One of the best things about MEAC basketball is that there are more unique traditions than at other mid-majors. Most other mid-majors seem to borrow traditions from one another as well as from schools above the Red Line. HBCUs have developed another culture and unique tradition separate from our other schools, and that is a major part of their appeal despite lagging behind most other Division I schools in financial resources. There are a few things that make a game at South Carolina State different from the other games that I have gone to.
For one, cheerleading routines are much different. At most schools, cheerleaders move during their routines and rely a lot on arm and upper body motion when on the baseline during play. At HBCUs such as SC State, there are fewer stunts performed by the cheerleaders. Their style is sometimes referred to by the description of "stomp-and-shake". The cheerleaders literally stomp and shake in place, and use very deep voices for cheers. There are some different routines during timeouts, but the emphasis is very different from other cheer squads in college. While other schools focus on motion in the upper body, HBCU cheer squads tend to focus on lower body motion.
Student sections are also very different. I have not seen any other school in the MEAC at home (other than Savannah State during Christmas back before they joined the MEAC), but the student section at SC State is fairly fragmented while still having a degree of unity. There aren't any sections specifically designated for students, as all seats aside from the cushioned seats at midcourt in the balcony are general admission. Students and general admission ticket holders alike seem to share these seats across these sections, with no section being all students. The highest concentration of students usually comes from fraternities sitting along the rail in the balcony on both baselines, as well as a new student pep squad on one side of the downstairs bleachers. The front row of the pep squad had students in body paint spelling out "GO DOGS", a first in games I have been to here. The guy painted as the "G" has been here before and is very fond of heckling opposing players. Overall, the students dominated the atmosphere in a way you do not typically see most places. In most college arenas, you usually have a group of student leaders who stand for the entire game, but that isn't the case here. Still students are a major part and made up the solid majority of the thousand in attendance as the small town of Orangeburg cannot muster up a large community following.
And as HBCUs are known for, the band is the center of attention. SC State's Marching 101 always travels and performs with their football team. When I was a grad student at South Carolina, students usually sat bored when the marching band performed at halftime. When SC State was the opponent and the Marching 101 took the field at halftime, the crowd rose to its feet. The Marching 101 has traveled as far away as Indiana this past year to perform. Even though a basketball gym does not provide space for its routines, the band still makes its presence known at SHM Memorial Center. The mood of the crowd usually comes from the tunes the band plays rather than the action on the court.
And from that, a sporting event at a HBCU is more like a party rather than a regular event. This is especially true in football with more open space involved. SC State even requires those entering campus on football gamedays to have a ticket before they enter campus since so many come to tailgate rather than head in to the stadium to watch American-style football. But this can also be the case in basketball. As Kyle has written about here, conference tournaments at HBCUs can serve as a gathering for alumni networks. The Division II CIAA is one of the best drawing conference tournaments in any division, and the MEAC works to balance their tournament schedule with basketball, band performances, and step shows. Tonight, students swayed with the music of the Marching 101 and fraternities did choreographed dancing routines on the balcony at halftime. These are traditions you cannot find elsewhere in Our Game.
Tonight the Bulldogs would play Howard, another MEAC school known for its traditions. The Bison have struggled a bit athletically, and have yet to develop a niche sport that they exceed in. The only time I ever saw Howard before in any sport was in the lone lacrosse game I have been to, where the Bison were routed in a women's game last spring at High Point 19-1. But while many HBCUs struggle to keep up academically, Howard has managed to provide a better education than most of us below the Red Line. Many prominent African-American leaders have gone to Howard, and maybe the Bison can have alum Gus Johnson excitedly call one of their games in March someday. Howard is also well-known for its homecoming, which draws many to Washington, D.C. for its festivities every year.
Howard has managed to have a pretty good women's team this year, and the Bison were able to break open a 1 point game at halftime en route to a 23 point win. But the Bison men have struggled, entering the game with a 4-17 record. The Bison have typically never done well in the MEAC, while the Bulldogs had a winning tradition previously under former Coach Cy Alexander. But Tim Carter has struggled to keep up the success his predecessors have had, and after a 4-2 start this season they had lost 14 straight coming into tonight's game. Howard at home was the perfect opponent to play at this time. The students were still excited for the game, and the Bulldogs needed to come through with a victory.
The Bulldogs struggled early, but kept close and led at times in the first half in large part because of early Bison foul trouble. But Howard worked the ball well against a struggling SCSU defense, and still built up a seven point halftime lead. While the students enjoyed the halftime routines, they could not keep up their excitement in the second half. SC State went back and forth between two and three possessions down, struggling to come all the way back. Students began to leave, as the party part of the event was mostly over after halftime. The Bulldogs never got any momentum, and Howard held on for an 82-76 win. SC State is still in last place in the MEAC with their 15th straight loss, never a good spot to be in.
I do very much enjoy the festivities that you can find at a SC State game and similar HBCUs. Yet the atmosphere was not directed at the game itself most of the time, and did not provide the Bulldogs with a real home court edge. The students who showed up painted in the Pep Squad were an improvement from previous games I have been to, and it would be interesting to see how the unique atmosphere would interact with a good basketball team. I hope to see at least part of the MEAC tournament this year to see how the atmosphere works with multiple schools and important basketball games. It is nice to see a change in the usual formula of what goes on at a basketball game at the very least.
HOWARD 82, at SOUTH CAROLINA STATE 76 01/30/2012
HOWARD 5-17 (2-7) -- B. Ford 6-11 2-2 14; M. Phillips 2-4 6-8 10; S. Frazier 2-6 4-4 9; P. Okoroh 4-9 2-2 10; A. Leary 2-6 3-4 7; C. Thompson 3-6 5-7 11; T. Lee 4-5 3-5 13; O. Ellison 3-3 0-2 6; B. Bailey 1-4 0-0 2; A. Dickerson 0-0 0-0 0; T. Boyomo 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 27-54 25-34 82. SOUTH CAROLINA STATE 4-17 (0-8) -- K. Toombs 4-9 1-1 10; B. Riley 10-17 8-10 31; P. Bell 1-5 4-7 6; A. Martin 1-3 4-5 6; S. Barber 2-5 1-4 5; O. Sanders 3-7 8-10 14; L. Radovic 0-1 0-0 0; J. Ikhinmwin 1-3 0-0 2; D. Wooten 0-0 0-0 0; D. Joint 0-2 2-2 2. Totals 22-52 28-39 76.
Three-point goals: HOW 3-7 (C. Thompson 0-1; T. Lee 2-2; S. Frazier 1-3; P. Okoroh 0-1), SCST 4-11 (K. Toombs 1-1; B. Riley 3-9; A. Martin 0-1); Rebounds: HOW 29 (A. Leary 7), SCST 30 (A. Martin 8); Assists: HOW 12 (S. Frazier 5), SCST 12 (K. Toombs 7); Total Fouls -- HOW 28, SCST 24; Fouled Out: HOW-None; SCST-None.