Game #9-363: Furman Paladins at North Carolina-Greensboro SpartansJanuary 20, 2013 2:00 pm
Once upon a time, I used to see UNC Greensboro play at home quite regularly. In my senior year at High Point, I saw six UNCG home games. I had one project in a Sociology class that required me to do an observational study of people off the HPU campus, so I decided to pick UNC Greensboro home games as a place to go. UNCG games were quite fun at the time, with a core group of quality players. They included Kyle Hines (an exceptional 6-6 forward similar to AZ Reid that we had at HPU), sharpshooter Kevin "KO" Oleksiak, versatile guard Ricky Hickman, and Mikko Koivisto from Finland. UNCG's standing at the time in the SoCon was similar to HPU's in the Big South, and UNCG games were a good way to see what was happening in the SoCon without the tension of High Point games. But not since the February 28, 2008 game against Chattanooga where UNCG retired the jersey of the outgoing senior Hines have I seen the Spartans at home. In fact, I have only seen UNC Greensboro play once since I graduated from High Point, which was last year in the SoCon semi-finals where they lost to Western Carolina
. When I last saw the Spartans in Greensboro, they were playing on campus at Fleming Gym, one of the more modest facilities in the SoCon. But for today's game against Furman, I would not be heading back to one of my favorite old gyms pictured below. Instead, I would be going to the Greensboro Coliseum. And this just did not fit in with the UNCG basketball I knew.
When I was at High Point, I also went to the Greensboro Coliseum several times as well. During my junior and senior years at HPU, I saw the NCAA East Regional in women's basketball held at the Coliseum. In one of those games, I saw Rutgers upset Duke when Duke's Lindsey Harding missed two free throws in the final second. That set the stage for Rutgers' unexpected run to the NCAA final, where they lost to Tennessee but ended up becoming famous for the controversy that came from radio shock jock Don Imus' comments on how the Scarlet Knight players looked
. I also saw about half of the ACC women's tournament in 2008, as well as a high school showcase event on Martin Luther King Day of 2006 and 2007. But only once did I actually see UNC Greensboro play there. That was when the Spartans were hosting Virginia Tech six years ago, part of a series of games where UNCG brings in ACC teams who want to become familiar with the Greensboro Coliseum before the tournaments there in March. What I remembered most from that game was that I paid $50 to sit on the third row to watch a mediocre ACC team win fairly comfortably against a mediocre SoCon team that was officially at home. I also remember that most of the people sitting near me were students from a high school less than 20 miles of east of Greensboro that had burned down during a school day just two months prior. It was not quite the experience Ray Curren had in sitting near Newtown residents at a Fairfield game
, but it was still quite memorable. But that was all back when the Greensboro Coliseum was only for special events like that. UNCG played nearly all of their games at Fleming Gym, and no team played full time at the Greensboro Coliseum.
But the year after I graduated from HPU would be UNCG's last full season at Fleming Gym. As you can see from the picture above, Fleming Gym is not a top class facility in Hoops Nation. It seats just fewer than 2,000, and a school with 15,000 students has potential to fill much bigger places. Getting a bigger place built on an urban campus would not be easy. But it was not a horrible facility. To me, it was certainly better than what we had at High Point. And Fleming Gym even today blows out places like Charleston Southern's CSU Field House as well as some of the weaker NEC gyms. You entered the gym from the top, and walked down into the 18 rows of seats built tightly beside the court on each side. One side of the gym behind the benches and scorers' table was reserved entirely for students, with the other side reserved for non-students. And this led to a pretty good atmosphere at a gym that was usually full, but always had seats available on game day except when Stephen Curry came to town. UNCG however felt like they could do better though. And the Greensboro Coliseum was becoming a taxpayer funded burden on the city, relying on special events and the tournaments in March to carry a venue with no anchor tenant. The NHL's Carolina Hurricanes played at the Coliseum two years while moving from Hartford to Raleigh, while several minor league hockey teams played there as well. But the Coliseum did not have an anchor tenant after its last hockey team folded in 2004. So the Coliseum was eager for some team, any team to come in. And UNC Greensboro knew that by playing full time at the Coliseum, more games like the one against Virginia Tech would happen. So that is why we were today seeing a game between two bad SoCon teams in a professional arena.
When I got to the Greensboro Coliseum, I had to pay five dollars to enter the lot as is the case for all events there. At Fleming Gym, you parked in a garage that normally charges by the hour. But unlike the Spartans' SoCon mates at College of Charleston, you could usually get out of paying the hourly rate by showing your ticket stub. Here at the Greensboro Coliseum, you were not getting out of that. While the school makes most of the money from ticket sales, the Coliseum gets all other sources of revenue from UNCG games
. And remember that the Coliseum wanted SoCon basketball here as a way to make more money. I paid to park, and did not even consider getting the overpriced concessions. I used to drive past the Coliseum to get to Fleming Gym coming from High Point. And even with the UNCG banners out in front on the walkway, this did not feel like a UNCG home game.
Once I got into the massive walkway inside, you could hear a tape of the UNCG PA announcer "welcome" you to the Greensboro Coliseum by rattling off all its policies. The tape sounds intimidating, listing all of the items prohibited by the Coliseum which went on almost as long as one of my recaps on here. Any prohibited or "suspicious" item was to be discarded or returned to your vehicle. I sure hope my notebook or camera was not "suspicious"! I have had cameras deemed "suspicious" before like when I saw Ohio State play Miami University at Nationwide Arena in Columbus
. Like at NC State which plays at a NHL arena
, I was glad that my biggest camera had died a few months ago. My camera has video capability, so I was worried they would question that (of course, so does my cell phone) even though I was not planning on using it in that capacity. Fortunately, security was not as tight entering the building as with some other professional arenas. But there were professional-like staff all over the place, starting at the entrance to even the ticket lobby. Given the way people were standing outside the will call window looking in, I felt the need to ask if I could go into the lobby and buy a ticket. Once I got to the ticket window, everything started feeling more familiar like the Coliseum I had been to before. I bought a seat for $10, which was not bad considering that is cheaper now than most HPU games and with a better seat. It is only barely more expensive than what I paid at Fleming Gym, and my seat was about as good as well. Yet with all the arena staff members in various tuxedo-like outfits wearing headsets, I felt awkward moving around. Ray Curren wrote about a similar phenomenon at Mohegan Sun Casino's arena, where the amount of staff working goes beyond being helpful
. In this case, I felt intimidated doing my usual walk around the arena getting a view of the entire place. There was plenty of space to walk around and update my pictures of the Coliseum, but I felt like I had to sneak in and out of each section to take a picture from it. I did not want to get the attention of an usher who could get mad at me for being out of my section. The Coliseum is in the process of trying to modernize, replacing its trademark green plastic seats with UNCG colored blue cushioned seats. From this picture, you can see both the new blue seats and the old green seats as well as a closed section where the seats are in the process of being replaced.
The Greensboro Coliseum is a multi-purpose venue, and the Spartans are still not the big moneymakers of the arena. Like many professional arenas without a major professional tenant, most money comes from concerts. And that is why you see the professional staff in their fancy looking outfits. They are there because normally they are running fancy shows for the fancy (and very protective of its image) music industry. During the game, UNCG ran ads for "Lady Gaga Night", where fans would come dressed in various Lady Gaga outfits to help the Coliseum promote an upcoming Lady Gaga concert (I am not making this up, UNCG could not make themselves look like more of a joke with a promotion). But this is all what gets the Spartans a fancy arena rather than being back at Fleming Gym. I have read Furman (the Spartans' opponent for this game) fans on their message board occasionally want to move from campus to the Bi-Lo Center, Greenville's equivalent of the Greensboro Coliseum. Of course, many Furman fans then respond by noting how much more expensive that would be for the average fan. Charleston Southern also used to move certain marquee games to the North Charleston Coliseum, but they seem to have moved away from that now. My grad school South Carolina plans in a campus owned but professionally managed facility that also makes more money from special events like concerts. I finally got a chance to see a game at their old arena three days prior to this day that had not been used in 11 years for basketball when a concert forced a women's game there. I was pleased to see an arena that was built for basketball and is well designed for spectators to be more intimate with the game. UNCG has also occasionally been forced back to Fleming Gym on a temporary basis due to conflicts with other events at the Coliseum, and the Spartan women still play most of their games at Fleming Gym. Conflicts with other events is probably why the Spartans now play routinely on Sundays as was the case for this game when most teams play on Saturday. That, and in the home venue of the ACC Hall of Champions they probably assume everybody is watching the ACC on Saturdays and not caring about Our Game. And the Spartans of course can never fill the 23,000 seat Coliseum, so you know what that means: Black Curtain time
! The Black Curtain reduces the effective capacity of the building to 7300. Yet the arena with the curtain still feels spacious and not very intimate, due to the design of the building as a multi-use facility. And the Black Curtain rarely ever goes up, unless a ACC powerhouse is playing here. Even when I saw UNCG play Virginia Tech here six years ago and I also saw the NCAA women's regionals here, the black curtain was down every time. I have still never been to the Greensboro Coliseum and seen all of its seats, as the Black Curtain has always been there.
The biggest problem to me with the structure of the facility is the weakening of UNCG's Blue Crew. The Blue Crew used to be a very good student section, taking up several rows behind the scorers' table when I went to games at Fleming Gym. But for this game, the Blue Crew was very weak. UNCG does bus students over from campus which is only a mile away, so there is still reasonable access for the students here. But for this game there were only a few rows of students behind one basket, and it all seemed quite weak for a large 15,000 student school. I know UNCG is capable of better, and perhaps I came on the wrong day with it being one day before Martin Luther King Day. As I said in my last recap, sometimes midweek games are the best for atmosphere
. Officially the crowd was over 3,000, much of which were from one elementary school reading program in one corner of the Coliseum that was out of my sight but I could still hear when they were implored to make noise.
Of course, we had a game going on here. It would turn out to be a good game between Furman and UNCG, two teams struggling to stay afloat in the SoCon standings. Of course, we had to wait for the lights to come back on. UNCG like many other venues tries to have a professional-like environment of cutting the lights during intros. But most modern and smaller venues now have retractable covers on their light fixtures so we do not have to wait for the lights to warm back up. Here at the Greensboro Coliseum, we had to wait through a yellow glow as the lights started to get back to full power before we could tip off.
But then it was basketball time, and initially it looked good for the home team. Both teams were a bit shaky early, scoring only a normal amount of points while on an above normal tempo. But late in the first half, it appeared the Spartans were beginning to slowly pull away. Before three late points by the Paladins, the Spartans led by 13 points with a minute to play in the half. UNC Greensboro still led 32-22 at halftime. The Spartans no longer had Hines, Hickman, and Oleksiak, but they now had Trevis Simpson, Derrell Armstrong, and Nicholas Paulos.
But the Paladins of Furman were far from done. The Paladins did not have a very good first half, scoring only 22 points on 36 possessions. But despite those poor numbers, they were still in the game as UNCG could not ride any momentum and take advantage of their poor shooting opponent. After the Spartans scored the first basket of the second half, Furman came firing back with a 11-0 run to make it a one point game. All of the sudden, the Paladins were another test for a struggling UNCG team. It appeared that the Spartans recovered by responding 10 of the next 14 points in the game to go up seven again. But Simpson got in foul trouble, and a balanced team effort gave Furman an even bigger run midway through the half. The Paladins took charge with a 15-0 run to go up by eight points with six minutes left. Any last run by UNCG was thwarted by Simpson picking up his fifth foul, and the Spartans had to resort to more fouls as Furman began to put the game away. Furman managed from there on to not let up and preserved their lead to get a rare SoCon road win by beating the Spartans in the Coliseum by a final score of 69-61. It would be another setback for the Spartans and their young coach Wes Miller, as this is the game you should not lose at home. Ken Pomeroy rated this as the second "craziest" comeback of the weekend
. The reason this was indeed a crazy win for Furman was not just because they were down 13, but because they were down by 13 on the road against a slightly higher quality team. The odds of UNCG losing this game at home with one minute left in the first half according to Pomeroy was only at 3.1%
But then again, was UNC Greensboro really at "home" this game, or any game this season? From comparing my memories of home games at Fleming Gym in years past, this did not feel like a Spartan home game. That might have hurt the team from building its momentum when they were outplaying the visitors in the first half. The contract with the Greensboro Coliseum ends soon, and some UNCG fans on their message board are worried about having to someday return to Fleming Gym. Fleming Gym is probably too small a facility for Our Game and the Greensboro Coliseum can lead one to feel that they are big time. But this may just be delusional thinking. Getting to host ACC teams is great, but this is more just another guarantee game like favor to them (and your fans might be outnumbered as a result at "home"). And the Coliseum's need for an anchor tenant gives you a minor league like status in the community. And in the case of North Carolina sports, "major league" is the ACC. Fleming Gym may not be an ideal situation, but it seemed to work when I was in the Triad. My problem with the Greensboro Coliseum has nothing to do with its size. You can have a large venue and have it work, even with numbers of empty seats provided everybody is comfortable. But the Greensboro Coliseum does not feel comfortable. Seats on the end of the court are too far away from the floor. I also like having a place where I can casually walk around and take pictures as a visiting fan, and not worry about how I look to arena staff in doing so (Ray had similar issues with the Barclays Center
). And I also like having free parking, and not having to spend too much to watch Our Game. Part of mid-major basketball's appeal is its affordability. But at the Greensboro Coliseum, a full meal with a cheeseburger, fries, and a drink costs $12. At Furman, the winning school in today's game, that is about the price of a ticket. And as for concessions and parking at Furman? Well, you don't see a sign with high prices above the concessions stand at Furman like the one pictured below here in Greensboro. And that is because you do not see any prices listed above the concessions stand at all.
FURMAN 69, at NORTH CAROLINA-GREENSBORO 61
FURMAN 5-12 (2-4) -- C. Reddick 3-10 4-6 10; K. Ferrara 1-3 2-2 4; B. Austin 5-11 0-0 13; L. Wideman 4-8 3-4 12; C. Reddick 2-5 5-6 10; S. Croone 3-4 5-6 12; D. Brown 3-5 0-0 8; B. Irwin 0-1 0-2 0; K. Chuisseu 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 21-47 19-26 69.
NORTH CAROLINA-GREENSBORO 4-13 (2-4) -- D. Armstrong 6-14 4-4 16; N. Paulos 5-8 2-3 16; D. Williams 4-6 0-0 8; J. Potts 1-5 2-2 4; T. Simpson 4-13 2-3 10; K. Locke 1-10 1-2 3; K. McNeil 2-5 0-0 4; D. Parker 0-2 0-0 0; T. Hoffer 0-0 0-0 0. Totals 23-63 11-14 61.
Three-point goals: FURM 8-14 (B. Austin 3-3; C. Reddick 1-2; D. Brown 2-3; S. Croone 1-1; L. Wideman 1-4; K. Ferrara 0-1), UNCG 4-16 (D. Parker 0-2; T. Simpson 0-2; D. Armstrong 0-2; N. Paulos 4-7; K. Locke 0-1; J. Potts 0-2); Rebounds: FURM 37 (K. Ferrara 12), UNCG 32 (K. McNeil 7); Assists: FURM 9 (B. Austin 3), UNCG 11 (T. Simpson 3); Total Fouls -- FURM 15, UNCG 22; Fouled Out: FURM-B. Austin; UNCG-T. Simpson.