After having been to both of the semifinals on Sunday in Asheville, I went to my home that night in South Carolina, a 200 mile drive away. I am not sure why I drove back, considering I did not get back until 2 AM. I was going back to Ashevile the next day, and another 400 mile round trip meant that the cost of gas was only about ten to twenty dollars cheaper than getting a hotel that night. But to get a cheap motel would have meant going at least a half hour from downtown, meaning I would still be doing some driving while also paying for lodging. I could have done what Kyle used to do, and pull into a truck stop. But I could not picture how I would fall asleep comfortably in a car seat, and my mom would freak out if she heard I was doing something like that.
I feel asleep by 4, and got up at noon. I decided when I woke up to head to Asheville right then, even though the Davidson-Western Carolina game was not until 9 PM because of ESPN2 showing the MAAC title game earlier in the evening. There was a women's game at 5 PM between Samford and Appalachian State, so I decided to go to that since like the men's game the winner would go to the NCAA Tournament. Asheville was a bit tighter than it was the day before since it was a work day. One guy in the parking garage was complaining about the $5 parking since on most days the garage costs $1.50. But at least it was $2 cheaper than what the Civic Center charges for most events. I then bought my ticket for the women's game, which was separate from the men's ticket, unlike the SoCon Finals two years ago in Charlotte. I ended up paying more for my women's ticket than for the men's ticket, since I got the latter from somebody getting rid of extra tickets that were not being used by people who had already gone home from the tournament.
The fans for the women's game were encouraged to sit downstairs behind the scorers' table and team benches, probably to make the crowd look fuller for the SoCon TV Network televising the game. I actually felt the better seating was in the balcony, since the downstairs seating was poorly graded and a bit compact while the upstairs seating was almost as close to the court. Samford (which has dominated women's sports since joining the SoCon) would win after leading much the entire game, although Appalachian State did keep the game close. To make the postgame ceremonies go more quickly, the Mountaineer women did not bother showing up to receive their runner-up trophy.
My plan between games was to walk around and experience more of downtown Asheville, and possibly sit down and eat somewhere. But when I walked out of the Civic Center, the wind chill was in the 30s which made it more enticing to stay inside. So I only walked back to my car to retrieve my ticket for the men's game, and joined the hundreds of Western Carolina students who packed the Civic Center lobby. The doors were not set to open until 8 PM, but at 7:15 the lobby was about to overflow from the WCU student section getting ready to be in prime position for the ESPN cameras. The Civic Center and WCU staff members had to quiet the crowd to yell directions to fans on how to deal with the situation. Fortunately the doors opened at 7:35, as otherwise the increasing number of entering WCU students could have led to a crowd control issue.
I chose to sit in the same section that I did for the semifinal games the day before, which was almost entirely full of Davidson fans. The crowd was not quite as big as I thought it might be, with only about 80 percent of the arena full. But unlike in the semifinals, there were very few fans like myself who did not come to support one of the schools in the game. To the left of midcourt (from my angle and that of the television cameras) was almost entirely Davidson fans. To the right of midcourt was almost exclusively Western Carolina fans. The only exception to that was the Western Carolina student section, which was behind the left baseline. There was not any room for them behind the right baseline, which was mostly for the WCU pep band as well as extra press tables. The seats on that side also did not extend up to the balcony either, and WCU's student section would extend from the court to the top of the arena.
And this was quite a big exception. As I noted before, the students packed the lobby to get in before anybody else. With Western Carolina the larger school (as well as being half the distance away) over Davidson, Davidson's student section was squeezed in the corner around the WCU presence, which took up almost the entire space behind one basket. As you can see from the photo below, the WCU students overwhelmed the Davidson students (the small pocket of red on the bottom right).
Part of me wanted to see Davidson win, as they were at the disadvantage of the supposedly neutral site. They had lost in Stephen Curry's final season in Chattanooga, and this was the last chance to dance for the current seniors at Davidson. But while Davidson had not gone dancing in four years, Western Carolina had not been since 1996 when they came just short of the 16 over 1 upset that has yet to happen. And to see the Western Carolina students celebrate would have made for a great atmosphere. I felt bad for them however, knowing that they would probably lose.
But Western Carolina came out on fire to begin the game. Keaton Cole and Trey Sumler hit big shots to give WCU the early lead, and it seemed that the semi-homecourt edge the Catamounts had would be big. But Davidson made a huge rally at the end of the first half, going from 12 down with just under five till the half to going ahead by one as the game reached halftime. It seemed as if Western Carolina had lost all the momentum.
At halftime, the Catamounts had something to cheer about again with the Purple Thunder drum line performance. The Purple Thunder had performed at halftime of the previous games in the tournament as well, and with no offense to the other performers the Purple Thunder stole the show at the half every time. I have liked the high energy that you see from drum lines at HBCUs, and Western Carolina's Purple Thunder did as good a job at replicating that energy as I have seen at a basketball game. The cheerleaders and dance team are also well-integrated into the routine, and I made sure to record it after having seen them first perform on Sunday.
But the same energy could not be met by the Catamount basketball team to begin the half. Davidson continued their surge, and the balanced attack led by De'Mon Brooks appeared to be overpowering. Nik Cochran in particular was doing a good job of exploiting WCU's man defense by dribbling around defenders and coasting in to the basket. The Catamounts could not seem to adjust in stopping this penetration. Davidson led by 13 points with less than three to play, and seemed to be winning easily. But Tawaski King as well as Sumler got hot at the right time making threes while Davidson could not hang on to the ball. The comeback was completed when Cole was fouled on a three with ten seconds left and made all three shots to tie the game. Davidson could not respond and for the second time of my project games and the third game at all levels for me; we had a game go to overtime!
In overtime, both teams played somewhat cautiously. Western Carolina could not remain hot offensively, but Davidson's foul troubles hurt them in return. The lead went back and forth before both teams could not come through at the end, leading to five more minutes of basketball. In the second overtime, Davidson led most of the way but had to fight off each Catamount challenge. But the big basket came with a minute left on a #omgdunx by Davidson's Clint Mann.
Western Carolina could not tie it back up, but Davidson also stopped scoring. The Catamounts would have one last chance at the buzzer. Cole would have an open look at a NBA range #superhoop as time was running out, but his shot off the rim and Davidson returned to the dance for the first time in the post-Curry era.
I have seen enough basketball lately to know one thing: buzzer beaters are almost always a low percentage shot. The pressure is too great for a young player often to come through and make a shot when he knows that a championship is riding on that one shot. When I was at the NCAA Tournament in Charlotte last year, they showed a video montage before games showing numerous buzzer beaters to win games. But aside from highlight reels, buzzer beaters are fairly rare. I saw two state championship games a couple days earlier where a team had a chance to win at the buzzer. In one case the team with the ball at the end had fallen behind with a minute to play after leading most of the game, and the next game the team with the last shot had made a huge comeback to be in it at the end. In both cases, the shooter missed. It is better to take the lead before time is running out, before the pressure becomes too great when there are fewer seconds to shoot and win.
But what if Cole's shot had gone in, and the Catamounts had won an improbable upset? The Civic Center would have gone completely wild, and it is quite possible that the security would have not been able to stop the hundreds of crazy WCU students from storming. Such a finish in overtime after a wild ending to regulation would have been the greatest thing I would have ever seen in basketball.
But it was still a pretty good game. What would have made it better was if this student here from Davidson could have made it past the security guard on the right in the photo, and the court would have been open for a storm. Obviously he was not going to make it alone, making the job for security easier.
The SoCon made numerous announcements during the games urging fans to not rush the court. From having rushed during the regular season, you can get pushed around and it is a contact sport. But it's no more dangerous than any other contact sport, and possibly not any more dangerous than playing basketball. If people want to have fun doing it, why stop them? Unfortunately, we have seen a lot more security officials putting a stop to this Championship Fortnight tradition. And while much has been written on this site about how special conference tournaments are, from my experience it is the regular season where you have the best atmospheres in college basketball. But you can see here the difference between winning and losing in the emotions of players and fans alike, which is why the biggest memories of the season are made here.
DAVIDSON 93, WESTERN CAROLINA 91 03/05/2012
WESTERN CAROLINA 17-18 (8-10) -- A. Green 1-6 2-2 4; T. Sumler 7-13 0-0 18; K. Cole 5-13 8-9 21; T. King 5-10 10-12 20; H. Mutombo 9-24 2-3 20; B. Boggs 1-8 0-0 2; J. Sinclair 3-5 0-0 8; P. Ross 0-0 2-3 2; K. Hall 0-0 0-0 0; I. Hollis 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 30-73 22-27 91. DAVIDSON 25-7 (16-2) -- N. Cochran 7-13 2-2 16; J. Kuhlman 7-12 3-4 19; C. Czerapowicz 3-10 0-0 8; J. Cohen 7-9 2-2 17; D. Brooks 7-15 5-5 19; C. Mann 4-4 2-3 10; T. Droney 0-2 0-0 0; T. Kalinoski 1-4 0-0 2; W. Reigel 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 37-70 14-16 93.
Three-point goals: WCU 9-20 (K. Cole 3-7; H. Mutombo 0-3; T. Sumler 4-6; B. Boggs 0-2; J. Sinclair 2-2), DAV 5-21 (J. Kuhlman 2-5; N. Cochran 0-3; J. Cohen 1-2; D. Brooks 0-1; C. Czerapowicz 2-8; T. Kalinoski 0-2); Rebounds: WCU 30 (T. King 10), DAV 41 (C. Czerapowicz 9); Assists: WCU 10 (H. Mutombo 4), DAV 16 (N. Cochran 6); Total Fouls -- WCU 15, DAV 20; Fouled Out: WCU-None; DAV-J. Cohen.