-5; X. Martin 0-1; S. Shine 1-4; B. Mikulic 0-2); Rebounds: CCU 36 (S. McLaurin 10), HP 22 (C. Law 7); Assists: CCU 7 (K. Greenwood 5), HP 8 (J. Simms 2); Total Fouls -- CCU 18, HP 19; Fouled Out: CCU-None; HP-None.