Game #9-258: Austin Peay Governors vs. Utah Valley WolverinesDecember 28, 2012 4:30 pm
I was in a hurry to make it to Chattanooga's McKenzie Arena. Not because I was running late, as I got to my motel more than two hours before the 4:30 tip-off of the first game of the Dr. Pepper Classic. And it was not because I expected tickets to be difficult to get, with McKenzie Arena being the largest arena in the SoCon and the first game not featuring the home-standing Mocs. No, I was in a hurry because I just wanted to get to the arena early. Like Western Kentucky the day before,
I had never been to Chattanooga. I had never seen the UTC campus, so I did not know how easy parking would be (UTC by the way charges $5 for parking, the only other SoCon team that plays on campus to charge for parking is College of Charleston). I also just wanted to get there early, see the arena, and get to know this new place of Hoops Nation before I saw basketball.
McKenzie Arena is 30 years old, and seats about 11,000. It is the largest arena in the Southern Conference unless you count UNC Greensboro who plays most games off campus in the Greensboro Coliseum (which still seats less than McKenzie Arena when the black curtains are down as they are for most game). It also looks much bigger than its capacity due to the structure of the building. The arena is steeply graded and built in a tight circle, which gives the feeling that all 11,000 seats are right on top of you at any given moment. The Colonial Life Arena, South Carolina's home facility, does not feel any bigger and if anything feels smaller if you are sitting down low, even though there are 50 percent more seats at South Carolina than at UTC. Regardless, McKenzie Arena is a very big facility for mid-major basketball and hosted the Southern Conference Tournament in both 2009 and 2011 (the former won by the host Mocs). If anything, McKenzie Arena is too big for mid-major basketball. There aren't many facilities that I can think of that meet that description, as I like it when arenas are bigger than they need to be as that allows better seating options. But at McKenzie Arena, most seats down low are too far from the court with most seats up high to high from the floor. And there is no way the Mocs can fill the arena, given that it seats 11,000 and the team averages only 3,000 fans a game (which is still third in the SoCon after Davidson and College of Charleston). McKenzie Arena would certainly be nowhere near full for the first game here of the Dr. Pepper Classic between Utah Valley and Austin Peay. Austin Peay would bring some fans coming from three hours away on Interstate 24, but that would be limited as well on a Friday afternoon. The official attendance for the first day was about 2500, but well under 500 of those were at the first game. And this would be in an arena that seats 11,000.
Nobody really cared about this game between Austin Peay and Utah Valley. The Dr. Pepper Classic is not exactly a prestigious multi-team event, with all four teams having a RPI over 250. Unless the home team was playing, nobody wanted to see a game between a weak Ohio Valley team and a Great West team. Well, not quite nobody. I, for one, wanted to see this game. And that was because this would be a Division I game. Not enough college basketball fans can appreciate a Division I game for what it is. It is a spectacle so great that I have to drive close to an hour to see one every time, even though I see a Division I game over 30 times a year. And for me, this meant another game I could write about on here and get more points for the Hopping Cats. But I knew this time that I would likely not be gaining ground in The Game, as I was able to figure out that two games in a day here meant that Raymond Curren
would likely be coming from Bowling Green as well. The morning before coming down to Chattanooga, I clicked Follow on his Twitter account to check where he might be going. After I finished my pregame walk with taking pictures of McKenzie Arena, I saw on Twitter that Ray was posting from the UTC campus. A few minutes later, I saw him walk down to his seat on the second row. I finally got a chance to talk with him, like I have with other 800GP legends Matt Cayuela
and Gary Moore
. I got to talk with him about his plans for the week, far grander than anything we have seen on here. I don't think right now that The Game is much of a competition right now, the competition I am watching for is whether Ray can beat the TMM record for games seen held by our website founder Kyle Whelliston. With this game and the game after it in the Dr. Pepper Classic, Ray would attend his 50th mid-major game of the season on December 28. The earliest Kyle ever got to 50 games was during Season 5, which came on December 31. For Ray just like it was for me, this was a game worth caring about, because it was a game.
As Ray mentioned in his recap
, this lack of a big crowd meant that there would be little noise. There was so little noise in fact that this game without trying outdid what Gardner-Webb was going for intentionally with an unusually silent game
. It felt like I was at the morning game of a high school multi-team event where only players' family members are in the gym, if even that. And in the giant McKenzie Arena, this meant there was a lot of empty space. It felt like those of us at the game were watching a practice, or at the very most warm-ups for the High Point-Chattanooga game that evening. But this was actual Division I basketball. Austin Peay can theoretically still use this game as a stepping stone once OVC competition starts and propel them towards national prominence. The same is also true for Utah Valley, although it will be more challenging for the Wolverines coming from a conference without an automatic bid. This was real Division I basketball without it seeming as such. Utah Valley even only dressed out nine players, which also made it seem like low-level basketball.
But Utah Valley would not be bringing low-level basketball. As expected with all games in the tournament, the game was close throughout with the teams going back in forth with each other. Austin Peay would lead by two at halftime, but that lead like most in the game would not last long. Travis Betran would do a good job hitting shots for the Governors, leading all scorers with 27 points. But the limited squad of Utah Valley would have a good inside-outside attack between Nick Thompson and Holton Hunsaker. Thompson would dominate the boards while Hunsaker would hit the shots when it mattered. Utah Valley rallied from a slight deficit to take the lead with a few minutes left, and the Wolverines made their free throws to put away an 84-77 win. Utah Valley has little postseason hope in the Great West, but this will change next year when the Wolverines find a home in the WAC which will be pretty much an entirely re-invented conference next year compared to recent seasons. For right now, all Utah Valley could focus on was winning the Dr. Pepper Classic, and they would reach the final for the second straight year.
It was a good game of basketball. Yet few cared about what was going on at McKenzie Arena that afternoon. With the game going fairly quickly, few early arrivals for the Chattanooga-High Point game got to see the game. But for those who saw it, it was good basketball, and the arena seemed to be catered just for them. It seemed weird to have ushers in every section like t was a major basketball game. There were times I worried that this would be like the Barclays Center in being able to move around, and that is why I did not talk to Ray immediately when he came in. But the staff was mostly friendly as McKenzie Arena was home to only a select few today. Those who came got a basketball game to call their own this day, and this was good for people like me and Ray who just want any old game to see. Ray is by the way now at 59 games, only seven away from the non-Kyle TMM record held by Matt Cayuela and still on pace with Kyle's top marks.
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.