I often tend to think about things well in advance of them happening, almost to a fault. I can even remember when I started to get excited about TMM9. It was when TMM8 wasn't even over yet. It was February 1st when the details of the upcoming season were revealed. At first, I had a bunch of questions which went through my head which I went over
. I was having so much fun in the current season that I was already stoked for the next season.
In that final month of TMM8, I was dreading the final days of my journey. My season ended at the
. I was originally going to go to the Greensboro pod of the NCAA Tournament, but decided against it, figuring the match-ups were way too one-sided. In hindsight, that was a big mistake, seeing that
In the few weeks after Ohio was the last of our teams to be dispatched, I got really bored with sports. My NBA team the Detroit Pistons were well out of playoff contention and the Red Wings had seemingly sunk to mediocrity. Even the eventual American League Champion Detroit Tigers were sluggish for what seemed like the first 3/4 of the season.
I was craving the excitement of watching the Other 24, but all I was left with was the occasional blog posts or speculation over conference realignment. It was not until mid-July when the major programs like UCLA and Texas started to release their schedules that my interest in the upcoming season ramped up again. I knew the schools above the red line would come first, but I was hoping the Other 24 would soon follow.
Due to being a Coastal Carolina season ticket holder, a lot of my interest in the start of the season was aimed towards them since news of them would be easier to get to. Little by little, the Chanticleers released details of the upcoming schedule. First, there was confirmation that Clemson would be making the trip to Conway this year as part of scheduling a two-for-one deal. Then there was word CCU would be going to Ole Miss with the Rebels returning the visit the following year.
The main aspect that was missing was who was going to be the home opener for CCU. The answer became a logical one once Akron was announced as the team. The current AD at Coastal is Hunter Yurachek, who formerly worked for Akron before arriving in Conway, so he was able to strike a deal with the MAC power. I was excited in getting the Zips on the schedule, as I thought it would probably be the toughest game for the Chants this year.
The reason there was a need for a quality opponent was that Coastal was going to be opening the brand-new Student Recreation and Convocation Center, which would later be named The HTC Center. Talks of a new arena for CCU had been going on for years as Kimbel Arena had all the amenities of a middle school gym. The HTC Center was supposed to open a year earlier against LSU, but construction delays pushed its completion back a year.
Late in the summer, they gave season ticket holders personal tours of the new arena. I was able to get a tour with my friend Justin, with whom I share season tickets, and we scoped out the new place. We were both impressed with what we saw, as we peppered one of the staff members with numerous questions that she mostly couldn't answer. We were both so excited for the season that we couldn't help but ask everything we had been discussing amongst ourselves since the last season ended.
As the summer wore down and fall started and as teams rosters and schedules were fully announced there was still the question of how or if I'd be involved with TMM9 .I was able to scrape together a few funds and help the cause by getting a membership. At first, I figured that would be all that I would want to do and let other writers get their chance seeing that spaces would probably be limited. However, I simply could not resist, considering the amount of fun I had the previous season.
had The Hopping Cats, but with us living in the same area and Joe Wright
also in Charleston area, I figured it would be hard for us to schedule different games throughout the season. When I found out Mike Miller
had a team I knew it would be a good match since he once lived in Myrtle Beach like me. Once I found out great writers like Rhett Butler, Kenny Ocker
, and Donovan Potts
were on my team, I knew I made a solid choice.
All of the planning, worrying, and anticipation finally led up to the first game of the season. While I was familiar with Akron and their recent success under Keith Dambrot, I didn't know too much about them other than they had an imposing big man in Zeke Marshall. I soon found out that the Zips also brought in another talented freshman in Pat Forsythe.
This would be an imposing problem for CCU, considering starting power forward Sam McLaurin decided to transfer to Illinois using the postgrad rule. Along with that was the fact that the rest of the frontline had graduated, leaving Coastal fans with questions that couldn't be answered, considering CCU did not play an exhibition and scrimmages were closed.
With the large amount of turnover it looked like an uphill battle for the Chants. That was until the day of the game when it was discovered Akron's Nick Harney and Demetrius Treadwell were ruled ineligible
for the first three games due to a clerical error. The Zips would be losing a lot of proven production with those two out. To add to this, the status of starting point guard Alex Abreu was up in the air due to an injury. Even with all of this, the depleted Zips still seemed like the favorites due to the experience and size advantage.
My excitement was boiling over and I couldn't wait for the game to start, but I still had a few hours to blow after work before game time. Justin and I went to get a pregame meal at a local bar and while the food was not the best, it sufficed. The service was also pretty slow and we were getting agitated because we wanted to head over to the arena.
However, the bartender saved herself when we asked for our customary beginning of the year teal shots. She had free reign to make whatever she wanted as long as it was teal and it really worked out even though the picture does not give the teal true justice. The fact that she only charged us $4 total did not hurt either.
Once we made it to the HTC Center, I was amazed when I walked inside. I had been there before on the tour, but it was a different experience walking in on the night of the game with everything in full effect. There were several concession stands open, TVs along the wall in the main atrium with couches and chairs to relax. There were plenty of free giveaways with posters, programs, and keychains. Even the fact there was more than one bathroom was a good add-on. I know this may sound foolish to some, but if you ever went to Kimbel Arena, then you would appreciate the brand new experience that is being provided for CCU basketball.
The improvements to the game day experience extended into the arena itself with two video boards and obviously more than three times the seating capacity. It was nice to see students come out and support the team as they sold out both end sections that were allotted for them.
After a new team intro and NBAesque player introductions, the crowd was really excited for tip off. The energy was kicked up a notch when the first shot of the game was a made three by CCU's Kierre Greenwood. I thought CCU might go on a big run to start the game, but Akron answered back to take a small lead. With it being the first game, both teams looked rusty which would be understandable considering all the newcomers for Coastal and the last minute lineup changes Akron had to make, although they did have the services of Abreu despite him not starting.
The prognostications of Akron having a decided size advantage were coming true in the early going. The Zips were getting open looks, but not hitting them, leading to plenty of offensive boards for Marshall and company. This fact, along with some CCU turnovers and misses led to Akron getting a 34-25 lead with under two minutes to go in the half. I thought the Chants may be letting the game get away from them, but the two veteran guards of the team, Greenwood and Anthony Raffa, scored the last six points of the half to keep things close.
Halftime was quite the treat for the fans as they went all out for the entertainment. Once I saw an Asian lady and a unicycle, I knew what was up as I had seen this act many years ago when I went to Pistons games. I had only thought she did her act of kicking bowls onto her head in the pro leagues, but here she was in the Big South. I never knew the name of the act, but was later informed in a tweet from Kyle that it's called RED PANDA!
This was yet another example of CCU pulling out all the stops, they even busted out player profiles on the big screen (Raffa's favorite TV character is Pauly D from Jersey Shore
, drawing boos from the crowd) along with the Kiss Cam. I have to reiterate again how mind-boggling all of these simple attractions are at a Coastal Carolina game considering where they were at for all the years previous. I know most of it doesn't scream mid-major, but hopefully it raises fan support that had been at times hard to get in the past.
Coming out for the 2nd half, the pace picked up as the teams had a better flow with CCU getting an edge and tying the game at 38. From that point on, neither team could gain an advantage of more than three points. The threes
started to fall for Akron's Jake Kretzer and a hobbled Abreu was chipping in as well. For the Chants, the advantage on the boards the Zips had in the first half was erased with the entire team preventing second chance opportunities.
With less than five minutes to go, Marshall got an entry pass and made a great move and slammed it home to tie the game at 58. Coastal responded when Warren Gillis drove and threw down a huge tomahawk dunk, making the crowd erupt. The ensuing "Oooooooo" from the crowd on the replay was yet another example of a first-ever on the night for a CCU game.
A Raffa three pushed the lead to five for the Chanticleers, but Akron quickly responded with a Reggie McAdams three and some Abreu free throws to tie it up with a minute to go. Gillis ended up caught with the ball and turned it over, but the Zips couldn't capitalize and turned the ball back over on a shot clock violation. Coastal had a chance to win, but a desperation three from Raffa missed and we were headed for overtime.In OT, CCU took an advantage from newcomer Michel Enanga, who scored their first four points with aggressive drives. Akron would not go away quietly, keeping the game close, but the games deciding play was with close to a minute to go when Raffa was tossed a pass behind the three-point line. At first he hesitated, then launched a shot anyways.
I've seen that tons of times before and it usually ends in a miss, but this time it swished through. I was standing on my seat at this point, as was much of the rest of the fans and they all knew what a huge shot that was, putting Coastal up five. The battle of the free throws ensued and despite a late steal from Akron with seven seconds to go and down three, they ended up turning it right back over sealing the win for the Chanticleers.
It was quite a win for CCU; Akron may have been depleted, but still had several advantages. Many of the newcomers stepped up for Coastal, while Raffa poured in 27 with some clutch threes late. I could not have asked for anything more in the first game of the season. All the agonizing months of waiting were worth it. I am glad TMM9 has begun and am looking forward to another great season of Our Game.