As has been a major topic of discussion in recent recaps, basketball games over Winter Break can be a challenge to pull off for college basketball teams. The problems exist mainly in residential students having gone home for the holidays, and fans having better things to do with their time off than go to a basketball game. To successfully pull off a good atmosphere for a Winter Break game, you must have large community support for the team and deliver matchups worth watching. Some schools try to increase attendance by giving away more tickets to groups, or reducing ticket prices.
And tonight at the Citadel, none of this occurred. The Bulldogs rely heavily on support from their cadets, as since the Citadel is a military school the presence of cadets is very important to the function of the campus. But with cadets having abandoned their barracks until next week, this core group of Citadel fans was gone. As a result, there were hardly any fans sitting behind the basket at McAlister Fieldhouse.
The next problem was that the game was on January 2. While many fans were off from work that day, they will not be tomorrow, and have to be ready for their jobs coming back from the holidays. In addition, there was plenty of American-style football on television. Earlier in the afternoon, local favorite South Carolina played in their bowl game, and while that game ended just after 4 p.m., other major bowl games were on that evening. The Rose Bowl was to be played at 5 p.m., followed by the Fiesta Bowl at 8:30 p.m. As a result, many fans were not ready to see basketball, especially at a school where basketball lags behind football and baseball in popularity.
And finally, the Bulldogs were not facing a big-name opponent tonight. Tonight, the Citadel would host the University of Virginia's College at Wise, a school that over the past month has played in several guarantee games at mid-major schools. The last time I saw UVA Wise, they nearly upset two-time defending SoCon champ Wofford. They then had another respectable loss the following day at Winthrop, which led me to hope that they had a shot at getting a Stendhal at East Carolina. But last Saturday on New Year's Eve, the Highland Cavaliers were slaughtered by 35 points. So tonight was their last chance to try and get the coveted Black Line Upset. I really hoped to see them do it, after they had fought so hard, playing a ridiculous schedule for a NAIA team. But coming to see a potential Black Line Upset is not going to be something Citadel fans are going to want to come and see.
So as expected, attendance was not very good at McAlister Fieldhouse. Official attendance was around 900, and the actual attendance was probably a little less than that. This was still better than I thought might show up considering the circumstances. About half of the season ticket holders showed up, and about 200 more were scattered in the bleachers behind the scorers' table and baskets. It did not have the atmosphere of a regular Citadel game, which is highly dependent on the presence of the cadets. There was no band and there were also no cheerleaders, unless you count the dance team from Fort Dorchester High School which performed at halftime. The one positive thing out of this was that the normally cramped campus was much more tolerable to drive through tonight. But as for the crowd, it had a high percentage of elderly season ticket holders. One such Citadel fan came on the court at the last media timeout to try to get the crowd going through a C-I, T-A, D-E-L! chant. Like most games recently around college basketball, this was not the kind of atmosphere that draws fans to Our Game.
When the game got under way, I was anxious to see whether the Highland Cavaliers could come through this time. But this was a very different game from last month at Wofford. For the first two minutes, nobody scored. After that, the game became a offensive slugfest. UVA Wise briefly led early in the game, but good shooting led by the Bulldogs' Ashton Moore solidified the lead for the Citadel. At Wofford, UVA Wise could have won if they had not missed so many free throws early in the game and had stayed out of foul trouble late. The Highland Cavaliers were able to, for the most part, not repeat their mistakes. But the Citadel also did not make the same mistakes that Wofford did. Moore got open and knocked down his shots, and big man Mike Groselle was able to dominate the post against the smaller NAIA players. UVA Wise had very little depth, and only used a seven-man rotation (as did the Bulldogs, however). The Highland Cavaliers were showing the signs of playing too many guarantee games recently. This is a problem that has been noted among mid-majors after having played too many teams above the Red Line. UVA Wise had simply played way too many games above the Black Line for a school its size.
But the Highland Cavaliers did not go away meekly. After being down nine at halftime and 14 early in the second half, UVA Wise closed the deficit to three with 13 minutes left. But the Citadel roared back to a double-digit lead and would not let up. The final nail was when UVA Wise's Darius Smith fouled a Citadel player from behind down 15 points with just over five minutes to play. When UVA Wise had in the first half been pushed in the back when going in for a layup, the Highland Cavaliers argued unsuccessfully for an intentional foul. But Citadel fans had more success in convincing the officials and Smith was assessed an intentional foul along with a technical when he showed disgust with the call. These fouls combined gave Smith his 5th foul and forced UVA Wise to play an eighth player. Moore made three of four free throws for the Citadel on the play, and Devontae Wright hit a shot that expanded the Citadel lead from 15 to 20. The Citadel fans really got into trashing the UVA Wise players, and apparently older fans can be just as disrespectful as younger fans towards opposing players. I know Kyle complained about the smugness of the Indiana crowd when they routed the weaker SIU Edwardsville, and it really bugs me to see mid-major fans acting the same way towards schools below the Black Line. Fans of Our Game need to show that they are better than those in the major conferences.
But tonight was yet another guarantee game, and very soon both kinds of guarantee games will be over. The Citadel will be facing SoCon schools on a regular basis from now on, and UVA Wise is now done with Division I play and will go back to facing NAIA opponents. And soon enough, everybody will have their students back, and all will be right with college basketball.
at THE CITADEL 91, VIRGINIA WISE 74 01/02/2012
THE CITADEL 3-10 (0-2) -- M. Groselle 9-15 1-2 19; C. Morabbi 8-13 1-2 19; A. Moore 10-16 7-8 30; D. Wright 2-7 6-6 11; B. Holston 3-5 0-0 6; C. Bray 1-4 1-2 4; M. Harris III 0-1 2-2 2; L. Miller 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 33-63 18-22 91.
Three-point goals: - , CITA 7-16 (C. Morabbi 2-3; B. Holston 0-2; D. Wright 1-3; C. Bray 1-2; M. Harris III 0-1; L. Miller 0-1; A. Moore 3-4); Rebounds: , CITA 34 (M. Groselle 13); Assists: , CITA 15 (C. Morabbi 3); Total Fouls -- , CITA 19; Fouled Out: -; CITA-None.