Game #9-410: Massachusetts Minutemen at Charlotte 49ersFebruary 2, 2013 2:00 pm
In two of my three previous visits this season to Halton Arena I had not bought tickets until the day of the game. But as this game approached between Charlotte and UMass, I looked at ticket availability again. UMass has not had the success that they once had with John Calipari in the 1990s, but they are still a decent basketball school in the middle of the pack in the Atlantic 10. And Charlotte, also once a proud basketball program, had been off to a great start. Charlotte entered the game this afternoon 16-4 and 4-2 in the A-10. That could bring in more fans than usual for this weekend game. Plus, it was also homecoming, and that sometimes can bring a crowd as well. So when I looked online a few days before the game, it appeared that Charlotte was on the verge of a sellout. I bought a seat for $20 to have sat in each of the four price ranges on the season at Halton Arena. And the game would indeed be a sellout.
Some of the time it can be difficult getting out of the parking garages near Halton Arena after the game. But it is never usually difficult getting into a space in the garage itself. But 45 minutes before the game started, I had to go near the top in a crowded garage. It worked out, given that parking near the top helps in walking out onto the hill going towards Halton Arena. I would not be walking much through the garage and then uphill like I normally do at UNCC. But I could see that there had to be a LOT going on besides the basketball game for it to be this crowded. I could quickly tell it was also Family Weekend at UNCC, which always makes things crowded on HPU's campus. And it was Alumni Weekend of course with homecoming going on. The reason this game sold out was primarily not because of the basketball game itself but rather that there was a lot of people on campus, and a basketball game was the center of attention in the middle of the afternoon.Joe Wright in a recent recap did a pretty solid job covering the history and background of homecoming traditions
. Homecoming as Joe noted is largely a football tradition. High schools in football usually schedule homecoming as a way to promote a big mid-season game, while colleges tend to schedule homecoming against a late season opponent that normally would otherwise not draw in a big crowd. And at Charlotte like with College of Charleston, basketball has to take center stage with no football team around (that will change next year at UNCC however
). Like at all other places, part of the reason behind Homecoming is a way to make a big deal out of a game as a social event and boost attendance that way. I have never quite seen the appeal of Homecoming, especially when alums can always go back to their school whenever it is most convenient. But Charlotte was able to get a sellout the 9,105 seat Halton Arena this afternoon because of the festivities here. The game itself likely would have drawn no better than 70 percent capacity. Another place where Homecoming Weekend worked at a non-football school was at Winthrop last November. On their message board, some Winthrop fans complained about attendance, suggesting Homecoming could have been a lot better had it not been in the Fall when college football at other schools was going on. But WU still had over 2600 fans for that game, which was against one of the worst teams in NAIA basketball!
Winthrop had by far its best crowd of the season while playing a team that was by far their worst opponent of the season. Given how great Homecoming seems to work for non-football schools at basketball games, perhaps High Point should give it a try. High Point's Homecoming Weekend is during October, usually in conjunction with a soccer game but occasionally not even lined up with any athletic contest at all. We still have two auto-sellouts per season with Family Weekend in February and Prospective Student Weekend in January when the entire balcony where the general public usually sits is reserved for those visiting campus in one of those two groups. But there is still yet no basketball homecoming for HPU.
And I am actually kind of glad that we do not do that, and kind of wish we would minimize the two weekends we do have that drive up traffic on campus. For one, it restricts what basketball games I can make it to since those weekends are off limits with ticket availability. We fill on average over 80 percent of the tiny Millis Center per game, so trying to fill seats is not a big concern for us. And also a large number of fans who come for these weekends are not really fans at all. Which would you rather have: a packed house of people who do not care about the sport being played, or a quarter full arena where everybody is a passionate basketball fan and is deeply devoted to the game in front of them? I know what most marketing folks would rather have, and it is the former. For me, it is the latter. In Major League Baseball, the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays are often mocked for how poor their fans are. Most of the criticism of baseball fans in the St. Petersburg/Tampa metro area has to do with the fact that the team can only get crowds of over 20,000 for select big games, while their big time counterparts in MLB have no problem drawing over 30,000. But when I visited Tropicana Field in 2001, I saw a game with only 10,000 fans, but they were 10,000 passionate
fans! They were not diluted by casual fans who wanted a nice ballpark to hang out at or follow a winning baseball team. Those fans were not there. And even though the Rays lost to the Detroit Tigers that game, the fans heckled the Detroit players mercilessly. I came back eight years later when the Rays were playing the Yankees with 30,000 fans, and my impression was the same. We often measure fan support in quantitative numbers. And you certainly need a large number of fans to survive as a program. But I generally prefer the quality
of the fan support over its quantity.
Promotions like Homecoming and other marketing tools like what Minor League Baseball uses can get you big
crowds. But they do not always get you good
But that is not to say that the crowd at Halton Arena was that bad. Much of the alumni who were there for Homecoming Weekend only did not make much noise at all until the game got close at the end. But at least there were not a lot of fans coming in and out of their seats like you often have with casual fans. Some of those really casual fans never made it to their seats, taking a seat that could have potentially gone to a better fan. But all in all, the game atmosphere was pretty decent, and the students who got to the doors early were as pumped as always. The fans in the lower part of Halton Arena did a good job, whether through the early arriving students or the season ticket holders who will always be there regardless of whether or not it s a special weekend. Charlotte can still get together a pretty good basketball crowd, and hopefully that will continue even with the addition of football for next school year.
As I mentioned before, Charlotte brought in a very good record of 16-4 and 4-2 in the Atlantic 10. But Charlotte has yet to net a really big win. With a brutal stretch of games in the Atlantic 10 about to come up, Charlotte desperately needed a win after having been blown out a week prior by George Washington. The 49ers have no margin of error if they are to make the NCAA Tournament. The NIT seems likely at this point, but not a certainty either. For UMass, the situation they faced was similar. The Minutemen came in at 14-5 and 3-3 in the A-10, and UMass needed a big win on the road to get themselves postseason consideration.
As many games often do, it started out close. UMass held a slight lead most of the first half, leading by as many as five points a couple of times. The 49ers largely had to hold in with their size, with their backcourt (already weak to begin with) hampered by the suspension of DeMario Mayfield. Charlotte's strength for this game was not through any one player, but the team as a whole. Charlotte had many second chance opportunities to keep the Minutemen from getting stops late in the first half. After catching up a number of times, the 49ers finally took the lead late in the half to go up 34-31 at halftime.
At halftime, it was the moment that everybody who came because it was Homecoming Weekend came for. First, the introduction of the players participating in the UNCC Alumni Game.
Then Charlotte crowned the Homecoming Queen! I will give credit to Charlotte's fans and student body in particular, as they stayed for the second half. At high school homecomings I have seen mass exoduses often times after halftime from those only there to see the ceremonies.
While many games that start close do not stay close, this game did. While Charlotte was ahead most of the second half this time after trailing most of the first half, the Minutemen were always right behind them. UMass got a big inside-outside scoring combination from Terrell Vinson and Chaz Williams, the latter of which made a game tying three with 12 minutes left after the 49ers previously led by eight. While the UNCC lead was quickly built back up again, Charlotte would never come close to running away with it despite the home edge. A stagnant 49er offense as well as #superhoops
by Williams and Freddie Riley with five minutes left made it a one possession game the rest of the way. Vinson was also able to knock down a shot from outside to tie the game again with two minutes left. After E. Victor Nickerson knocked down a pair of free throws to give him a 49er game high 12 points, the home team failed to make the free throws to put the game away. It was now up to the Minutemen to come through in the final minute.
Charlotte struggled to put the game away, only managing a single free throw from Willie Clayton in the final to go up 66-63. With less than 20 seconds left, the Niners conceded a Williams layup, likely fearing that Williams would instead pull back for a game tying superhoop. That likely would not have mattered too much, but Nickerson missed both of his free throws. Now Williams brought the ball up court, trying to deliver a UMass win.
But Williams was knocked down as Pierria Henry stole the ball as the crowd came to life and went nuts as Henry drove down the court to seal the Charlotte win. As you can see below, Williams was knocked to the deck on the play. The UMass Gazette reported
that Henry said of the play, "I fouled him. But it ain't in the record books".
Henry then finished the play with a dunk. But as you can see from the glowing backboard, the dunk came after the buzzer. But that did not matter, as Charlotte still had held on for a 66-65 win.
Confetti filled Halton Arena, as Charlotte got a big homecoming win. All Charlotte fans, casual and diehards alike, were thrilled to get the win. Beating UMass by one is not a huge statement at home, but after Mayfield's suspension it was important for Charlotte to keep winning.
It was a big homecoming win for the 49ers. Most importantly, it was a big win. While most of the alumni and family members at UNCC may not normally care about 49ers basketball, it is important to win in front of them. And this was not quite like Winthrop's blowout of an inferior opponent for their homecoming either. Charlotte was able to pull out an exciting win over a quality opponent in front of a full arena. And that goes a long way in building a program; especially as many casual fans will peel off towards American-style football in future years. As much as I and other big college basketball fans dislike the casual fans, we need something from them to help our teams' monetary value grow. And winning an exciting homecoming game is a good way to perhaps keep more of the casual fans in the long run, who might possibly become diehard fans later on. Now Charlotte just needs to find some way of holding on to that momentum in the tough stretch run of conference play, and continue to win. I will end this recap with a much happier student section after Henry's clinching play than Charleston Southern's was
a few days prior.
at CHARLOTTE 66, MASSACHUSETTS 65
MASSACHUSETTS 14-6 (4-3) -- C. Williams 6-13 1-3 16; T. Vinson 9-13 2-4 23; F. Riley 3-9 0-3 8; R. Putney 1-3 0-0 2; S. Carter 2-3 2-4 7; C. Lalanne 4-6 0-0 8; M. Esho 0-1 1-2 1; T. Bergantino 0-0 0-0 0; T. Davis 0-3 0-0 0. Totals 25-51 6-16 65.
CHARLOTTE 17-4 (5-2) -- P. Henry 1-4 3-4 5; W. Clayton 3-8 2-3 8; E. Nickerson 5-11 2-5 12; D. Ingram 2-8 0-0 4; C. Braswell 4-10 1-2 9; J. Thompson 2-4 1-2 5; I. Benkovic 3-5 1-2 10; T. Williams 1-4 5-6 8; M. Thorne 2-4 1-2 5. Totals 23-58 16-26 66.
Three-point goals: MASS 9-20 (S. Carter 1-1; R. Putney 0-1; F. Riley 2-7; T. Vinson 3-6; C. Williams 3-5), CHAR 4-16 (C. Braswell 0-2; E. Nickerson 0-3; T. Williams 1-2; P. Henry 0-1; I. Benkovic 3-5; D. Ingram 0-3); Rebounds: MASS 28 (R. Putney 6), CHAR 34 (C. Braswell 7); Assists: MASS 9 (C. Williams 3), CHAR 15 (P. Henry 5); Total Fouls -- MASS 24, CHAR 16; Fouled Out: MASS-None; CHAR-None.