Game #9-103: Coastal Carolina at Tennessee Tech Golden EaglesNovember 15, 2012 8:00 pm
I'm notorious for remaining silent during games I attend by myself, but as I approached this particular gentleman I felt compelled to talk to him. Thirty minutes until game time and with literal thousands of empty seats in the arena, I found my seat directly next to his. How could I possibly avoid socializing?
Billy Graham has the best seat in the house. He sits at center court in Tennessee Tech's Hooper Eblen Center more or less eye level with the baskets. From this vantage point he's watched 14 (or so - he's not exactly certain) years of fairly competitive Golden Eagle basketball unfold before him.
Graham is a rarity in modern sports - a man who comes to games by himself and socializes with those seated around him. Like the much more well-known man of the same name, he uses his charisma to win the hearts of those that he talks to - myself included. As the clock ticked closer to gametime and more familiar faces begin to populate Section D, this fact became abundantly clear. People went out of their way to smile and say hi to Billy as they stepped down the stairs to their seats. He said hello to them all, referring to each one by name with a big grin.
Having grown up in the Chicago suburbs, Billy retired to Tennessee simply because it was cheap. Whether or not this was the only reason was never revealed, but I admired such practicality and it seemed to fit the man's humble nature well. Upon arrival in Cookeville, Graham adopted the Golden Eagles as if they were his own, religiously attending both men's and women's games for the aforementioned approximately 14 years. I told him that I was attending my first ever Tennessee Tech game, and the conversation turned to the matchup at hand.
I had come primarily to witness the visiting Chanticleers, a team I've been fond of for a handful of years. We discussed animated scorer Anthony Raffa ("That's who the newspaper told me to watch") and talented slasher Kierre Greenwood (to another patron: "This guy Craig says 55 is good too!") before I asked about the Golden Eagles. I vaguely remembered Tech alum and current D-League player Kevin Murphy, and was curious about who was planning to fill his spot. Billy quickly reminded me of why the name was familiar: Murphy had a 50 point outing against SIU-Edwardsville in January
("He could've dropkicked 'em in that night!") that ranked as the highest single-game total for any D-I player in 2011-12. Graham explained that Murphy's heir apparent was Jud Dillard, a mobile swingman with good range. I assured my guide that I would be keeping a close eye on this new Tech superstar.
The game began soon after the home team's kitschy chic dry ice intro, whose remnant cloud hung around for the final moments of warmups. After four minutes of play, I saw the other side of Billy Graham. A man who before had been genial and mild-mannered transformed before my eyes. Graham conjured the fervor of a Pentecostal preacher, and directed his call to repentance at the nearest referee. I don't remember the foul in question to be particularly off-base, but Billy sure did. The official tried to ignore him, but with only a smattering of bodies in the arena, there was no doubt in my mind that the message was heard loud and clear.
For most of the on-court action, Billy and I sat in silence, each of us enthralled with the game. A brief aside would be spoken here and there, but the bulk of the communication was between Graham and the referees as he liberally peppered the quiet first half air with his rebukes. When the first half horn sounded, Coastal led 35-30 - and 15 of their points came on free throws. Tennessee Tech had only attempted six foul shots to the Chanticleers eighteen. I don't usually advocate yelling at officials, but perhaps Billy had a point.
The halftime entertainment was standard fare, and I figured I would take the time to ask Billy if I could write about him. Before the game I had explained all about Mid-Majority and how I spent a good portion of my free time from November to March on the road in support of the site. He willingly gave his consent to be the subject of my piece, but explained that he didn't have a computer ("I'm too old and learned for that"), let alone an e-mail address for me to send the story to him. I mulled how I could get him the article as the second half began.
In these twenty minutes, Tennessee Tech closed the small margin and began to trade slim leads with their Conway visitors. As the time remaining dwindled, Billy's exhortations to "get your head in the game, dummy!" grew louder and louder. The intended audience kept their lips on their whistles and continued to feign indifference.
Elsewhere on the court, the Golden Eagles began to stir, spurred by none other than my player to watch Jud Dillard, who had racked up 23 points and ten rebounds with plenty of time to go. With 8:25 left to play and the Eagles up six, Dillard got some much needed rest.
It's funny to see how much a single player can alter the course of a contest. Although Coastal only trimmed the margin from six to two in the next 1:30, it was evident that Tech would not have a reasonable chance at victory without Dillard on the floor.
The Tennessee Tech play-by-play record
reads "DILLARD, JUD enters the game" with 6:48 remaining. That was all the Golden Eagles needed. He scored 11 of his team's final 14 points, and when the last-second Coastal look caromed off the rim Tennessee Tech emerged victorious, 71-69.
Dillard finished with 34 points and 12 boards - far and away the best single-game performance I've seen this season - and as the teams left the court I turned to my new friend Billy Graham and shook his hand. I told him that I planned to send my writeup to the Golden Eagles athletic department and ticket office, with the hope that someone could get it to him. Satisfied with my plan, we wished each other safe travels and went our separate ways. I drove north feeling rather pleased with my uncharacteristic experience. Instead of simply watching the game and leaving, I had met a friendly, mild-mannered, referee-raging superfan and got a pretty good game to boot. I had come into Cookeville as a largely indifferent observer, but I left with a vested interest in Tennessee Tech and their star guard Dillard. All I needed was a charismatic fan to show me the way. at TENNESSEE TECH 71, COASTAL CAROLINA 69
COASTAL CAROLINA 1-2 (0-0) -- E. Ndieguene 0-5 0-0 0; A. Raffa 6-15 8-10 25; M. Enanga 1-5 3-4 6; K. Greenwood 4-11 11-12 19; B. Diagne 2-5 1-2 5; T. Curtis 3-3 3-4 9; J. Daniel 0-0 0-0 0; C. Ashford 1-2 3-4 5; B. Addey 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 17-46 29-36 69.
TENNESSEE TECH 2-0 (0-0) -- J. Dillard 13-22 4-6 34; J. Samarrippas 4-9 0-1 8; L. Johnson 3-10 3-3 10; M. Marseille 1-2 2-3 4; J. McKay 0-1 0-0 0; D. Ogbe 1-2 0-0 2; T. Barnes 1-1 3-4 5; A. Morse 1-1 1-2 3; A. Diressa 0-2 2-2 2; M. Hill 1-1 0-0 3; R. Riggins 0-1 0-0 0. Totals 25-52 15-21 71.
Three-point goals: CCU 6-16 (A. Raffa 5-10; K. Greenwood 0-1; B. Diagne 0-2; M. Enanga 1-3), TNT 6-18 (M. Marseille 0-1; J. Dillard 4-6; J. Samarrippas 0-4; M. Hill 1-1; J. McKay 0-1; D. Ogbe 0-1; L. Johnson 1-3; A. Diressa 0-1); Rebounds: CCU 30 (M. Enanga 7), TNT 26 (J. Dillard 12); Assists: CCU 8 (K. Greenwood 2), TNT 9 (J. Samarrippas 6); Total Fouls -- CCU 17, TNT 25; Fouled Out: CCU-M. Enanga; TNT-None.