While I love going to games, it can be difficult to raise the excitement level when you realize there isn't much to play for. Sure, if you have a rooting interest in a team you'll want them to win, but every game can't be a rivalry or an epic war with a huge storyline behind it. There are always some games that get overlooked as a ho-hum match that some people will think "ehh...I'll just check the box score tomorrow."
When I had Detroit Pistons season tickets with a few friends for several years, we would halfheartedly joke around and say "Wake me up in the fourth quarter" when they would face a team like the Milwaukee Bucks or the Charlotte Bobcats. It's not that we didn't want to go to the games; we always looked forward to any of them, especially since the Pistons were developing into a championship-caliber team. It was just that in the middle of the season, when you knew you were headed to the playoffs, it was hard to get as psyched as when you would play a team like the Celtics, Lakers, or Nets (yeah, way back when they were actually good.)
I know comparing the NBA to anything on the mid-major level is a far stretch, but that's the feeling I was getting in preparing to go see High Point play Coastal Carolina. The High Point game was sandwiched in between four other games in a 10-day stretch for the Chanticleers. The first two were against the third- and fourth-place teams in the Big South, Charleston Southern and Campbell. The two games afterwards were against CCU's rival Winthrop to be followed by a game against the conference leaders UNC-Asheville. I mean no disrespect to HP, but their matchup was ranking last out of those five on the anticipation meter.
Adding to this fact was Coastal had lost its previous game against Campbell, meaning it would take an unforeseen collapse from Asheville for CCU to have any chance at a Big South title. All that was left to play for was seeding in the Big South Tournament. Not exactly a selling point when trying to stir excitement for a game, especially since CCU would most likely be playing in Asheville regardless.
I could sense the same feeling of low anticipation walking into Kimbel Arena. In the past two years, it was very hard to get a student ticket for any Coastal home game, with the sections filling up 30 minutes beforehand. Those were 28-win teams the past two years, so excitement was at an all-time high, but to see the student section only half full a few minutes before the game added to the lackadaisical atmosphere.
If we as fans get this feeling, do the players? Being a non-athlete my whole life, I couldn't come close to even answering that, but maybe that's why High Point was able to rush out to 29-19 lead. It seemed like Nick Barbour and Shay Shine couldn't miss. When I last saw HP, they only made one three-pointer the whole game, but it took them one minute to sink their first on this night, with plenty more to follow.
HP freshman Devante Wallace was recently added to the starting lineup and he wasn't lacking in excitement or anticipation much like the rest of the arena. After only having a career high of eight against D-I competition, Wallace had 13 in his previous game against Gardner-Webb and shot with authority on the night racking up 16. Wallace was all smiles after every made shot, as he playfully looked at the front row of the student section that was trying to get under his skin.
It felt like High Point dominated the first half, but they only had a 33-25 lead to leave Coastal within striking distance. The Chants were going to play better the rest of the game, because they couldn't have done much worse. It would be a matter of how the Panthers would handle it.
It didn't take long to find out what would happen when Coastal started playing better offensively. Kierre Greenwood was making threes and Sam McLaurin was converting three-point plays. Despite this, High Point had an answer after every Coastal hoop. Shay Shine in particular was in the zone for a stretch where he wouldn't miss.
HP had the lead to as many as 11 before CCU was able to make a few defensive stands. Coastal went on to score the next 10 to get the score at 53-52 with nine minutes to go. It was during that stretch on defense that the crowd and team realized they were in real jeopardy of losing the game. The fans finally got loud, but the Panthers did as they had the whole game and fought back. The next eight points went to HP, with a few trips to the free-throw line, killing any momentum from those in attendance.
Coastal had its chances towards the end of the game, but a mixture of questionable shot selection and missed shots from point-blank range couldn't get the Chanticleers all the way back. Corey Law was very instrumental on defense and he made sure he let the whole arena know how pumped up he was with loud screams after every key hold on D.
High Point just wanted this game more and you could tell right from the tip while Coastal looked like they took the night off. Anthony Raffa has been in a slump as of and Danny Nieman had to leave the game due to a hip injury. While Greenwood had a good game, the rest of the Chants will need to step it up. This team isn't as good talent wise as the past two seasons, but they need to turn up the intensity especially with two games that everyone should be anticipating.
HIGH POINT 70, at COASTAL CAROLINA 65 02/09/2012
HIGH POINT 10-15 (6-9) -- T. Harmon 3-13 0-0 7; N. Barbour 5-13 2-3 14; S. Shine 8-11 4-4 24; C. Law 4-8 3-4 11; B. Mikulic 1-3 0-0 2; D. Wallace 6-11 0-3 16; T. Elliott 0-3 0-2 0; J. Cheek 1-4 0-0 3; X. Martin 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-53 9-16 70. COASTAL CAROLINA 17-7 (10-4) -- K. Greenwood 7-14 0-0 18; J. Pack 4-8 1-4 9; C. Gradnigo 6-19 1-3 15; S. McLaurin 4-5 4-6 12; A. Raffa 3-7 2-3 9; D. Nieman 0-3 0-0 0; W. Gillis 1-4 0-0 2; D. Moore 0-2 0-0 0; J. Griffin 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 25-62 8-16 65.
Three-point goals: HP 11-22 (N. Barbour 2-8; J. Cheek 1-1; S. Shine 4-5; D. Wallace 4-7; B. Mikulic 0-1), CCU 7-26 (C. Gradnigo 2-8; J. Pack 0-1; A. Raffa 1-4; D. Moore 0-2; D. Nieman 0-3; K. Greenwood 4-7; W. Gillis 0-1); Rebounds: HP 34 (C. Law 11), CCU 32 (C. Gradnigo 9); Assists: HP 8 (S. Shine 4), CCU 11 (K. Greenwood 5); Total Fouls -- HP 16, CCU 15; Fouled Out: HP-B. Mikulic; CCU-A. Raffa.