Game #9-178: Jacksonville Dolphins at South Carolina GamecocksDecember 7, 2012 7:00 pm
Puerto Vallarta, MX
Last year, the South Carolina Gamecocks ranked 45th of 345 Division I basketball teams with 8,868 fans per game. Considering the quality of the team, that is actually pretty amazing. It is especially amazing when most Gamecock fans do not care about basketball until the football team plays their bowl game, at which point they are waiting for the third Friday in February when baseball season starts. And yet when the Gamecock basketball team has found some success, they average over 10,000 fans per game. That shows you the benefits of having a large 18,000 seat arena. Even for big games against teams like Kentucky, USC can always squeeze in the fans somewhere. And the high capacity and the need to fill the arena bring the ticket prices to 15 to 18 per game, which is cheaper than a few schools below the Red Line. But yet the arena still loses money, as it has for various reasons failed to attract the big events that USC was going for when the arena opened in 2002. The main appeal to coming to the Colonial Life Arena is to see cheap power conference hoops. Unfortunately, the quality is pretty cheap as well.
And that is why life below the Red Line is generally better. Schools below the Red Line have more to lose, as a bad season for High Point wipes us off the college athletic map. South Carolina will still play SEC teams every year despite their poor play, and will have teams in other sports that are between okay and very good. But the appeal for the small schools is always there regardless of their success. But the appeal of big time basketball is not here at South Carolina. That was especially the case for tonight's game against Jacksonville, an Atlantic Sun team that has struggled of late. Attendance would be under 7,000 tonight, inflated by no-show season ticket holders. The students were also mostly gone with finals looming after the weekend, thus why this weekend game was played on a Friday rather than a Saturday game as typical. And Jacksonville brings not much to the table either. Most games here early in the season have Red Line Upset potential, but not tonight. Jacksonville lost in a game I saw the previous week at SC State
, which went winless in the MEAC a year ago. As bad as South Carolina is, I knew that if the worst team in the SEC can be better than the worst in the MEAC that this would be an easy Gamecock win. But for the South Carolina fans here in the Midlands, you do not want to see your team give up a RLU either. As a USC fan, you get two options with every home game: a highly likely loss or a game you should win that would be embarrassing if you don't. Guarantee games and losses are what the Gamecocks play. So even with a $15 upper deck seat and $5 parking, that is still pretty expensive to see this level of play. So what is the appeal here?
It is a shame that if you live in central South Carolina that this is it for college basketball. If you travel not too much further, you can see an even worse SC State team play (for a more affordable price however). There are also not many non-Division I teams in the Columbia area either. The only other NCAA member within 25 miles of South Carolina's largest city is Benedict, a Division II HBCU. A big reason that the Gamecocks in all sports have a large fan base is because it is the main game in town for this area of South Carolina. The same is true in baseball, where Columbia lost its minor league team in 2004 and Gamecock baseball has become the town's major baseball team to follow. The reason for Gamecock basketball attendance being decent is not just the arena size, but because if you live in the Midlands and love college basketball, USC is your one local option. That is probably also why basketball has not grown as a sport around here. USC can get over 5,000 season ticket holders for basketball; which is more than the baseball team has. And it's not because the basketball team is more popular like at many schools elsewhere, it is because the arena has more places to put the fans than the baseball stadium does (the baseball stadium seats 8,000 with an unusually large portion of the seats in the outfield). And with baseball and football both frequently selling out and having only bad seats available, basketball is the best affordable sports option in the Columbia area. I know that for those of us on TMM, there is little appeal to this kind of SEC basketball. But that is the appeal right there for basketball fans in central South Carolina, even if it is not a very good appeal.
So to make the most of this, I got my $15 ticket and sat downstairs in the empty part of the student section. There certainly were others doing the same thing, and I have noted before
that there is a fan nicknamed Baseline Jesus who is about 60 years old and stands in the student section. It is a much friendlier environment for that sort of thing than at Williams-Brice Stadium for football games. I came in and hoped for a good game somehow. My hope was to see a game that was not close because South Carolina would finally play well. I would not mind a RLU of course, but I figured that the way the Dolphins had been playing recently that Jacksonville would not pull that off.
Early on, the Gamecocks finally delivered and played a great team game on offense like against Rider, with the Dolphins unable to match the Broncs in coming back with baskets of their own. USC led by 21 points with six minutes until halftime, and by 27 at the break. There was no doubt that South Carolina this time had the better basketball team. But to the fans there, this was more of a relief than a success. You expect a SEC team to beat an Atlantic Sun team, so this win really was not accomplishing much aside from helping Frank Martin give his struggling team more confidence. But it was not really a great game, and it would just be ugly to watch in the second half. USC briefly pushed their lead to about 30 before the Dolphins cut into it make it more respectable. The hardest thing to watch was the frustrated fouls committed by both teams. USC became foul prone again like earlier in the season after doing a good job avoiding fouls in a dominating first half. Jacksonville responded with several frustrated hard fouls that nearly started fights and led to monitor reviews again. USC point guard Bruce Ellington got hit harder than he did playing wide receiver this fall for the Gamecock football team. It was not a good game to watch, and few people at Colonial Life Arena actually did. The Dolphins took out their frustrations by dominating the USC walk-ons in the final two minutes, bringing the final score to 91-74 South Carolina. It was obviously not as close as the 17 point margin indicated.
I know most of us do not like the schools above the Red Line, and for good reason. But if you live in central South Carolina, there aren't as many options in college basketball for the mid-major fan as there are elsewhere. And as a result, Gamecock sports dominate Columbia. At least most South Carolina fans aren't of the bandwagon type like Clemson, which has fans throughout the state despite being in a small obscure corner of it. USC fans root for their team because it is the local team here, just like fans in places like the Missouri Valley support their region's lone Division I team. It is a shame that the team here is a woeful major conference team. A fan that wants to see higher quality basketball at a more affordable price has to make the drive to Orangeburg, Clinton, Rock Hill, or North Charleston. USC is not a basketball school, but there are loyal Gamecock basketball fans that have to suffer with this team. When I worked with the City of Columbia last year as part of a class project, a supervisor in the Public Works Department told me that as a season ticket holder he would spend most of the second halves at the Thirsty Fellow bar nearby to get away from the bad play at Colonial Life Arena. Guarantee games like those between Jacksonville and South Carolina are not fun games. But it is the local basketball option, and that is the appeal here.
SOUTH CAROLINA 91, JACKSONVILLE 74
JACKSONVILLE 4-6 (0-0) -- J. Haywood 5-12 3-3 13; K. Fleming 2-6 4-4 8; K. McDougald 5-11 1-3 12; G. Powell 4-8 1-1 9; R. Powell 2-5 0-0 4; M. Bell 5-12 7-8 17; J. Dawson 0-3 1-4 1; D. Fritsch 2-7 0-0 6; T. Alderman 1-1 2-5 4; J. Bogus 0-3 0-0 0; C. Spurling 0-0 0-0 0; C. Coleman 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-68 19-28 74.
SOUTH CAROLINA 6-3 (0-0) -- L. Jackson 2-4 1-1 5; B. Ellington 3-7 6-10 12; M. Carrera 6-10 5-6 17; E. Smith 3-7 0-0 7; B. Williams 4-5 0-0 12; L. Chatkevicius 4-6 0-2 9; M. Kacinas 3-3 1-2 7; D. Leonard 0-3 2-2 2; B. Richardson 5-6 2-2 16; R. Slawson 1-4 2-4 4; A. Constable 0-0 0-0 0; S. Phillips 0-1 0-0 0; B. Steele 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 31-56 19-29 91.
Three-point goals: JAX 3-20 (K. McDougle 1-5; J. Bogus 0-2; M. Bell 0-6; D. Fritsch 2-7), SC 10-16 (B. Ellington 0-1; B. Richardson 4-4; E. Smith 1-2; D. Leonard 0-2; S. Phillips 0-1; B. Williams 4-5; L. Chatkevicius 1-1); Rebounds: JAX 27 (G. Powell 9), SC 37 (M. Carrera 9); Assists: JAX 11 (R. Powell 5), SC 20 (E. Smith 7); Total Fouls -- JAX 22, SC 25; Fouled Out: JAX-None; SC-None.