According to the Official 800GP Statistics, we are just over 70 percent through the season. But for many of us, the season is much closer to being over. Today's game in Orangeburg between South Carolina State and North Carolina Central is the final regular-season game I will attend for the 2011-12 season. Many of our fellow participants have also winded down their seasons. And some teams who did not qualify for their tournament or are not eligible are having their seasons end right now. As I watched tonight's game, I was nervously aware that if High Point lost its game tonight that their season would be over. Some conferences still have another week before tournaments, as is the case to an extent with the MEAC (which wraps up regular season play Thursday). But for many conferences below the Red Line, the season is ending now. The reason is so that conferences can get televised games for their tournaments before the content monster can be fed by conference tournaments above the Red Line. This is part of Our Game where we are on the back end of ESPN's "Championship Week." The conference I follow the most, the Big South, will be the first conference tournament decided this weekend.
So as we come to the end, we look back at what we have done. I will leave my final thoughts on the season for my final recap, as we still have much left to go to. But I have been to more games already at the Division I level I have ever been before. Including games not eligible for the 800 Games project, I have been to over 50 Division I men's games and over 60 men's college games total. I will likely surpass my previous high for all basketball games in a season later this week. Three years ago, when I was between undergrad and grad school, I went to every NCAA arena in South Carolina and 137 basketball games at all levels combined. I did not expect to do anything like that again. But in doing the 800 Games Project and having time off after finishing my master's degree, I have exceeded my expectations in how much I would attend. I hope to not do this again, because I hope to be busy with work in future seasons and have less time for this. Normally after basketball season I go straight in to baseball season. But I have so many chores left to take care of that have been getting backed up that I plan to take some time off. I still need to get more of my photos online that I can use as an 800 Games Project gallery. I need to clear file space on my computer and be able to exercise and relax to get healthier again. Most importantly, I need to work my recent experiences starting with my internship last semester into getting a full-time job. My hope for future seasons is to work in an area that is more conducive to going to more games. While I will slow down, I do not plan to ever completely stop. If you enjoy doing something, you need to do it if only in moderation. Hopefully, even if I do fewer games next year, I can still become more active in Our Game.
And the end usually means the same thing for our teams: it will end in a loss. For South Carolina State this season, it has been all about losses. After a 4-2 start, the Bulldogs have only managed a non-conference win over Longwood in all games since the start of December. The Bulldogs just narrowly missed a win against Florida A&M last week. With Delaware State a tough road game on Thursday, this might be the last chance for a MEAC win for the Bulldogs. But North Carolina Central has been pretty respectable for a fifth-year Division I school, so tonight would be figure to be tough as well. You know it will end with a loss, but you hope to get wins on the way to that final loss. That has not been the case for SCSU in MEAC play.
Things started pretty well tonight however. NCCU could not make a shot, and the Bulldogs opened with an 8-1 run. SC State extended their lead to 16-4, and then things returned to normal at the SHM Memorial Center. The Eagles went on a 23-2 run to go from 12 down to being up by nine late in the first half, and NCCU led 34-23 at halftime. In rough times, things can go downhill pretty quickly. The Bulldogs were already big underdogs to begin with, and losing momentum and being down 11 at halftime is a downward spiral losing teams are accustomed to.
But most of the crowd of 1,279 did not care. Most SC State fans who mainly care about just the game have stopped coming. The section of season ticket holders being guarded by the ushers was mostly empty. But the rest of the arena was mostly packed with students having a good time. I know Kyle has written before about how HBCU tournaments serve as a get-together for the alumni of the schools involved. For current students, every home game serves as a get-together. The fraternities and sororities are especially active in this regard. Each Greek organization has their own routines that they perform to either music over the PA or the sounds of the famed Marching 101. As a result, the crowd seems to enjoy the game most when the game itself is not being played. I wish that there was more of an emphasis, however, on organizations such as the SCSU Pep Squad rather than the Greeks however. The culture of Greek Life is very different between HBCUs and other institutions, but they are similar in that the fraternities and sororities at basketball games tend to promote themselves over the schools that they are from. When I was at High Point, sports marketing for certain games gave the best student seats to a fraternity whose colors were the same as our rival Winthrop. A more united student section seems to work better, whether in Panther purple or Bulldog blue and red. But the Greeks do a good job at promoting the party atmosphere of the event, and all students got in the act at halftime. I took a video of the last five minutes of halftime, where the entire student body can serve as the halftime show as they dance with the Marching 101.
SC State came out better in the second half than they ended the first half, but they could never get on the big run needed to get back in front. The Bulldogs cut the Eagle lead to five midway through the half, but NC Central gradually pulled away again. All SC State could do in the final minutes was continue to foul in frustration, as North Carolina Central cruised to a 71-57 win.
The Bulldogs came up short again. And the end is getting closer, and the chances of a MEAC win are fading fast. SC State will play on the road against a good Delaware State team Thursday, and then go to the MEAC tournament next week in Winston-Salem, where they will face the fourth-place team in the conference. The end is almost here, but we still have a lot to do with the 800 Games Project. And I was happy to see after the game that High Point did survive in the play-in round of the tournament, so I will get to see them again this week where it will likely end in a loss. And that's the way it always is, and always will be with the end of a mid-major season.
So to commemorate my final posting here in the regular season, I will honor one of Kyle's old traditions he has on this site. In the final daily postings, Kyle honored the cheerleaders of Our Game. As Kyle has mentioned before, they do not get the respect they deserve often times. When I was at High Point, I would sometimes try to start a different chant in the student section when I did not like the chant they were doing. But cheerleaders do something that most fans including myself find difficult doing: staying perky and energetic when things aren't going well on the court. The cheerleaders themselves act as a symbol for school pride, so they should be honored by our fans. Here are the cheerleaders or dance teams from all 15 mid-major arenas I visited this year, minus Presbyterian (whose cheerleaders were not present during Winter Break) but plus VCU (whose cheerleaders traveled to the Charleston Classic).
College of Charleston
South Carolina State
Of course, there are others in Our Game to thank at the end of the season. We need to thank SIDs, who get us the information we need about our teams. Without them, the knowledge of Our Game would be limited, and the players would not get the recognition they deserve. I have gone to high school games that started later than scheduled, and that is because high schools do not have a SID that can inform fans like colleges. Even at very small and junior colleges, there is a lack of sports information. When I have interned and volunteered for my local junior college, I have to work to get out information that is not as widely available as Division I basketball schedules and results. And of course, we have to thank the players themselves and the student sections as well. They make our game exciting, and in my last tournament recap I will include a picture from all games I have been to this season. It will be the photos I should have put in my recaps at the time, but was too focused on trying to finish my recap as quickly as I could. And very soon, I will have a lot more recaps to write as the season winds down!
NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL 71, at SOUTH CAROLINA STATE 57 02/27/2012
NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL 15-14 (9-6) -- D. Sutton 6-11 11-18 23; R. Willis 2-7 7-9 11; N. Chasten 3-7 0-0 8; J. Ingram 6-10 3-4 19; J. Leemow 1-2 0-0 2; E. Chapman 2-2 0-0 4; E. Anyaorah 0-2 1-2 1; T. O'Neal 0-1 0-0 0; K. Jawara 0-0 0-0 0; T. Beaman 1-1 0-0 3; J. Nicely 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-43 22-33 71. SOUTH CAROLINA STATE 5-24 (0-15) -- K. Toombs 5-16 4-4 17; O. Sanders 5-9 2-4 12; B. Riley 3-15 0-0 8; D. Joint 0-3 2-2 2; J. Ikhinmwin 2-9 0-0 4; S. Barber 3-9 0-0 6; P. Bell 4-8 0-0 8; L. Radovic 0-2 0-0 0; A. Martin 0-2 0-0 0. Totals 22-73 8-10 57.
Three-point goals: NCC 7-14 (E. Anyaorah 0-1; R. Willis 0-3; N. Chasten 2-3; T. Beaman 1-1; J. Ingram 4-6), SCST 5-15 (K. Toombs 3-4; S. Barber 0-2; B. Riley 2-7; D. Joint 0-1; L. Radovic 0-1); Rebounds: NCC 38 (D. Sutton 11), SCST 37 (O. Sanders 10); Assists: NCC 11 (R. Willis 4), SCST 9 (K. Toombs 5); Total Fouls -- NCC 11, SCST 20; Fouled Out: NCC-None; SCST-O. Sanders.