Game #9-212: Austin Peay Governors vs. Utah Valley WolverinesDecember 28, 2012 4:30 pm
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. - As a true college basketball aficionado, there is nothing quite like the neutral site, early game of a tournament. Friday's Austin Peay-Utah Valley contest in the Dr. Pepper Classic likely being the final one for me this season (until conference tournament play, of course, but that's a little different animal), I wanted to pay homage.
The sounds of an empty (usually fairly large) building. Being able to count the number of people in the stands. Noticing the true diehards (and/or family) of the participants huddled into a corner because the prime seating is for the main event later, with a select few figuring out that most of the patrons that were going to be occupying said seats weren't coming until much later and feasting on them.
No cheerleaders. No bands. It is basketball in a vacuum, or as close as we can get without short of some kind of mass outbreak of a communicative disease like the measles
Every sound by a player or sneaker, every utterance by a coach, every speech from referee to official scorer audible
for all to hear. It is beautiful in its own desolation.
Which is not to say that these games are insignificant. Austin Peay was limping into Ohio Valley Conference play at 4-8 and losers of four straight and would like: a) to have a chance to play for some kind of title, even if it is a four-team tournament in Chattanooga, and b) not to lose to a team (Utah Valley) that is not even in a conference that has an automatic NCAA bid
and will be gone at the end of the season (Great West).
But for that reason, I found myself rooting for upstart Utah Valley. The school was given a Golden Ticke
t, albeit a scratched up and rolled into a ball one, when they were invited to the WAC starting next year, meaning that the Wolverines will finally be in a league with an automatic bid.
It was some vindication for coach Dick Hunsaker, a former Rick Majerus assistant who led Ball State to a Sweet 16 appearance way back in 1990, but left three years later when the NCAA came calling for possible transgressions, ending up in the CBA before rejoining Majerus in Utah and eventually taking over Utah Valley 11 years ago when it was an NAIA school. Hunsaker has done a fairly remarkable job, first as an independent and now
in the Great West (which is essentially the same thing, I guess), posting a 193-118 record, granted not against the toughest schedule, but still praiseworthy.
I got to McKenzie Arena early, and - remarkably for me - had ordered a ticket in advance, which turned out to be in the second row. I toured part of the Chattanooga campus
(there seems to be an emphasis to call the university UTC instead of just Chattanooga these days, which is a reversal of past edicts, I believe, but I digress).
Built in 1982 with a capacity of about 11,000, McKenzie is a little big for my tastes, but at least it is an on-campus facility (with UTC being a downtown campus). The city does not have another indoor stadium like it, and uses McKenzie Arena for concerts and shows. Add the fact that it has no sky boxes and straight bowl seating, and I can deal. It certainly had its charm. And apparently at this time next year, parts of it will look brand new
As games sans atmosphere often do, this game had very few stoppages, via foul or otherwise. It seemed as if either team could get whatever shot it wanted, especially from the outside. Austin Peay scored the game's first five points, but five was the largest lead of the first half, as the Governors took a 40-38 lead at the intermission.
I searched in vain for Utah Valley supporters, but there was a decent amount of Austin Peay support, which made sense, as their campus was only about three hours away. Unfortunately, the Peay supporters (with the wonderful "Let's go pee" chant) were behind the Utah Valley bench in a slight organizing snafu. Austin Peay was designated the home team for this contest, and obviously the Chattanooga fans would want to be behind their team in the nightcap, so the Austin Peay travelers were slightly misplaced. They at least got to do some heckling.
I chatted with Utah Valley's radio crew at the break, too, and showed my ignorance by asking if they did every game. Obviously, duh. It's not like Utah Valley is tiny, it has nearly 35,000 undergrads and plays in an 8,000-seat arena.
Of course, only nine of those undergrads were dressed on Friday, leaving plenty of leg room for the assistant coaches and trainer. Hunsaker would only get 14 total minutes off his bench in this entire game.
Speaking of assistant coaches, I noticed a Charles Wells (Austin Peay, 1997) on the roster, which is of course Bubba Wells, who would certainly have been a Mid-majority favorite had TMM been around in the mid 90s. I ran into Wells in the concession line, of all places (welcome to life below the Red Line), between games, and noticed he was quickly out of his suit. "Not my thing," he said.
The current Peay coach, Dave Loos, is in his 21st season, the 14th longest current tenure in Division I
, meaning he was obviously there when Wells was playing as well. Loos is also athletic director at Austin Peay.
It looked at times in the second half like the Governors might go on a run or two, junior Travis Betram would finish with six #superhoops, and Anthony Campbell's short jumper with 9:40 left gave Peay a 64-59 lead. But Utah Valley was extremely efficient in getting good looks at the basket, and when Holton Hunsaker (yes, a coach's son) got hot, suddenly the Wolverines pulled in front, and - for the first time all afternoon - Austin Peay had no answer.
At least on this day, like fellow Great West member New Jersey Tech
had been, Utah Valley was extremely impressive, none more so than senior Nick Thompson, a Utah native and Oklahoma transfer, whose most noticeable attribute was his passing, despite being 6-foot-9. Thompson finished with the school's first triple double in its basketball history (13 points, 12 assists, 10 rebounds) as the Wolverines went to the championship game of the Dr. Pepper Classic for a second straight year with an 83-77 win.
Utah Valley had 27 assists on 33 field goals and shot 61 percent (33-for-54) from the field in a game that saw only eight offensive rebounds total (four each). The teams combined for 21 superhoops on 43 attempts, which would be in stark contrast to the second game, and also opens up the chicken and egg argument. Were they just so open because the defense was poor, or were they just good shooters?
You have to feel for a player like Thompson who seems to have found a home at Utah Valley, but won't be able to join the squad next season when they finally get to chase the Holy Grail that is an NCAA Tournament berth.
But as we've discussed before, the Mid-majority is about more than the NCAA Tournament. It can be about an empty arena on a Friday afternoon just after Christmas, and a record-breaking performance by a kid and a team that might not get the recognition it deserves.
Oops, did I say "recognition it deserves"? Somehow I doubt that's why most of the Utah Valley players and coaches do what they do.
Nevertheless, I see you, Utah Valley and Nick Thompson. And I tip my cap to you.
UTAH VALLEY 84, AUSTIN PEAY 77
AUSTIN PEAY 4-9 (0-0) -- T. Betran 9-16 3-5 27; J. Purvis 3-7 0-0 9; W. Triggs 2-4 6-8 10; A. Campbell 8-16 3-4 22; C. Freeman 2-5 0-0 4; C. Horton 1-4 0-0 2; C. Arentsen 0-0 0-0 0; A. Lynch 0-1 0-0 0; M. Hasse 1-1 0-0 2; P. Herring 0-0 1-2 1; H. Lawrence 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-54 13-19 77.
UTAH VALLEY 7-8 (0-0) -- H. Hunsaker 5-10 6-6 21; N. Thompson 6-9 0-0 13; B. Aird 12-16 2-2 26; J. Johnson 3-7 1-2 8; A. Hubbard 5-10 0-0 10; T. Brown 2-2 0-0 6; K. Enos 0-0 0-0 0; W. Sinclair 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 33-54 9-10 84.
Three-point goals: APSU 12-25 (A. Campbell 3-9; T. Betran 6-10; J. Purvis 3-6), UVU 9-18 (T. Brown 2-2; N. Thompson 1-2; B. Aird 0-1; H. Hunsaker 5-9; A. Hubbard 0-2; J. Johnson 1-2); Rebounds: APSU 21 (C. Freeman 7), UVU 31 (N. Thompson 10); Assists: APSU 17 (T. Betran 4), UVU 27 (N. Thompson 12); Total Fouls -- APSU 11, UVU 14; Fouled Out: APSU-None; UVU-None.
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