Game #9-344: North Carolina-Asheville Bulldogs at Charleston Southern BuccaneersJanuary 16, 2013 7:30 pm
I arrived at Charleston Southern's CSU Field House just prior to 6 PM. Unlike when I went to see College of Charleston play Old Dominion a month prior
, I knew that the game was not until 7:30, and the arena would not open until 6:30 P.M. I considered eating at either the Arby's or Wendy's down the street from the campus. But instead I decided to wait to eat until I got into the arena. I wanted to be there when the box office opened to be sure I would get in to the building. CSU Field House only seats 881, the second smallest arena in Division I after the Hodge Center at USC Upstate which I have also frequented. And Charleston Southern came into this game against defending Big South champion UNC Asheville playing for the early lead in the Big South standings. I figured this would be a pretty big game that would draw many people. With that said, I think the ticket office was surprised to see me and a few others there when they opened up. Charleston Southern does not usually sell many tickets in advance unless they are playing local rivals College of Charleston and the Citadel. And it has really not been until this season that there has been much of a demand at the door for tickets. CSU Field House in its history rarely sells out despite its tiny size. But I was correct that Charleston Southern would get a pretty full house for this game. After I went to concessions once pizza arrived to finally get something to eat, I came back to my seat 20 minutes before game time and noticed how full the bleachers already were (shown below). The stands were pretty full at CSU Field House, with an official attendance of 1,108. That is likely a bit of an overstatement, as while the arena was pretty full I doubt it was at 125 percent capacity.
Aside from five rows of reserved chairback seating that barely seats over 200 behind the benches and scorers' table, most of CSU Field House is general admission bleacher seating. But unlike many venues in Hoops Nation, CSU Field House has plenty of spots closer to the court in its "cheap seats" than most prime seats elsewhere. So I decided to take the best seat possible in being as close to midcourt as possible. A father and his son who arrived when I did took their spot in the front row at midcourt. I initially decided to sit to their right, knowing CSU's students would be standing to their left. But the nature of the gym meant that many Buccaneer players were sitting in the front row to the right of midcourt while resting during warm-ups. There was more room at midcourt to the left of the boy and his father, so I sat there. Sure, I knew that students would be there. But they would be all to my left, and I would already be in the front row! There would be nobody then standing in front of me, and I could see around somebody standing right next to me, right?
But that was wrong. The CSU students did fill in immediately to my left, and the students at the front row stood a couple feet in front of their seat while the students on the second row took advantage by standing on the seats of those in the first row. If I was going to see, I would have to move forward by standing up as well. So that is what I did, and the boy to my right did the same (his father and everybody else to his right sat). The first row is already very close to the court. But if I was going to be standing up out in front, I would be closer than I ever have been to Division I basketball. Actually no, make that the closest I was to any
basketball game aside from a YMCA league where as a kid I played. I was inches away from being in play here at CSU Field House. To repeat, I was not feet from the court, I was inches
away from it. There is no place in Hoops Nation where you can ever be that close to Our Game. Here is the view from my seat, with camera zoomed all the way out for as wide an angle as possible from where I was standing during the game.
When you are that close the court, you can feel the excitement of the game at your feet. The players are rushing by right past you, and every play is right up close to you. I remember four years ago attending the last game of the Wooden Classic in Indianapolis where I was traveling with my family over Christmas, and arena officials decided to clear the upper deck and make every seat general admission after many Purdue fans left following their game against Davidson. So for the final ten minutes of a game between Southern Illinois and St. Mary's, I was able to sneak in to Conseco (now Banker's Life) Fieldhouse's courtside seats. My dad remarked how you could hear more of what was going on between the players and coaches, and really feel the intensity of the game of Division I basketball that low to the court. But that game we were a few feet back from the court rather than a few inches. And that was the final minutes of a neutral site blowout. This was a home game for Charleston Southern, and a critical game in the battle for first place in the Big South standings. So as momentum shifted during the game, you could feel the excitement build. It's still hard over the crowd around you to fully make out what the players and coaches are communicating to each other. But you can see the emotion of the game as it got more intense, and literally feel the intensity action. When I say you can feel it, you actually can as the hardwood floor that you are standing on is the same floor the players are running on. The floor you stand on shakes as the players go up and down, which is a good thing because if a player falls on the court it protects them against injury.
But then that brings the question: were myself and the CSU students near men a bit too
close to the action? Under a Blood Red Line captain Mike Miller
retweeted a picture I had posted from my spot and said, "Charleston's Southern Buc Dome, where every seat might be TOO close". You could certainly make that argument. I would not have been able to walk out in front of the students without possibly stepping in play. Somebody going to the bathroom or concessions during the game could have also potentially encountered that problem. At many of the professional-like arenas, any fan that is not in one of the luxury courtside seats who happens to walk within a few feet of the court sounds is a red alert to arena security. At the Buc Dome, it is not possible to keep fans away from the court area. Everybody is right on top of the action and part of the game. On College of Charleston's message board, some C of C fans were concerned about this setup (particularly since tickets would be impossible for any of them to get for their game there). In a game I went to four years ago between NAIA Morris College and Charleston Southern, one Morris player got in a shouting match with a heckler standing on the baseline during warm-ups before a teammate pulled him back. And then what if a player goes out of bounds for the ball? That can be a problem anywhere, including NBA arenas. One time at a Charlotte Bobcats game I sat on the fourth row directly behind the basket when Jason Richardson of the Bobcats ran directly past me going down the aisle when chasing a loose ball out of bounds. But at Charleston Southern, you have seats on one baseline that were not installed until the 2008-09 season because it was thought previously there was no room to put seats there. But CSU did however eventually put seats in there. And as a result it is now possible to sit on the painted area of the baseline where players in-bound the ball beneath the basket. A player who goes out of bounds there could crush dozens of students at once. And the fans there can directly interact with the players, something arena security personnel are not fond of in most places after the 2004 fight in the NBA between Detroit Pistons fans and Indiana Pacers players. But considering all of that, it is nice to know that there is still one place in Hoops Nation that is a throwback to the time from before modern professionally managed arenas where fans are really intimate with Our Game. Where else can a player fall out of bounds after taking a charge and be helped up on one end by a player standing in play on the court and on the other end by a fan sitting on the front row? Any fan of basketball has to love that!
As I have indicated already, this would be an intense battle between the defending champion in the Big South and its preseason favorite. And there is no way you could have a better atmosphere and game environment for it than right here at the Buc Dome/CSU Field House. Early on, it looked like the home standing Buccaneers had a slight edge. But after the energy had subsided from the start, UNC Asheville immediately caught back up by the second media timeout. And to make matters worse for the CSU faithful right there beside the court, UNC Asheville's Trent Meyer found his shooting touch. Meyer would go five for seven on three pointers for the game, and it was his big-time shooting that gave UNC Asheville a double digit lead with a 15-1 run. But the high energy and the scoring abilities of Charleston Southern would allow CSU to counter with a 9-0 run. But the Bulldogs of UNCA were able to keep up with the energy everybody in the building could feel and led 39-30 at halftime. Then the second half started, and UNC Asheville would have to keep up as CSU's fans were right up against the Bulldogs as Jeremy Atkinson in-bounded the ball to start the second half.
Meyer would continue to shoot well, and UNC Asheville would continue to pose a challenge. But Charleston Southern's offense was able to keep going and keep the pressure on all night long as the fans went nuts as CSU evened the game midway through the half. The stakes were high, and everybody in the tiny building knew it. One student ran out in front of everybody during a timeout and shouted, "If you look at the banner over there, you can see we have not won a conference title in nearly 20 years (16 to be exact). We are so close now, and we need everybody to get loud! And the fans did so, and the players went on a run with five minutes left to give CSU a six point lead at the final media timeout. UNC Asheville was able to make one last challenge, and cut the Buc lead to two in the final 30 seconds. But Charleston Southern would not back down in their big chance at home. After Arlon Harper made two free throws, Meyer went back down shot a three and missed. Mathiang Muo grabbed the rebound and threw the ball downcourt to Jeremy Sexton who broke away for a game clinching dunk in the final seconds. Sexton's dunk created jubilation throughout the building from students and non-students alike.
Charleston Southern had prevailed 74-68. There is still work to a lot of work to be done towards actually winning that conference title, but CSU remains in first place in the Big South. And between the exciting nature of the game and the meaning of that, the students rushed the court! I know what some of you might say: "This was just another mid-January win! How can you rush the court for a six point win over a school that is not even a rival of yours?" Well, there is a simple explanation for that. The CSU students were already on the court practically to begin with. They just felt the momentum of the win at the end and ran just a few more feet out to celebrate. Charleston Southern coach Barclay Radebaugh seemed to approve, clapping as he ran around the students as everybody celebrated at midcourt.
And this is the type of game that anybody who likes Our Game has to love. If you saw the final score, you could probably tell that it was a decent game. But it was much more than that. CSU Field House is the place that can enhance the game experience of a basketball fan when everything goes right. I have seen other small arenas before. USC Upstate's Hodge Center seats 63 less than the Buc Dome, but that place after it was renovated feels like a professional arena that just happens to seat an unusually small amount of people. High Point's Millis Center is the same way, and most of the general public ends up in the mezzanine which is a bit removed from the action unlike most small arenas. At UNC Asheville's former facility the Justice Center, fans were set back from the court behind a guard rail and slightly elevated from the court itself. Coastal Carolina's now former facility Kimbel Arena was never particularly intimate, although I have heard that Campbell's old Carter Gym was. And of course at Kimbel Arena you had the frequent problem of tickets being hard to come by, as is often the case at a tiny place. But for most games at Charleston Southern, you can get tickets the day of the game. So if you are a fan of Our Game and are traveling through South Carolina's Lowcountry, make sure you stop by Charleston Southern's Buc Dome. The experience usually is not as good as it was this night, but it is certainly one of the most unique places in Hoops Nation.
at CHARLESTON SOUTHERN 74, NORTH CAROLINA-ASHEVILLE 68
NORTH CAROLINA-ASHEVILLE 8-10 (2-2) -- J. Atkinson 6-15 1-2 14; K. Hornsby 1-14 6-6 8; W. Weeks 5-8 1-2 11; J. Nwannunu 4-8 0-0 8; T. Meyer 8-12 1-2 22; M. Neely 0-3 0-0 0; D. Cunningham 2-6 1-2 5; S. Hughes 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 26-66 10-14 68.
CHARLESTON SOUTHERN 9-6 (4-0) -- J. Sexton 7-12 0-2 15; S. Nimley 2-10 4-6 8; A. Harper 5-10 5-6 15; P. Gombwer 2-7 0-1 5; M. Muo 4-8 0-0 11; C. Bowen 2-6 2-2 6; A. Fullah 2-6 1-2 5; M. Bernard 2-3 0-0 4; M. Kennedy 1-3 2-2 4; S. Strickland 0-0 1-2 1. Totals 27-65 15-23 74.
Three-point goals: UNCA 6-20 (T. Meyer 5-7; J. Nwannunu 0-1; J. Atkinson 1-4; K. Hornsby 0-7; M. Neely 0-1), CHSO 5-20 (J. Sexton 1-5; M. Muo 3-4; A. Harper 0-2; S. Nimley 0-6; P. Gombwer 1-2; M. Bernard 0-1); Rebounds: UNCA 36 (K. Hornsby 9), CHSO 40 (S. Nimley 11); Assists: UNCA 7 (J. Atkinson 2), CHSO 12 (S. Nimley 6); Total Fouls -- UNCA 19, CHSO 17; Fouled Out: UNCA-None; CHSO-None.