Game #9-235: Appalachian State Mountaineers at South Carolina GamecocksDecember 19, 2012 5:00 pm
This Wednesday before Christmas, the University of South Carolina hosted a men's/women's doubleheader. I have written on here
about the premise of these doubleheaders before. And this game had a lot of similarities with other double features I have seen before. One team got a 5 PM start, before most fans on this weekday could make it to the arena. The other team played at 7:30 PM, and got most of the fans. Sure, there were plenty of fans who saw at least the end of the first game. But all the buzz and excitement was about the second game, and the small crowd just could not get into the first game.
But here's what made this doubleheader different: that team that had the more hyped game that more fans were interested in? That team would be the women's team, who got the primetime slot while the men's game served as the undercard for the night at Colonial Life Arena. The crowd pictured above is there to see the women play, taken during intros for the women's game well after the men's game had ended. Kyle once wrote about the hypothetical possibility that the average fan could end up caring more about the women's game in basketball once women's basketball realized its potential
. Here in Columbia, that day had finally arrived.
As you would expect, there were good reasons for more fans being interested in the women's game and why it got the primetime slot over the men's game. It was not because South Carolinians really get pumped up about women's basketball, far from it most of the time actually. It has more to do with that the men's basketball team at South Carolina, as I have often mentioned here, is quite bad. The men would play Appalachian State, a Southern Conference team that has started the season poorly. Appalachian State had a month prior lost by 22 points to my other school (the one I care most about) High Point at home. The Mounatineers' most memorable moment so far was when Brian Okam popped a free throw attempt straight up in the air at Western Carolina (the video of that attempt
has gotten 17 million views on YouTube) A matchup between two teams not even likely to make a ghost bracket would not be a big draw for most of Hoops Nation. At a school above the Red Line that expects more, it is an even harder sell.
And to the extra benefit of why more would want to see the women play, the USC women are not too bad. Former WNBA star and Temple coach Dawn Staley has after a few years finally gotten the Gamecock women's program on track by focusing on defense and better recruiting. The South Carolina women made the Sweet 16 last year after a nine year hiatus from making the NCAA Tournament, and won their first ten games going into tonight. And the Gamecock women would play a big name team in Stanford, who also entered undefeated and ranked #1
in the country. So with the struggles of the men's team versus the success of the women's team combined with the comparison of a guarantee game versus a marquee matchup, this enabled more people to care about women's basketball this night than men's basketball. Ticket prices were still the same as usual for the two teams however, the doubleheader would be charged at men's prices ($15 upper deck, $18 lower deck) until halftime of the men's game when ticket prices would drop to that of a standard women's game ($7). And parking cost $5 until the halftime of the men's game as well (for most women's games there are no parking fees). And there were a few fans that left after the men's game had concluded. But most stayed, and there were several more who arrived after the men's game ended as well. I do not know the exact attendance difference between the two games; the official count for the doubleheader was 8,118 for both games. But I do know that the crowd cared much more about the women's game. On the Gamecock message board CockyTalk, there were 66 posts on the men's game for this evening. The women's game on the other hand drew 194 posts. You might expect this to be case occasionally at UConn or Tennessee, but not at most schools like South Carolina.
I left my home 45 minutes east of Columbia a little later than usual due to the start time of the game. I also finally decided to take the cheaper parking route by using Pendleton Garage where I often parked as a student for class where I could just put a few quarters in rather than paying five dollars. It is just over seven blocks from Pendleton Garage to Colonial Life Arena, but I often have to walk that far for Gamecock football and baseball games. Getting to the arena only thirty minutes before tip time would usually put me in a panic, but I knew that Gary Moore who I would be attending the game with would not be able to arrive until 15 minutes before tip-off while getting off of work nearby. Since Gary's family is still in New York, I went in with him using his extra ticket that he has been hoping to have his son use. I have been trying to save money going into the holidays and am very grateful for Gary's offer that he came up with when we met at the Davidson game four days prior
. I hope that real soon that Gary will be able to use his extra ticket with his family more often once they finally move down here as well.
About five minutes prior to tip-off just before the player introductions and national anthem, the PA announcer made a mention of the women's game later that evening. Gary was trying to figure the announcement out, and I explained to him the women's game later that evening. Gary had no idea the USC women were also playing, much less against a top-ranked opponent. I first found it odd that someone would not figure that out given the unusual 5 PM start time, but we have often can have weird tip times as scheduled by television (although for this evening both the men's and women's games were televised regionally on FSN South, so they could have easily enough had the men playing last under that setup). Without anything else going on, Gary decided that he would attend both games as he also follows women's basketball as well with a friend of his coaching the Iona women (you can find Gary's dual recap here
). But first we had the men's game to get to. Despite the struggles of the South Carolina men, I did not see a Red Line Upset as a realistic possibility. South Carolina is still unfortunately the better of the two schools I have attended, and if High Point can easily crush a team I expect the Gamecocks to do the same.
But that did not turn out to be the case. USC did lead 11-2 three minutes into the game and had a lead of about ten points most of the first half. But that quickly dissipated in the final minutes of the first half. A 13-3 run by the Mountaineers gave Appalachian State the lead briefly just before halftime before multi-sport star Bruce Ellington made a three to give the Gamecocks a two point halftime lead. Jay Canty, a Xavier transfer I have seen play in high school when I was at HPU (and was also committed to High Point before Bart Lundy was fired) had a solid outing to keep Appalachian State in the game. Despite ASU's struggles, Canty gives the Mountaineers some promise of staying afloat in the SoCon. Appalachian State would lead by three early in the second half. A 13-3 run put South Carolina however back in the lead position. Yet whenever it seemed that USC had figured the game out, Appalachian State would keep coming back. The Mountaineers despite their struggles were ready to play this game and would do what was necessary to stay in the game.
Up by six points with a minute left, Gamecock coach Frank Martin called a timeout which I presumed was to get horrendous free throw shooter Lakeem Jackson off the court. But then out of the timeout Jackson was still in the game and was wisely fouled when he got the ball. Jackson for his career shoots 35 percent from the free throw line (no seriously, that is his actual percentage over 3 ½ seasons). Jackson decided to try something different and shoot the ball with just his left hand. But the final minute is not the time to experiment, and Appalachian State still had a chance.
But despite a late superhoop and poor Gamecock ball handling and free throw shooting, Appalachian State would run out of time. LaShay Page with four seconds left hit the clinching free throws to give USC a 74-69 win. Appalachian State has improved much since High Point crushed them in Boone, but they could not quite get a RLU here.
This is a website that covers primarily men's basketball, and within that primarily mid-major basketball. So I will try to not go into too much detail about a women's game that featured a SEC team hosting a PAC 12 team. Yet it was certainly a phenomenon that was part of the whole experience at Colonial Life Arena tonight. As one would expect when playing a top-notch team like Stanford, the South Carolina women struggled mightily on offense. Even when playing guarantee games the USC women usually fail to light up the scoreboard. But yet the Gamecocks kept themselves in the game by playing great defense. Gary was thoroughly impressed by how the Gamecock women played defense, far better and more disciplined than he is used to seeing in women's basketball. In this season where we on TMM emphasize team, the Gamecock women were leading examples of playing together. The USC women do not have All-Americans like Chiney Ogwumike on Stanford. But Dawn Staley has engineered a solid team even when she has had to deal with All-American recruits coming in to the program, only to later transfer. The players who have stayed with Staley are a very cohesive unit. You cannot put together a great defense with just one player. As USC stayed competitive throughout, I began to hope that they could somehow win. You don't normally expect to see the #1
team lose, but when I was a student at USC the other Gamecock teams often beat top-ranked teams. Even the woeful USC men's team got in the act by beating Kentucky when the Wildcats had several future NBA players, most notably John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins. But that USC men's team had Devan Downey, a player who could put a whole team on his back at times. The problem with the USC women's team is that they do not have that special kind of player who can lead the team to victory by excelling while making everybody around them better. The crowd was into it, and maybe if this game wasn't over Winter Break the students would have put together a better push. But a 9-2 Stanford run in the final minutes prevented the USC women's basketball team from getting their own program defining win and would end up losing 53-49.
South Carolina's men won, while the women's team lost. Yet nobody could with a straight face say that the men's team had done better this evening. The margins of victory were about the same in each game, with the home team winning the men's game and losing the women's game. Yet the crowd noise was much greater with greater energy and enthusiasm in supporting the women's team. Of course, the difference was that the men were playing a team that it was expected to beat while the reverse was true of the women. The men did win and the women lost, but aside from the raw result the women did better and everybody at the Colonial Life Arena knew it. The real winner here was women's basketball. We had a women's game go against a men's game, and the women's game won in terms of providing more excitement and a game day atmosphere. Not too long ago there would be no circumstance at most schools where a women's game would be more popular. To some extent this is a slight of Our Game, as fewer people wanted to watch a SoCon men's team play. But women's basketball is also interwoven into Hoops Nation as well, and this is the kind of experience that can benefit us as well.
at SOUTH CAROLINA 74, APPALACHIAN STATE 69
APPALACHIAN STATE 2-8 (0-1) -- M. Neal 6-14 2-4 16; N. Healy 2-6 2-2 7; T. Hamilton 1-8 3-4 5; J. Canty 5-11 6-6 16; T. Baskin 6-17 3-3 16; J. Trice 2-3 3-3 7; M. Obacha 1-4 0-0 2; C. Burgess 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-63 19-22 69.
SOUTH CAROLINA 7-3 (0-0) -- M. Kacinas 5-11 2-2 12; L. Jackson 8-11 0-3 16; B. Williams 3-4 3-5 11; B. Ellington 3-7 0-0 8; E. Smith 2-3 1-2 5; L. Page 1-9 5-5 7; R. Slawson 3-6 2-2 9; B. Richardson 1-4 0-0 2; M. Carrera 1-5 0-0 2; L. Chatkevicius 1-1 0-0 2. Totals 28-61 13-19 74.
Three-point goals: APST 4-14 (J. Trice 0-1; N. Healy 1-2; J. Canty 0-1; T. Baskin 1-1; T. Hamilton 0-5; M. Neal 2-4), SC 5-15 (L. Page 0-3; B. Ellington 2-2; B. Richardson 0-3; R. Slawson 1-1; E. Smith 0-1; B. Williams 2-2; M. Kacinas 0-3); Rebounds: APST 35 (N. Healy 8), SC 37 (M. Kacinas 12); Assists: APST 12 (M. Neal 7), SC 18 (E. Smith 9); Total Fouls -- APST 24, SC 21; Fouled Out: APST-T. Baskin; SC-None.